Helping Your Gut After You Gobble, Gobble, Gobble

Finding the right stomach medicine after your big holiday meal

(RxWiki News) 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 your digestion is distressed can help anyone better digest Thanksgiving.

Indigestion, gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), constipation, diarrhea, and 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 blockers, these products help reduce the amount of acid the stomach makes. H2 blockers are typically used to relive heartburn associated with acid indigestion and sour stomach. These medications may take 30 to 90 minutes to work. OTC H2 antagonists include Tagamet HB 200, Zantac and Pepcid AC. Consult with your health care provider if you are taking this type of medication most days for two weeks or longer.
  • Proton pump inhibitors (PPIs). These drugs work by reducing the amount of acid made and released into the stomach. There are several PPIs on the market. Some of these are only available by prescription from your doctor, such as Protonix, Aciphex and Dexilant. Other PPIs are available OTC, such as Prilosec OTC, Nexium 24 hr, and Prevacid 24 hr. These medications are to be taken 30 minutes before the first meal of the day. It is important to note that PPIs do not immediately relieve heartburn and other stomach acid-related symptoms but are taken daily to reduce stomach acid levels. These medications are also approved to treat duodenal or stomach ulcers. PPIs, when used OTC, are only to be used for short-term treatment (14 days or fewer) of frequent, uncomplicated heartburn occurring two or more days a week. Talk to your health care provider if you find you have to take these medications on most days.
  • 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 and Phillips Milk of Magnesia. Antacids neutralize stomach acid that causes heartburn. These medications are a good option for heartburn that occurs once in a while. Take antacids about one hour after eating or when you have heartburn. Note that products that include magnesium may cause diarrhea, and those that include calcium or aluminum may lead to constipation. This type of medication can actually change the way your body absorbs other medicines you are taking. A general rule of thumb is to take your other medicines either one hour before or four hours after you take antacids. (Be sure to check with your local pharmacist about changing your schedule.)
  • Laxatives. Relieving constipation is the goal of laxatives. Some of them, such as Dulcolax, stimulate the small intestine to contract and move the stool through. Metamucil and Citrucel absorb water to form soft, bulky stools. This then triggers the intestines to contract and helps move the stool along as a result. Stool softeners, such as Colace, draw more water into the stool to make it soft in order to pass. Other types of laxatives, such as MiraLAX, work by drawing more water into the colon. This allows the stool to pass more easily.
  • Antidiarrheals. Top sellers in the category of diarrhea treatments include Imodium A-D, Kaopectate and Pepto-Bismol. Pepto-Bismol and certain other products contain subsalicylate, which is related to aspirin. Therefore, these medications are not recommended in children and teenagers who have or are recovering from flu-like symptoms or chickenpox. If you notice your tongue or stools have darkened after taking bismuth subsalicylate products, this side effect is typically not serious and will usually go away after you stop taking this medication.

These medications may have safety warnings and precautions, meaning they're not safe for everyone. Whether or not you can safely take these medications will depend on your health conditions, age, other medications you are taking, and your kidney and liver function. Always ask your doctor or pharmacist before starting a new medication — even if it can be found OTC.

Here are a few tips to lower your chance of digestion issues:

  • Keep portions small, especially if you've never eaten that particular dish or dessert before.
  • If you have GERD, avoid alcohol and spicy, fatty or acidic foods that can trigger heartburn.
  • 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 healthy dish.
  • At a buffet-style feast, opt for fresh vegetables and fruits with small servings of meats.