Indigestion, also known as dyspepsia, is a general term which describes a collection of symptoms which come from the upper gut. Most people have indigestion at some stage in their life. In most cases, although uncomfortable, indigestion usually resolves itself or it can be managed with simple ‘over the counter’ medicines.
Typical symptoms of indigestion which occur after eating or drinking:
Bloating and a feeling of fullness
Belching / burping
Heartburn – a painful burning feeling in the chest, often after eating.
Bitter taste in the back of the throat from acid coming back up.
Indigestion tends to occur in bouts rather than being present all the time.
Some causes of indigestion include:
Eating too quickly
Too much acid in the stomach
Certain medicines (including aspirin, ibuprofen, or iron tablets)
A bacterial infection known as pylori.
Smoking, drinking a lot of alcohol or caffeine-containing drinks.
Eating spicy or fatty foods which can irritate or stay in the stomach for a prolonged time.
Stomach or duodenal ulcers
Eating before bed
Exercise soon after eating.
Heartburn /Acid reflux is another symptom of indigestion and is caused by similar triggers, as discussed above. Heartburn occurs when stomach acid bypasses the circular muscle at the opening of the stomach called the sphincter. Under normal circumstances, this sphincter at the lower end of the tube connecting your mouth to your stomach (oesophagus) relaxes to let food in and tightens to prevent stomach acid from escaping. Heartburn occurs when stomach acid bypasses this muscle and enters back into the oesophagus. This can cause a burning sensation from the sternum (breastbone) to the back of the throat. It can also cause an unpleasant, sour taste in the mouth. Heartburn tends to be worse when lying down or bending over. Hoarseness or a cough can accompany heartburn on occasion. Long term exposure to stomach acid can damage the oesophagus. If reflux continues to occur, it is known as gastro-oesophageal reflux disease (GORD).
The following can help to improve indigestion and heartburn symptoms for some people:
Reducing fat / spice / caffeine intake
Keeping alcohol intake within recommended weekly ‘Low- risk’ limits
Weight loss (where appropriate)
Avoiding eating late at night
Raising the head of the bed may help some people.
Eating smaller, more frequent meals instead of large meals
There are also several OTC medicines available to relieve indigestion and heartburn. Some of these include:
Help to neutralise excess acid in the stomach, thereby reducing indigestion symptoms. (e.g., Rennie’s, Maalox)
Form a protective ‘raft’ at the top of the stomach which reduces the acid entering and causing a burning sensation in the oesophagus (e.g., Gaviscon)
Proton Pump Inhibitors
Work on the cells that line the stomach to reduce the production of stomach acid.These medicines are best reserved for reducing prolonged or frequent indigestion and heartburn symptoms or for those who have not had much relief from symptoms with an antacid. They can take 2 – 3 days for their full effect to be seen (e.g., Losec Control)
Your Life Pharmacy team will advise you on which preparation would be most suited to reducing your symptoms. If you experience frequent bouts of indigestion, severe symptoms or accompanying weight loss, you should speak to your pharmacist or doctor. If you are over 50 years of age and if you are experiencing indigestion symptoms for the first time should also speak to a medical professional. If you take other medicines or suffer with any other medical conditions, speak to your Life pharmacist before taking medicines to relieve heartburn or indigestion.