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Winter Holidays, Upset Stomachs

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OTC Medicines for Digestive Distress

If you didn't follow all that sensible advice above -- and now find yourself bloated and miserable -- these over-the-counter (OTC) medicines might offer some relief.

  • Antacids. They're what your great-grandfather took when he had heartburn on Thanksgiving eighty years ago. They might not be as powerful as some newer OTC medicines, but antacids start working almost immediately. Antacids come as liquids and tablets; brand names include Gaviscon, Maalox, Mylanta, Rolaids, and Tums.
  • H2 blockers. Originally prescription medicines, H2 blockers are now available over the counter. They're good drugs for occasional heartburn, although they're most effective when taken an hour before eating, Rosh says. Examples include Axid, Pepcid, Tagamet, and Zantac.
  • Proton pump inhibitors (PPIs). Three PPIs are available over-the-counter: Prevacid, Prilosec, and Zegerid. They won’t relieve heartburn right away -- they may take up to four days for full effect -- so they’re not helpful after you’ve already overindulged. PPIs are meant for people who have heartburn at least twice a week.
  • Anti-diarrhea medicines. Treatments like Imodium, Kaopectate, and Pepto-Bismol can help relieve diarrhea after a night of overdoing it. While effective, these medicines can sometimes result in a new problem: constipation. Don't use these medicines if you have any signs of an infection in the intestines, like a fever or black or bloody bowel movements. In those cases, using a medicine to stop diarrhea could make the infection worse. Instead, see your health care provider.

Holiday Digestive Problems: When to Get Help

For most people, the occasional stomachache, a bout of diarrhea, or some holiday heartburn is nothing to worry about. However, if you're having ongoing symptoms, you need to see a doctor.

The worst thing you could do is ignore chronic symptoms, hoping they'll resolve in the new year on their own. That could ruin your holidays with months of pointless and preventable suffering.

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Reviewed on September 10, 2011
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