Risks of Taking OTC Antacids

There are a large number of people who think that if you can buy a medication over the counter (OTC) it is unlikely to be harmful to them. When it comes to OTC antacids, this number increases, as many people don’t even consider antacids to be a drug and they view them as being totally safe. If they experience any heartburn they will just go to the medicine cupboard and take the antacid medication without a second thought to read the directions for use.

It is important to understand that taking any medication comes with a risk, and whilst OTC heartburn medications are usually less potent than prescribed drugs, they can still result in some very serious side effects if their directions for use are not correctly followed.

If a person exceeds the advised antacid dosage on a regular and ongoing basis, they are likely to develop electrolyte abnormalities such as hypercalcemia caused by the excessive consumption of calcium.  Untreated, severe hypercalcemia can cause some very serious complications which include:

  • Kidney Problems –  Excess calcium in the urine can cause the formation of crystals in your kidneys which over a period of time could form into kidney stones. Kidney stones can be extremely painful and can damage the kidney. Excessive calcium can also damage the kidneys preventing them from functioning correctly to remove fluid and clean the blood.
  • Problems with the Nervous system –  Calcium is an important component needed to keep your nervous system in balance. Excess levels of calcium can cause problems with balance, confusion, dementia or even coma.
  • Heart Problems  – Hypercalcemia can interfere with the electrical impulses that cause the heart to beat resulting in irregular heartbeat or arrhythmia.

Antacids can also have a detrimental impact on other medications and this is most often because the antacids stop the medication being absorbed by the body. In isolated cases, antacids have altered the pH balance of the stomach or the urine to the levels where the excretion or incorrect absorption of the drug occurs.

Anatacids can also increase the potency of medication used to treat epilepsy, diabetes, various heart conditions and Parkinson’s Disease whilst reducing the potency of antibiotics, antihistamines and iron supplements.

As well as containing calcium, antacids also contain magnesium and aluminum, which can also have serious side effects if consumed to excess. A report in Clinical Pediatrics (Philadelphia) in February 1995 published details of two young children who had developed rickets caused by the failure of their bodies to absorb the correct levels of phosphates. The underlying cause for the depeletion of their phosphate levels was attributed to the prolonged use an antacid medication containing aluminium given to relieve their colic.

It is very important that you discuss the use of any OTC heartburn antacid medication with your doctor before starting treatment if you are taking any other drugs or medications or you have kidney disease. It is also important not to combine any OTC antacids nor to take them for longer than recommended unless advised to do so by your doctor.

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