Sucralfate is a medication prescribed most commonly to patients with ulcers to provide protection from the harsh environment of the stomach, giving the ulcers a chance to heal. It is used in both humans and animals, and may sometimes be offered in cases where other parts of the gastrointestinal tract have lesions or ulcers. It is among a family of medications known as bowel protectants because they are designed to protect active lesions in the bowel while they heal.
Tablets and an oral suspension are both available. This medication works by creating a buffer between inflamed tissue and stomach acid, enzymes, and other compounds found in the stomach and bowel, preventing them from further irritating ulcers. It also binds to proteins found specifically on the surface of ulcers, creating a thick, pasty coating. Combined with the buffer action of this medication, this acts like a defensive bubble, isolating the ulcer while it has a chance to heal.
A dose of sucralfate can last between six and eight hours, with people taking doses three to four times a day, depending on the prescription, usually before meals. The most common side effects are constipation, abdominal pain, and gas. A high fiber diet is usually recommended while on this medication to facilitate the passage of stool, and patients may also find that eating several small meals a day, rather than one or two large ones, can help manage the side effects.
Patients may need eight weeks or longer on sucralfate to start experiencing results. If it is not take consistently, the ulcer can flare back up as a result of exposure to the stomach contents, and the patient's improvements on the medication can regress. It is important to avoid running out of sucralfate and to be consistent about taking it. Patients who have trouble remembering the medication may want to consider using a pill reminder utility for a cell phone or computer, receiving an alert when it's time for another dose.
If a patient does not respond to sucralfate, a doctor may explore other treatment options. These can vary, depending on the cause of the ulcer and how severe it has become. Diagnostic testing like gastroscopy to look inside the stomach may be recommended to give the doctor an opportunity to collect information about the patient's gastrointestinal health, and blood draws may be taken to check for metabolic issues.