Indigestion

Indigestion (dyspepsia) is a symptom or disorder of the upper part of the digestive system.

The term usually refers to discomfort in the upper abdomen, heartburn, a tendency to burp, experience nausea, vomiting or a sense of bloated fullness.

Heartburn is a discomfort or pain caused by the stomach contents regurgitating from the stomach up into the gullet (oesophagus).

The oesophagus is not made to withstand acid and is thus irritated and inflamed when acid from the stomach refluxes into it. This is also known as acid reflux.

The pain caused by the irritation of the oesophagus is a burning pain, which you feel in the centre of the chest. There is often associated awareness of acid and stomach contents in the back of the throat or mouth. Lying down or bending tends to increase the symptoms.

Causes of indigestion

Millions of people suffer with indigestion every year and most people will have indigestion at some point in their lives. Common causes are:

  • Eating too rapidly.
  • Eating too much.
  • Fatty diets.
  • Spicy diets.
  • Drinking too much alcohol.
  • Some medicines (such as aspirin, ibuprofen).
  • Pregnancy.
  • Obesity.
  • Hiatus hernia.

Treatment

There are many types of medication available over the counter for self-treatment.

Antacids
Since heartburn is caused by acid from the stomach, one of the simplest ways to relieve discomfort is to neutralise the acid with an antacid.

Antacids usually contain a mixture of magnesium and aluminium salts, calcium carbonate or sodium bicarbonate. Those containing high amounts of sodium may not be suitable for pregnant women or those on a sodium restricted diet, such as people with high blood pressure or heart disease.

They are available as tablets that can be sucked or chewed or liquids. Liquids may work faster although tablets may have a longer lasting effect.

Some antacids contain ingredients such as dimethicone that help to get rid of excess gas. These ingredients work by combining all the small bubbles of gas to form one big bubble, which is easier to expel and thus relieve the discomfort.

Alginates
Some antacid products such as Gaviscon also contain sodium alginate.

This substance forms a ‘raft’ that floats on top of the stomach contents. The raft prevents stomach acid from passing back into the oesophagus and protects the oesophagus from the acid if regurgitation does occur.

These products are particularly useful for heartburn caused by pressure on the stomach such as during pregnancy.

H2 antagonists
H2 antagonists work by blocking histamine receptors in the stomach, which prevent the cells in the stomach from producing too much acid. Products include cimetidine, ranitidine and famotidine.

Proton pump inhibitors
Proton Pump inhibitors work by reducing the production of stomach acid. They do this by a system in the stomach called the proton pump. Examples include omeprazole and pantoprazole.

Due to its long duration of action, when taken everyday omeprazole is very effective at providing long-term symptomatic relief. If symptoms persist for more than four weeks please seek advice from your GP.

Prevention

There are a number of lifestyle and dietary changes that may help prevent or reduce the symptoms of indigestion.

  • If you are overweight, losing weight can often help.
  • Avoid large fatty meals and try not to eat just before bedtime.
  • Try to cut down on tea, coffee and alcohol.
  • Avoid smoking.
  • Avoid stress.
  • If suffering from nightly symptoms, use an extra pillow to prop up the head.

Disclaimer

The information provided on this website does not replace medical advice.

If you want to find out more, or are worried about any medical issue or symptoms that you may be experiencing, please contact our pharmacist or see your doctor.

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