Indigestion or heartburn is termed dyspepsia, and describes that burning feeling in your central chest or creeping up to your throat. It’s an acid surge from the stomach into the oesophagus (your food pipe), in response to eating, in a process of breaking down food to pass through the rest of the gut.
Some people complain of a sour taste in the mouth if the acid reaches this point, and this is made worse by lying down after eating or bending over. Over time, it may cause bad breath.
Dyspepsia may also cause bloating, hiccups or belches, feeling sick and a persistent dry cough.
Dyspepsia or indigestion describes a symptom. If the acid reflux continues, this may develop into a condition called gastro-oesophageal reflux disease, which can cause lasting damage to the lining of the food pipe. If dyspepsia persists despite lifestyle modifications, it’s important to get it diagnosed and treated.
You can reduce your risk of developing dyspepsia or making it worse by modifying certain aspects of your lifestyle. Avoid excess alcohol and smoking, and avoid rich, oily, spicy or acidic foods. Obesity puts additional pressure on the stomach, so a weight loss programme may improve symptoms.
Certain medications can cause dyspepsia, including ibuprofen, naproxen, aspirin and steroids – take these with meals and if you are taking consistently for more than a couple of weeks, ask your doctor about medication to protect the stomach.
It’s a good idea to take small regular meals instead of big meals, and avoid lying down for two hours after eating. Fizzy drinks, caffeinated drinks, coffee or tea can also make symptoms worse.
We have shortlisted a range of treatments that you can try in the short term.
Gaviscon Liquid is a good first option, as it can provide quick relief and does not interact with most medicines. As an antacid, it works to neutralise acidity, which soothes the upper gastric area quickly, and it forms a protective coating to prevent further acid reflux throughout the day. Gaviscon Advance tablets can also be helpful.
Low-dose proton pump inhibitors are available to buy, such as esomeprazole as in Nexium Control, or H2-receptor antagonists, such as Zantac. These work in a different way to reduce the amount of acid produced – they don’t have an immediate effect but once working, they provide longer-lasting relief. Nexium Control can provide up to 24 hours of relief plus protection for the gut lining. Gaviscon Advance or other alginate antacids can be used alongside these acid suppression medications.
If there is no improvement, or the constant need to neutralise the acid speak to your doctor.
Most symptoms resolve by themselves after a few days. If symptoms have persisted most days for more than three weeks, or pharmacy products haven’t sufficiently helped, you should speak to your doctor.
Your doctor will ask about your symptoms, remedies you may have tried from the pharmacist, and they will have a feel of your tummy. They may suggest blood tests or a stool test. This is to look for H Pylori, a bacteria that can live in your stomach and increase acid production, which can cause an ulcer. If positive, this is easily eradicated with antibiotics and acid suppression medication.
If this is negative, your doctor may prescribe acid suppression medication such as lansoprazole or omeprazole for a month or two to help symptoms.
If you have severe stomach pain, feel unwell or faint, if you are vomiting or finding it hard to swallow, or you are losing weight without trying, you should seek medical attention urgently.
You are fit for work if you have indigestion or dyspepsia, but if in a lot of pain or you have cause for concern, you should prioritise seeing your doctor.
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