Cimetidine is a medication used to treat a number of gastrointestinal tract disorders. It works by regulating the production of natural stomach acids, thereby decreasing the severity of ulcers, heartburn, and reflux disease. The drug comes in both prescription and over-the-counter (OTC) varieties, and it is typically available in oral tablet and liquid solution form. It is important for a patient to discuss his or her medical history and current medication use with a doctor before taking cimetidine to limit the risks of adverse side effects and drug interactions.
Medications that contain cimetidine are classified as histamine H2-receptor antagonists. Histamine is a chemical produced by the immune system that is involved in many processes, including the production and regulation of stomach acids. When cimetidine reaches the stomach, it blocks cells' receptor sites for histamine, preventing the chemical from stimulating acid production. Since excess stomach acid is implicated in many digestive disorders, the medication is a versatile remedy. Studies show that the medication may also be beneficial in treating other conditions that involve histamine, such as allergic reactions and herpes infections.
OTC cimetidine drugs are typically low-dose solutions that can provide relief from occasional heartburn, acid reflux, and stomach cramps. People who have chronic gastroesophageal reflux disease, severe stomach ulcers, or frequent heartburn may be able to benefit from a more potent prescription variety. Dosage amounts vary depending on a person's specific condition and age, but most adults can take one to two OTC pills when symptoms are present or likely to occur soon. Doctors usually encourage patients to take prescription cimetidine daily as a preventive agent.
Side effects associated with cimetidine are usually mild, especially when taking low-strength OTC drugs. A person may have headaches, dizzy spells, drowsiness, and diarrhea shortly after taking a dose. Less commonly, an individual can experience mental confusion, feelings of anxiety, or depression that worsens over the course of several weeks. Any lasting side effects should be reported to the prescribing doctor so dosages can be adjusted or medications switched altogether. In very rare cases, taking prescription cimetidine can result in a widespread allergic reaction that leads to a skin rash, rapid heartbeat, and breathing difficulties.
Most people who take the drug are able to find significant relief from their gastrointestinal problems. Ulcers tend to dissolve over time and heartburn episodes become less frequent and severe. By following a doctor's instructions and attending regular checkups, stomach problems can be effectively managed and perhaps cured, eliminating the need for more dangerous medical treatments and surgeries.