A Guide to Carafate (Sucralfate)

A common prescription to treat duodenal ulcers

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Sucralfate, also called Carafate, is a prescription medication used to treat duodenal ulcers, which form in the first part of the small intestine. Duodenal ulcers are a type of peptic ulcer. This type of ulcer forms when the lining of the stomach or small intestine gets worn down by the acids that are produced to aid in digestion.

Symptoms of duodenal ulcers include:

  • Pain in the stomach or chest
  • Feeling sick or full after eating only a small amount of food
  • Having no appetite
  • Losing weight when you aren't trying
  • Feeling sick to your stomach or throwing up 
  • Blood in your vomit or stool

Doctors used to think that ulcers were caused by stress, but today we know that peptic ulcers are usually caused by bacteria (H. pylori) that hurts the mucus lining of the stomach or small intestine. Sometimes, ulcers can form when patients are taking high doses of NSAIDs, a type of over-the-counter pain medication like ibuprofen or aspirin. Taking a lot of these medications, or taking them for a long time, can wear down the lining of the stomach and allow ulcers to form. 

The Link Between H. Pylori and Peptic Ulcers

Mechanism of Action

Carafate is a type of medication called protectants. These medications adhere to tissue in the lining of the stomach or small intestine that have been damaged and protect them from digestive acid and enzymes while they heal.

Protectants do not get absorbed by the body as other medications do. Instead, they act as a coating that helps prevent the ulcer from getting worse. Carafate is prescribed to treat active ulcers, but the medication doesn't prevent new ulcers from forming. A doctor may also prescribe additional medications, such as antibiotics, for patients who are at risk of developing additional ulcers.

Dosage

Your doctor can prescribe Carafate in a pill or liquid form. The liquid form is sometimes referred to as Carafate suspension.

When prescribed for an active stomach ulcer, the pills or liquid dose are usually taken several times a day. In order for the medication to work, you need to take Carafate exactly as your doctor prescribes it for you. It may take many weeks (up to eight) for the ulcers to heal.

Usually, your doctor will tell you to take Carafate:

  • By mouth, either as a pill or liquid
  • At the same time every day
  • On an empty stomach, either one hour before eating or two hours after eating

Side Effects

Carafate can cause minor side effects, though they are rarely serious enough for patients to stop taking the drug. The most common side effect is constipation, which occurs in about 2 percent of patients.

Other side effects include:

  • Diarrhea
  • Upset stomach
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Dry mouth
  • Dizziness
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Headache

Serious side effects are rare but possible. Seek emergency medical care if you experience any of the following after you start taking Carafate:

  • Rash or hives
  • Trouble breathing
  • Signs of an anaphylactic allergic reaction (swelling of the throat or mouth)

Warnings

  • Patients with kidney disease or diabetes may not be able to take Carafate. Tell your doctor if you have either of these conditions or are being treated for them (such as being on dialysis).
  • If you have diabetes, your doctor will monitor you for episodes of low blood sugar (hypoglycemia) that can happen when you are taking Carafate.
  • Carafate can affect how your body absorbs certain medications. Make sure you tell your doctor about any medication you take before you start Carafate. 
  • If you are taking certain medications, like antacids, antibiotics, or drugs that thin your blood (warfarin), your doctor may tell you to take less or stop taking them while you are taking Carafate. Make sure to tell your doctor about any medications you take, even if they are over-the-counter, nutritional, or herbal supplements. 
  • Carafate is categorized as a Category B drug. This means that based on available research, the American College of Gastroenterology considers the drug safe to take if you are pregnant. Be sure to tell your doctor if you are pregnant, plan to become pregnant, or are breastfeeding.
  • It is not known whether Carafate is safe or effective for children. Keep this medication out of reach of children.

Do not take more of this medication than your doctor prescribes. If you miss a dose, take it as soon as you remember. Overdose of Carafate is not common, but if you think you have taken too much, call Poison Control: 1-800-222-1222 or go to the emergency room.

A Word From Verywell 

Carafate is a safe and effective prescription medication used to treat duodenal ulcers. Before you start taking Carafate, let your doctor know if you have conditions like diabetes or kidney disease, are nursing, pregnant, or plan to become pregnant, or have had adverse reactions to medications like Carafate before.

Tell your doctor about any other medications you are taking, even if they are over-the-counter or dietary/herbal supplements. Carafate can change how your body absorbs certain medications, so your doctor might want you to take less or stop taking certain medications while you're taking Carafate.

Make sure you only take as much as your doctor prescribes and take the medication for as long as your doctor tells you to. Carafate make take many weeks (up to eight) to help duodenal ulcers heal. Carafate can cause minor side effects, though they are usually not serious enough for patients to stop taking the drug. If you experience any serious side effects, such as swelling of the mouth or trouble breathing, stop taking Carafate and call your doctor.

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