Antacids revisited: a review of their clinical pharmacology and recommended therapeutic use

Drugs. 1999 Jun;57(6):855-70. doi: 10.2165/00003495-199957060-00003.


Antacids are commonly used self-prescribed medications. They consist of calcium carbonate and magnesium and aluminum salts in various compounds or combinations. The effect of antacids on the stomach is due to partial neutralisation of gastric hydrochloric acid and inhibition of the proteolytic enzyme, pepsin. Each cation salt has its own pharmacological characteristics that are important for determination of which product can be used for certain indications. Antacids have been used for duodenal and gastric ulcers, stress gastritis, gastro-oesophageal reflux disease, pancreatic insufficiency, non-ulcer dyspepsia, bile acid mediated diarrhoea, biliary reflux, constipation, osteoporosis, urinary alkalinisation and chronic renal failure as a dietary phosphate binder. The development of histamine H2-receptor antagonists and proton pump inhibitors has significantly reduced usage for duodenal and gastric ulcers and gastro-oesophageal reflux disease. However, antacids can still be useful for stress gastritis and non-ulcer dyspepsia. The recent release of proprietary H2 antagonists has likely further reduced antacid use for non-ulcer dyspepsia. Other indications are still valid but represent minor uses. Antacid drug interactions are well noted, but can be avoided by rescheduling medication administration times. This can be inconvenient and discourage compliance with other medications. All antacids can produce drug interactions by changing gastric pH, thus altering drug dissolution of dosage forms, reduction of gastric acid hydrolysis of drugs, or alter drug elimination by changing urinary pH. Most antacids, except sodium bicarbonate, may decrease drug absorption by adsorption or chelation of other drugs. Most adverse effects from antacids are minor with periodic use of small amounts. However, when large doses are taken for long periods of time, significant adverse effects may occur especially patients with underlying diseases such as chronic renal failure. These adverse effects can be reduced by monitoring of electrolyte status and avoiding aluminum-containing antacids to bind dietary phosphate in chronic renal failure. Antacids, although effective for discussed indications of duodenal and gastric ulcer and gastro-oesophageal reflux disease, have been replaced by newer, more effective agents that are more palatable to patients. Antacids are likely to continue to be used for non-ulcer dyspepsia, minor episodes of heartburn (gastro-oesophageal reflux disease) and other clear indications. Although their wide-spread use may decline, these drugs will still be used, and clinicians should be aware of their potential drug interactions and adverse effects.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Antacids / adverse effects
  • Antacids / pharmacology*
  • Antacids / therapeutic use*
  • Clinical Trials as Topic
  • Drug Interactions
  • Gastrointestinal Diseases / drug therapy*
  • Gastrointestinal Diseases / prevention & control
  • Humans
  • Kidney Failure, Chronic / complications
  • Oxidation-Reduction
  • Urine / chemistry


  • Antacids