What’s a GI Cocktail and What Is It Used For?
A gastrointestinal (GI) cocktail is a mixture of medications that you can drink to help ease the symptoms of indigestion. It’s also known as a gastric cocktail.
But what exactly is in this gastric cocktail and does it work? In this article, we take a look at what makes up a GI cocktail, how effective it is, and whether there are any side effects you should know about.
What is a GI cocktail?
The term “GI cocktail” doesn’t refer to a specific product. Instead, it refers to a combination of the following three medicinal ingredients:
- an antacid
- a liquid anesthetic
- an anticholinergic
This chart helps to explain what the GI cocktail ingredients are, why they’re used, and the approximate dose of each ingredient:
|Ingredient||Function||Brand name||Active ingredient(s)||Typical dose|
|liquid antacid||neutralizes stomach acid||Mylanta or Maalox||aluminum hydroxide, magnesium hydroxide, simethicone||30 mL|
|anesthetic||numbs the inside of the throat, esophagus, and stomach||Xylocaine Viscous||viscous lidocaine||5 mL|
|anticholinergic||eases cramps in the stomach and intestines||Donnatal||phenobarbital, hyoscyamine sulfate, atropine sulfate, scopolamine hydrobromide||10 mL|
What is it used for?
A GI cocktail is typically prescribed for dyspepsia, more commonly known as indigestion.
Indigestion is not an illness. Instead, it’s typically a symptom of an underlying gastrointestinal issue, like:
- acid reflux
- an ulcer
When indigestion isn’t caused by another condition, it may be caused by medication, diet, and lifestyle factors such as stress or smoking.
In general, indigestion occurs after eating. Some people experience it on a daily basis, while others only experience it from time to time.
Although most people will likely experience indigestion at some point in their lives, the symptoms can vary from one person to the next.
Some common signs of indigestion include:
- abdominal discomfort
- chest pain
- constipation or diarrhea
- loss of appetite
A GI cocktail may be prescribed to treat these symptoms, typically in a hospital or emergency room setting.
Sometimes, a GI cocktail is used to try and determine whether chest pain is caused by indigestion or a heart problem.
However, there’s limited research to support the effectiveness of this practice. Some case studies suggest that GI cocktails shouldn’t be used to rule out an underlying heart problem.
Does it work?
A GI cocktail may be effective at relieving indigestion. However, research is lacking and existing literature isn’t current.
In an older 1995 study conducted in a hospital emergency department, researchers assessed symptom relief following the administration of a GI cocktail to 40 patients with chest pain and 49 patients with abdominal pain.
The GI cocktail was often reported to relieve symptoms. However, it was frequently administered alongside other medications, making it impossible to conclude which drugs provided symptom relief.
Other research has questioned whether taking a GI cocktail is more effective than simply taking an antacid on its own.
A 2003 trial used a randomized, double-blind design to evaluate the effectiveness of GI cocktails in treating indigestion. In the study, 120 participants received one of the following three treatments:
- an antacid
- an antacid and an anticholinergic (Donnatal)
- an antacid, an anticholinergic (Donnatal), and viscous lidocaine
Participants ranked their indigestion discomfort on a scale both before and 30 minutes after the medication was administered.
The researchers reported no significant differences in pain ratings between the three groups.
This suggests that an antacid alone may be just as effective at relieving pain associated with indigestion, but additional studies are needed to know for sure.
Finally, a 2006 report for physicians concluded that an antacid alone is preferable to treat indigestion.
Are there any side effects of a GI cocktail?
Drinking a GI cocktail does carry a risk of side effects for each of the ingredients that are used in the mixture.
Possible side effects of antacids (Mylanta or Maalox) include:
- nausea or vomiting
Possible side effects of viscous lidocaine (Xylocaine Viscous) include:
- irritation or swelling
Possible side effects of anticholinergics (Donnatal) include:
- blurred vision
- difficulty sleeping
- drowsiness or fatigue
- dry mouth
- nausea or vomiting
- reduced sweating or urination
- sensitivity to light
Other medical treatment options
There are several other medications that can treat indigestion. Many are available without a prescription from a doctor.
A healthcare professional can help you determine which is the best choice for your specific symptoms. Some options include:
- H2 receptor blockers. These drugs, including Pepcid, are often used to treat conditions that cause excess stomach acid.
- Prokinetics. Prokinetics such as Reglan and Motilium can help control acid reflux by strengthening a muscle in the lower esophagus. These drugs require a prescription from a doctor.
- Proton pump inhibitors (PPIs). Proton pump inhibitors such as Prevacid, Prilosec, and Nexium block the production of stomach acid. They’re more powerful than H2 receptor blockers. These types of medications are available over-the-counter (OTC) and by prescription.
Home treatments for easing indigestion
Medication isn’t the only way to treat indigestion. Lifestyle changes can also help reduce or prevent symptoms.
Some ways that you may be able to relieve or ease your indigestion include the following self-care treatments: