We’ve all had days when we’ve eaten too much and lived to regret it. Indigestion, sometimes called dyspepsia, is not a disease but rather the term given to the collection of symptoms associated with over-eating or else eating a large meal with a high fat content that is hard to digest. Usually indigestion is annoying rather than dangerous, although it can occasionally be a symptom of an underlying health condition.
Causes of indigestion:
Indigestion occurs when acid in our stomach irritates our stomach lining, oesophagus (the tube leading from the mouth to the stomach) and the top part of the bowel. Sometimes it causes acid reflux whereby acid escapes from the stomach and back into the oesophagus (causing ‘heartburn’).
How to treat indigestion:
There are a large number of medicines available to relieve indigestion:
- Alginates, taken in a suspension, form a thick layer of non-acidic gel that floats on the stomach contents and restricts reflux (the acid coming back up). If reflux does occur, the gel has a soothing effect on the lining of the oesophagus.
- Antacids such as aluminium hydroxide, calcium carbonate or magnesium hydroxide work by neutralising gastric acid making it less painful. Some antacid tablets dissolve to make effervescent drinks that help release trapped stomach wind through burping. Dimeticone, an ingredient of some antacids, also helps release trapped wind by causing small bubbles of gas to combine together and be released easily.
- If these treatments don’t work medicines called H2-receptor antagonists, such as cimetidine, famotidine, nizatidine and ranitidine, or proton pump inhibitors (PPIs), such as esomeprazole, omeprazole, lansoprazole, pantoprazole and rabeprazole, may be prescribed. These help reduce acid production. If the indigestion is caused by a bacterial infection called
- Helicobacter pylori (H pylori) these treatments may be offered together with antibiotics such as amoxicillin, clarithromycin or metronidazole.
- Many indigestion remedies containing alginates, antacids, dimeticone or bismuth can usually be purchased freely over the counter. The H2-receptor antagonists, famotidine and ranitidine, and the proton pump inhibitor omeprazole are also available over the counter but their use is more tightly controlled, so your pharmacist will need to check if they are right for you.
- If the pain is intense, in the centre of the chest, spreading to the arms and lower jaw - seek urgent help - this could indicate a heart attack rather than indigestion.
- Also consult a doctor if you suffer from indigestion regularly or have prolonged symptoms that do not respond to over-the-counter treatment.
- Eat small portions at regular interviews, eat slowly, avoid late night meals and go for a short walk after eating to ease digestion. Avoid foods that have previously caused problems.
- Limit alcohol levels and drink white wine over red or beers. Drinking water with meals can also help dilute gastric acid.
- Smoking and being overweight exacerbate indigestion.