The stomach produces acid to initiate the breakdown of ingested food. The stomach has a lining that produces a thick protective mucus, which prevents the very high acid content from breaking down the stomach wall. A variety of illnesses and poor life-style can lead to the breakdown of this mucous membrane which in turn leads to discomfort and pain. Many people also have hiatus hernia , which allows acid to reflux up into the oesophagus and cause a burning sensation. Antacids fall into two categories:
Compounds that neutralize the acid -calcium, magnesium and aluminium salts.
Drugs that stop acid production – such as cimetidine, ranitidine and omeprazole.
These treatments are very much geared towards blocking the symptoms by reducing the acid rather than looking at the cause of the damaged mucosa, the reflux or the excess production of acid. They are not harmful to any great extent if taken for a short period of time but continual use suggests that the cause of the problem is not being dealt with and this can lead to difficult and dangerous illnesses.