Help & Advice

What is Indigestion?

Indigestion or dyspepsia describes a group of symptoms arising in the upper gut (oesophagus, stomach and duodenum) and often related to eating. These symptoms include:

  • Pain or discomfort
  • Bloating
  • Belching
  • Feeling full immediately after eating
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting

What causes Indigestion?

Here are some of the types of indigestion and their causes:

  • Non-ulcer dyspepsia, has no known cause and is most common (about 6 in 10 people suffer).
  • Duodenal and stomach (gastric) ulcers are caused by damage to the gut lining
  • Gastritis, inflammation of the lining of the stomach. Can also occur in duodenum.
  • Acid reflux – see below
  • Hiatus hernia occurs when a top part of the stomach bulges through a defect in the diaphragm and into the chest cavity.
  • H. pylori infection is very common with around quarter of UK population being infected at some stage and can lead to an ulcer if untreated.
  • Smoking. Nicotine weakens the stomach sphincter so that stomach contents leak into the oesophagus causing pain and indigestion

What are the treatments for Indigestion:

Treatment for indigestion will depend on the cause and will be decided after your doctor has asked you about your symptoms. He/she will also want to know what medicines you are taking as some can exacerbate dyspepsia. Generally one of the following will be recommended:

  • Antacids in the form of liquids or tablets and in most cases this is all that will be required
  • A change in your current medication may be necessary if it causing the symptoms or making them worse
  • A test for H. pylori, as it is often the underlying cause of dyspepsia. If it is present then antibiotics may be required
  • Acid-suppressing medicines such as proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) or H2 receptor antagonists will reduce the amount of acid in the stomach and usually relieve symptoms. Examples of PPIs are:
  • Omeprazole – the most commonly used
  • Lansoprazole
  • Pantoprazole
  • Rabeprazole
  • Some of the most frequently used H2 antagonists are:
  • Cimetidine
  • Famotidine
  • Ranitidine

Lifestyle changes

Whatever is causing dyspepsia the following habits are good ones to adopt:

  • Eat regularly
  • Maintain a healthy weight
  • Don’t smoke
  • Go easy on the alcohol

What is acid reflux?

Acid reflux occurs when some of the acidic contents of the stomach leaks up into the gullet (oesophagus). This can lead to inflammation of the lining of the oesophagus and cause painful oesophagitis.

Symptoms of acid reflux

  • Heartburn is the main symptom and is a burning sensation in the upper area of the abdomen and can reach up as far as the neck.
  • Chest pain,
  • Nausea
  • Acid taste in the mouth
  • Bloating
  • Belching
  • Burning pain when swallowing

Less common symptoms include:

  • Persistent cough, particularly at night
  • Mouth, throat and gum symptoms due to the presence of acid in the area
  • Severe chest pains sometimes mistaken for a heart attack

Treatment of acid reflux

The treatments for acid reflux are the generally the same as for dyspepsia. It’s also helpful to make the lifestyle changes mentioned above together with some changes to your sleeping habits:

  • Go to bed with an empty, dry stomach (don’t eat or drink in the 3 hours before going to bed)
  • Try raising the head of the bed 10 to 20 cms using bricks or books as gravity will help to prevent acid from refluxing into the osesophagus.
  • Stop smoking