Helping Your Gut After You Gobble, Gobble, Gobble

Which tummy medicine does what?

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Thanksgiving is here, and for many in the U.S., it's a time to gather with loved ones and overeat. But stress from traveling and other concerns that can arise at this time of year can lead to serious tummy trouble.

Indigestion, heartburn, constipation, nausea, vomiting or other symptoms of gastrointestinal distress will have a number of people reaching into the medicine cabinet or searching store shelves for a remedy.

Knowing which over-the-counter (OTC) product to use to treat certain symptoms can be difficult. To help gobblers understand their choices, here is an overview of the most common OTC digestion remedies:

  • H2-receptor antagonists. Sometimes referred to as H2 antagonists or H2 blockers, these products help reduce the amount of acid the stomach makes. H2 blockers are typically used to treat heartburn, acid indigestion and a sour stomach. OTC H2 antagonists include Tagamet HB 200, Zantac, Pepcid and Axid AR.
  • Proton pump inhibitors. These drugs, abbreviated as PPIs, have largely replaced H2 antagonists as the drug of choice to reduce stomach acid. Several PPIs are available by prescription, but only Prilosec OTC is available without one. Consumers should be aware that Prilosec OTC does not immediately relieve heartburn and other stomach acid-related symptoms. This preventative medication is for the short-term treatment (14 days or fewer) of frequent, uncomplicated heartburn occurring two or more days a week.
  • Antacids. A cornerstone of many medicine cabinets, antacids are represented by some of the best-known brands: Tums, Rolaids, Maalox, Mylanta, Pepto-Bismol, Alka-Seltzer, Phillips Milk of Magnesia. Antacids neutralize stomach acid to treat mild heartburn, sour stomach and indigestion.
  • Laxatives. Relieving constipation is the goal of laxatives. Some of them, such as Dulcolax and ex-lax, stimulate the small intestine to move food through, while laxative suppositories lubricate the tissues to encourage release. Metamucil, Citrucel and other fiber-based products form bulk in the intestines to keep things moving, and stool softeners, such as Colace, draw more water and fat into the stool to move it through the intestinal tract.
  • Antidiarrheals. Top sellers in the category of diarrhea treatments include Imodium, Kaopectate and Pepto-Bismol. Diarrhea can be accompanied by cramping, nausea or vomiting, so some antidiarrheals include ingredients that treat those symptoms. Certain products, such as Pepto-Bismol, contain a version of aspirin and should not be used by certain people.

Because so many stomach relief products are available, buyers should seek the advice of a pharmacist if they have any questions.

Of course, the best way to achieve healthful holiday digestion is to eat mindfully. Here are a few tips:

  • Keep portions small, especially if you've never that particular dish or dessert before Be mindful of alcohol intake.
  • To reduce your risk of overeating, socialize away from the kitchen or buffet table so you don't graze.
  • If you're attending a potluck Thanksgiving meal, bring your favorite healthful dish.
  • At a buffet-style feast, opt for fresh vegetables and fruits with small servings of meats.
  • Look for whole-grain breads instead of sugary sweets.
  • If you know Aunt Mabel's (in)famous casserole leaves you queasy, just say no. Hopefully Aunt Mabel will understand.

Breaking bread together is a natural way to celebrate, but there's no reason it has to spoil the holiday. Eating mindfully and seeking the right treatment when digestion is distressed can help anyone better digest Thanksgiving.

Reviewed by: 
Last Updated:
November 22, 2010