Antacids: Calcium Carbonate and Magnesium Compounds

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ANTACIDS- Classification and Mechanism of Action


Antacids are defined as a substance, generally a base, which counteracts stomach acidity. The name antacid means anti-acid (against acid). Antacids are the primary treatment for ailments such as gastric reflux, gastritis, upset stomach and heartburn. Hydrochloric acid is secreted by the stomach to kill harmful organisms, aid digestion and activate digestive enzymes. Excess secretion of acid into stomach or impaired resistance by the lining of the stomach or reflux into the oesophagus may produce symptoms and the treatment of these symptoms is by reducing the acidity in the stomach.


Antacids can be classified into two main classes based on the mechanism used to counteract the stomach's acidity. One class works by chemical neutralisation of gastric acid (absorbable antacids) and the other class acts by absorption of the acid (non-absorbable antacids). Antacids are sometimes even formulated with additional components such as dimethicone and alginic acid. They are not to be confused with gastric acid inhibitors such as cimetidine and ranitidine.

Absorbable Antacids

The absorbable antacids (chemical antacids) show the most rapid onset of action and provide faster relief of symptoms. However they may cause an "acid rebound", a condition whereby the gastric acid returns in greater concentration after the drug effect has ceased. Moreover, this class of antacids is not suitable for all patients owing to its components. For example, the usually high concentration of sodium bicarbonate present in these chemical antacids may be inappropriate for patients afflicted with hypertension or kidney failure.

Non Absorbable Antacids

The non-absorbable antacids though less prone to cause a rebound effect, have their fair share of pros and cons. The most obvious disadvantage would be that these antacids interfere with the absorption and action of other drugs. Moreover as these antacids are more potent and effective in a semi liquid or liquid form than in a capsule or table, it may be inconvenient for routine dosage. However, non-absorbable antacids have numerous advantages. They have additional uses beyond hyperacidity. Calcium salts may be used as diet supplements to prevent osteoporosis. Aluminum carbonate is used for binding phosphate, and has been effective in control and treatment of hyperphosphatemia (too much phosphate in the blood); it also can be used with a low phosphate diet to prevent formation of phosphate urinary stones. The usually high presence of aluminum and magnesium hydroxides in non-absorbable antacids can be effectively used to prevent significant stress ulcer bleeding in post-operative patients or those with severe burns.

Antacids were developed based on the hydroxides and carbonates of the group II and III metals, as well as the bicarbonates of the alkali metals. All antacids contain at least one of the following metals: aluminum, calcium, magnesium, sodium, potassium, or bismuth. Antacids help neutralize excess acid produced in the stomach, i.e. the hydrogen ion concentration is reduced. The effectiveness of antacids is determined by its rate of reaction and residence time, which in turn are affected by various factors. Since metal-containing antacids can interfere with the absorption of many prescribed medications, especially antibiotics, non-metal antacids also have been developed. Some antacids are amphoteric as well, which makes them far more effective. Each antacid has a specific active ingredient. This ingredient whether metallic or non-metallic has a different effect on the gastric acid. They act similar to when an acid reacts with a hydroxide; a salt and water are produced as in the following equation: HCl (aq) + NaOH (aq) → NaCl (aq) + H20.

(Hydrochloric acid reacts with sodium hydroxide to produce salt and water) Sodium Bicarbonate
In the case of sodium...
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