An upset stomach can be debilitating, not to mention awkward. You want to get better as soon as possible. When a natural remedy just isn’t cutting it, an over the counter (OTC) medication is likely to provide much-needed relief. The question is just which one to pick. Is there such a thing as a cure-all? What product will act fast? And is it safe? To find an answer to your (heart-)burning questions, StudyFinds researched the best OTC stomach medicines.
A U.S. study discovered that on average, Americans will wake up with stomach cramps nine times every month. For many, this type of discomfort may result from food intolerance. In fact, 41 percent of Americans say they suffer from some type of food allergy or intolerance. The most common food sensitivities include having a gluten intolerance (54%), caffeine allergy (45%), high fructose corn syrup allergy (43%), or lactose intolerance (36%). Women seem specifically prone to an upset stomach: Researchers for a global study report that nearly half of the women questioned were found to have at least one functional gastrointestinal disorder (FGID). FGID symptoms include heartburn, acid reflux, indigestion, constipation, bloating, or irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
According to another study, the average person battles an upset stomach at least three times per week after eating. Most people are well-aware of what causes their discomfort: Seventy-eight percent of respondents say they consume foods that cause them discomfort at least a few times per month. Another 28 percent admit to consuming these foods weekly! That’s despite their indulgence having serious consequences: Forty-three percent say they’ve been made to feel guilty about, or ashamed of, their digestive discomfort by friends (54%) or siblings (53%). And nearly half of respondents have missed out on a date or other romantic opportunity due to a flare-up.
All that being said, nobody should suffer negative consequences to their social life due to a queasy stomach. StudyFinds reviewed ten expert websites to find the top five best OTC stomach medicines that are sure to relieve any discomfort. Have any to add? Please let us know in the comments!
Note: Please ALWAYS consult with your PCP before taking any medication.
The List: Best OTC Stomach Medicine, According to Experts
1. Pepto Bismol (bismuth subsalicylate)
The iconic pink bottle is number one when it comes to OTC stomach remedies, being recommended by most experts. According to Insider, it works best for nausea, diarrhea, heartburn, and indigestion by reducing inflammation in the gut. “Additionally, it slows down how quickly fluids and electrolytes flow into the bowel, which can help reduce diarrhea and any stomach ache associated with it.”
“According to the brand, this pink potion actually helps treat your problem by targeting and killing the bacteria that causes many cases of diarrhea. It also coats your stomach to provide fast relief. In other words, Pepto kills the cause instead of just treating the symptoms, and it can be extremely helpful after overindulging in some not-so-healthy foods. Plus, the drinkable version is perfect for people who don’t like swallowing pills,” writes Prevention.
As harmless as Pepto Bismol appears, please keep in mind that OTC medicine is still medicine! If you are buying this remedy for children or teens, be sure to follow GoodRx‘s advice: “Pepto-Bismol products that contain bismuth subsalicylate should never be given to kids or teens without a healthcare provider’s OK. This ingredient is like aspirin and can cause a life-threatening issue called Reye’s syndrome in children and adolescents. […] There’s an aspirin-free Pepto-Bismol product available for kids. Double-check with your pharmacist to make sure you’re buying the right one.” Bismuth subsalicylate is also available as Kaopectate.
2. Simethicone (Gas-X, Mylanta)
Simethicone, either in the form of Gas-X or Mylanta, was the second-most recommended stomach remedy. As the name Gas-X indicates, this OTC medication relieves gas pain. “Simethicone relieves gas by speeding up the passage of gas through the intestine,” explains Banner Health.
“It acts in the stomach and intestines to change the surface tension of gas bubbles, enabling their breakdown and the formation of larger bubbles which break easily. In this way it is believed that gas can be eliminated more easily by belching or passing [gas],” elaborates the expert at Insider on the ingredient simethicone.
While Gas-X specifically targets gas and bloating, Mylanta also treats heartburn and a sour stomach, GoodRx writes: “Mylanta is an OTC medication that contains aluminum hydroxide, magnesium hydroxide, and simethicone. There are also versions of Mylanta that contain calcium carbonate instead of aluminum hydroxide. It can be used to treat symptoms of upset stomach, including: heartburn; sour stomach; pressure and bloating from gas.”
3. Emetrol (phosphorated carbohydrate)
Another frequently recommended stomach remedy was Emetrol. “Similar to Pepto-Bismol, Emetrol is one of the OTC medicines that help alleviate nausea associated with stomach flu,” states BuzzRx.
Free of the potentially risky ingredients like acetaminophen (which can interact with other OTC medication or supplements), aspirin (see Pepto-Bismol), and caffeine, Emetrol “works immediately by calming the stomach,” claims SingleCare.
“Emetrol works by calming the stomach muscle contractions (motions) that can lead to vomiting,” says GoodRx. They point out that, despite Emetrol being easily available, “the FDA hasn’t evaluated its safety or effectiveness.” Also, this medication “contains fructose, a type of sugar found in fruits and juices. So if you have a condition where you can’t digest fructose […], you’ll want to consider other medicines for an upset stomach. This medicine is also not recommended for people with diabetes.”
4. Antihistamines (Dramamine)
Another potential anti-nausea remedy is an antihistamine. “Certain types [of antihistamines] may help prevent nausea and vomiting caused by motion sickness. These include dimenhydrinate (brand name: Dramamine) and meclizine hydrochloride (brand name: Dramamine Less Drowsy),” informs familydoctor.org.
“Dramamine is an antiemetic, which means it prevents vomiting. It’s used to prevent and treat nausea, vomiting, and dizziness caused by motion sickness. It is an antihistamine that works by blocking receptors in your gut that trigger nausea in the brain,” writes SingleCare. “It may cause drowsiness, so opt for the non-drowsy formula if that is a concern.”
“This anti-nausea medication works by blocking the vomiting reflex,” states BuzzRx about Dramamine and lists other OTC antihistamines that might bring relief: “Bonine, Dramamine Less Drowsy (meclizine) […], [and] Benadryl (diphenhydramine).”
5. Mild stool softener/laxative OR Loperamide (Imodium)
In some cases, you just need to “flush it all out” to relieve stomach pain. In this case, a mild laxative can help, our experts know. “Stool softeners and laxatives like ducosate (Colace) and bisacodyl (Dulcolax) can help relieve feelings of fullness, bloating, and discomfort caused by constipation,” writes K Health.
“However, there are different types of laxatives – such as bulk-forming laxatives, osmotic laxatives, and stimulant laxatives – which can work in different ways, so be sure to talk to your pharmacist or physician to decide which type is right for you,” recommends Banner Health.
Or maybe you have the opposite problem: “If you can’t stop running to the restroom, this medicine is here for you,” says Prevention about Imodium. “Pop two pills and let both active ingredients loperamide HCI (which slows movement in your GI tract) and simethicone (a bloat-buster) start working right away. It’s perfect during a diarrhea crisis, or you can take it as a preventative measure before a big day. But, if you find that celiac disease is the cause of your issues, talk to your doctor before using: Imodium caplets are not certified gluten-free as some ingredients are wheat-derived.”
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