Gastric Protectors and Antacids: How Are They Different?

Gastric protectors and antacids don't have the same function. It's important to know how to differentiate between them in order to use them when they should actually be used. Find out more in this article!
Gastric Protectors and Antacids: How Are They Different?

Last update: 11 May, 2021

It’s very common to confuse gastric protectors with antacid drugs. You’ve probably taken a gastric protector to treat occasional heartburn or to prevent it before a large meal. However, this isn’t the proper use of this type of drug, as gastric protectors shouldn’t be used to treat heartburn or acidity.

As this misconception is very common, we’d like to explain what gastric protectors are and what they’re used for, as well as the correct uses of antacids.

What is a gastric protector?

Gastric protectors are also known as anti-ulcer drugs. They treat gastric ulcers. The first effective drugs for this purpose were antihistamines that act selectively in the stomach by inhibiting the stimulation of the synthesis of hydrochloric acid that’s secreted during digestion.

However, they’re becoming less and less frequent for the treatment of peptic ulcers because manufacturers introduced proton pump inhibitors on the market in the 1990s. According to studies, these drugs are the second most consumed group of drugs in Spain.

These gastric protectors block the system by which molecules called hydrogen ions are secreted. As a result, the stomach mucosa can’t synthesize hydrochloric acid.

In addition to the treatment of gastric and duodenal ulcers, we use gastric protectors to treat health issues with gastric hypersecretion such as:

  • Esophagitis
  • Zollinger-Ellison Syndrome
  • Gastropathies produced by non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs
  • Stress ulcers

Some of the drugs that belong to this family are omeprazole, esomeprazole and lansoprazole. Physicians will decide which one to prescribe in each case depending on the duration of treatment or the intensity of the symptoms, among other criteria.

When should we take a gastric protector?

As we’ve already mentioned, these drugs are subject to medical prescription and specialists indicate it for the treatment of some type of disease or disorder affecting the gastric mucosa. They aren’t drugs to treat heartburn.

What about antacids?

A woman with stomach pain.

On the other hand, antacids are drugs that neutralize excess acid in the stomach, making this substance less aggressive to the walls of the organ. Contrary to gastric protectors, antacids don’t inhibit or block the secretion of stomach acid, but only counteract its effects.

When should I take an antacid?

You should take antacids when, after a meal, you feel any symptom of heartburn or burning in the mouth of the stomach. Foods containing a lot of fat or spicy foods favor the appearance of acidity in the stomach. That’s why doctors indicate it to relieve indigestion, since they act directly and in a short period of time.

Among the antacids that we can find on the market today are the famous bicarbonate or magnesium salts, among many others. Unlike the previous ones, antacids don’t require a prescription.

Symptoms and causes of gastric ulcers

A person with a glass of water.

Gastric ulcers are lesions that develop on the inner wall of the stomach. The most frequent symptom is pain. This pain is due to the burning produced by the gastric acid in the stomach mucosa.

Stomach acid makes the pain worse, as does having an empty stomach. Along with the pain, gastric ulcers can also produce:

  • Vomiting blood
  • Fainting or fainting
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Sensation of being full, bloated and gassy

On the other hand, as for the triggering causes, the most frequent are infections produced by the bacterium Helicobacter pylori and the prolonged use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as aspirin.

Conclusion

In short, doctors use gastric protectants or anti-ulcer drugs to treat different conditions that occur in the stomach and require blocking the production of acid in the stomach. At the other extreme antacids are substances that neutralize stomach acid, not inhibit its secretion. Therefore, the latter are what we should use for the treatment of heartburn.

Ask your doctor or pharmacist which remedy is ideal for you and never self-medicate, as you could be taking the wrong drug for your situation.

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  • Truyols Bonet J, Martínez Egea A, G. H. A. (2014). Ulcera Gastrica Y Duodenal.
  • De Graaf, L., & Ragetli, B. (2018). Omeprazol. Nursing. https://doi.org/10.1007/s41193-018-0095-4
  • Alsasua, A., Blanco, E., Camarasa, J., & Faura, C. (2012). Fármacos Antiulcerosos. Actualidad En Farmacologia y Terapêutica.