Sodium bicarbonate, commonly known as baking soda, is a chemical compound that has a myriad of uses. It is widely used to treat numerous medical issues, including heartburn, indigestion, high potassium levels in the blood and high acid levels in the blood or urine, and in certain instances, it can be used to treat a drug overdose. As a topical paste, it can be used to relieve the symptoms accompanying an insect bite.
Individuals can purchase sodium bicarbonate over the counter, and it comes in several forms for medicinal use. It typically is available as tablets, capsules, granules, powder or a solution. These forms of the compound are taken orally. It also can be administered intravenously, and this form is available only by prescription.
The most common medicinal use for baking soda is as an antacid to reduce indigestion and heartburn. When using the compound for this purpose, individuals should take it an hour or two after a meal and with a glass of water. It reduces the amount of acid in the stomach, and individuals typically experience relief shortly after taking it.
Sodium bicarbonate also is sometimes used to treat hyperkalemia. This condition occurs when potassium levels are excessively high in the blood. Some symptoms of the illness are irregular heartbeat and nausea, but complications can occur, and hyperkalemia can be dangerous if not treated.
Baking soda also can be used to treat different types of acidosis, or excessive acid in the blood or urine. Blood or urine acidity can lead to serious and dangerous complications if left untreated. Depending on the underlying cause, the doctor might use oral or intravenous sodium bicarbonate. The compound also is sometimes used intravenously during emergency cardiopulmonary resuscitation.
Another medicinal use for sodium bicarbonate is in the case of aspirin or tricyclic antidepressant overdose. Aspirin optimally is absorbed in an acidic environment, so the compound is used to lower the acidity, thus reducing aspirin absorption into the bloodstream. An overdose of tricyclic antidepressants can cause metabolic acidosis, which can lead to severe cardiovascular complications. Sodium bicarbonate can help decrease excessive acid levels.
A topical paste of baking soda can be used to relieve some symptoms of insect bites and stings. An individual should combine the compound with water until it is a good consistency for application. The paste can be applied several times a day until symptoms have subsided.
Individuals who use over-the-counter sodium bicarbonate should take care to follow the instructions on the packaging. Those who receive a prescription should follow all directions from the physician. Most side effects are rare, but use of the compound can cause symptoms that include headache, loss of appetite, nausea, weakness and swelling of the lower extremities.