Effects of Medications on the Stomach

Some Medications Can Cause Problems in the Stomach

Certain medications, both prescription and over-the-counter, can have a significant effect on the stomach. MediaForMedical/UIG/Getty Images

Some people may notice that certain prescription or over-the-counter medications can cause stomach upset, pain, or irritation. For people with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), avoiding medications that could lead to problems with the stomach is important, especially if there has been a history of medications causing stomach irritation. While stomach problems may sometimes cause symptoms, it can also be present and yet not cause any symptoms at all.

Some of the medications that are known to cause stomach problems include non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), antacids, anticholinergics, and H2 receptor antagonists.


Perhaps because they are so routinely used and can be bought over-the-counter, NSAIDs are the drugs that mostly commonly cause stomach irritation. The reason why is that NSAIDs affect the lining of the stomach, the mucosa. NSAIDs work to reduce pain and inflammation because they contribute to a process that suppresses the creation of compounds called prostaglandins. Prostaglandins are involved in the inflammatory process, so without them, pain and inflammation is lessened. However, they are also key to another important process that goes on in the stomach: the creation and upkeep of the inner layer of the stomach, the mucosa.

The mucosa contains cells that produce mucus, a stringy yellowish white substance that coats the stomach and protects it from the harsh digestive juices.

NSAIDs disrupt the production of the mucus, which leads to a weakness in the mucosa layer. The thinning of the mucous lining causes the digestive enzymes to irritate or inflame the lining of the stomach. When there is inflammation in the stomach lining, it is called gastritis. When the inflammation progresses it can lead to bleeding, ulcers (holes in the stomach lining), or rarely, a perforation.

Some people are more at risk of developing stomach irritation after taking NSAIDs, including older people or those who have a history of stomach problems. Older individuals who take NSAIDs on a regular basis for arthritis or other conditions are at risk for stomach irritation. A history of peptic ulcers or gastritis is also associated with a greater risk of complications after taking NSAIDs. In some cases, medications may be prescribed that can protect the stomach lining.

Symptoms of stomach irritation from NSAIDs can include: 

Tips to help prevent stomach damage from taking NSAIDs include:

  • Don't drink while taking NSAIDs
  • Stick to the dosage prescribed
  • Take NSAIDs with food, milk, or water
  • Take NSAIDs later in the day (check with your doctor first) 
  • Take coated NSAID tablets (check with your doctor first)

Delayed Gastric Emptying

Several other types of medications can cause delayed gastric emptying. The muscles in the stomach that are responsible for emptying are slowed, and food isn't moved out of the stomach at the rate that it should. For people who are diagnosed with gastroparesis, which is a disorder that causes the stomach to delay emptying, drugs that exacerbate the effect can cause significant problems.

Some of the types of drugs that can cause a delay in food emptying from the stomach include:

  • Antacids containing aluminum hydroxide
  • Anticholinergic drugs. These medications are used to treat depression, sleep disorders, and incontinence. Some of the drugs included are Benadryl (diphenhydramine), tricyclic antidepressants, barbiturates, muscle relaxants, and benzodiazepines.
  • H2 receptor antagonists. Some of the medications in this class of drugs, which are used to treat gastroesophageal reflux disease, may delay food emptying from the stomach. However, some H2 receptor antagonists may have the opposite effect and increase the rate that food empties from the stomach. The exact effect of individual drugs in this class are still under study.


    American College of Gastroenterology. "Gastroparesis." Patient Education & Resource Center. 2015. 

    Wallace JL. "Mechanisms, prevention and clinical implications of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug-enteropathy." World J Gastroenterol. 2013 March 28; 19(12): 1861–1876. Published online 2013 March 28. doi: 10.3748/wjg.v19.i12.1861. 

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