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What is Ranitidine?

Tricia Christensen
Updated May 17, 2024
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Ranitidine, which may be more recognizable by one of its brandnames, Zantac®, is a medication designed to treat stomach disorders of many types, including ulcers, gastrointestinal reflux disease, and chronic indigestion. It is effective in these instances because it lowers production of stomach acids. This may help heal lesions in the stomach, like ulcers, or it may prevent erosion of the lining of the gastrointestinal tract, while alleviating unpleasant symptoms like heartburn. Depending on the region, ranitidine may be available over the counter or by prescription, it can come in different strengths, and it is available as a liquid, pill, or as an injectable or intravenous medicine.

Drugs like ranitidine belong to a group of special antihistamines called H2 receptor antagonists. Normally, H2 receptors in the gastrointestinal system are stimulated by the presence of histamine, which binds to them. When these receptors and histamine meet, the body produces additional stomach acid. Ranitidine and other drugs prevent these meetings, so that histamine can’t bind to the receptors and the signal to produce extra acid isn’t sent. This helps lower overall acid, addressing some of the above-mentioned conditions.

Since Zantac® is available over the counter in many locales, people may fail to pay attention to the strong warnings associated with this medicine. It should never be used in pregnancy and may cause risk to breastfeeding babies if the mother takes it. It is not advised for people with liver or kidney conditions. Those with any blood disorders called porphyrias are strongly cautioned to avoid this medicine. Patients are also advised that they obtain diagnosis before using ranitidine because the symptoms of things like acid reflux can be similar to symptoms of more serious illness like stomach cancer.

There are many medicines that may conflict with ranitidine. Among these are medicines that treat a diverse variety of disorders such as AIDS, blood conditions, sleep or anxiety disorders, cancer, peptic ulcers, and fungal infections. When patients talk to a doctor about taking Zantac® they should be certain to include a list of all medications taken and mention all drug allergies. This can reduce potential for negative interactions.

The principal side effects of ranitidine may vary in individual expression. Side effects that tend not to be a concern include slight nausea, constipation, diarrhea or dizziness. People should contact their physicians if they experience allergic reaction (though the medication is sometimes used to treat hives), difficulty breathing, jaundice, skin rashes or mental/emotion symptoms such as hallucinations, panic, or depression. These are rare but should be addressed immediately.

One warning exists for certain populations of people who use ranitidine. Anyone with a compromised immune system and people who are over 65 may be at increased risk for developing pneumonia from illnesses while they are taking Zantac®. Risk of the medication must be outweighed by the benefits in these groups, and respiratory illnesses should be followed carefully.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a WiseGeek contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.
Discussion Comments
By AnswerMan — On Jan 20, 2015

@Inaventu- I've been taking Zantac for my acid reflux for years, and I've never encountered your friend's problem. My doctor did warn me to take only the minimal amount that would address the problem, and to respect the recommended time between doses. He said these medications were not intended to be used for permanent, long-term relief. I was supposed to help the process through diet changes and stress management exercises.

There are long periods of time now when I don't feel the need to take Zantac every day. I only take it now when I know I've eaten some trigger foods or I'm already experiencing the early signs of acid reflux. Maybe your friend should look into other kinds of GERD or acid reflux medications that work in a different way than Zantac.

By Inaventu — On Jan 19, 2015

I honestly don't know if this is a common side effect of Zantac, but I had a friend who took it for his acid reflux and it worked almost too well. Zantac and other drugs of its kind are supposed to suppress the production of stomach acids, but apparently it can go too far in the other direction. Again, I don't know if it's one of Zantac's side effects or if he took the drug exactly as prescribed.

Anyway, he developed a serious problem with his digestive system because his stomach stopped producing stomach acid altogether. He didn't even have enough acid in his stomach to digest healthy foods, let alone the heavy or spicy foods that triggered his acid reflux. He had to go off his medications for months and get medical attention for his lack of acid production.

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a WiseGeek contributor, Tricia...
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