Indigestion

Indigestion can be pain or discomfort in your upper abdomen (dyspepsia) or burning pain behind the breastbone (heartburn).

Dyspepsia and heartburn may occur together or on their own. Symptoms usually appear soon after eating or drinking.

Common associated symptoms include:

  • Feeling full or bloated
  • Feeling sick (nausea)
  • Belching
  • Bringing up (regurgitating) fluid or food into the gullet (oesophagus)

Indigestion is a common problem that affects many people, but in most cases it's mild and only occurs occasionally.

Why it happens

Indigestion may be caused by stomach acid coming into contact with the sensitive, protective lining of the digestive system (mucosa). The stomach acid breaks down the lining, leading to irritation and inflammation, which can be painful.

The majority of people with indigestion don't have inflammation in their digestive system. Therefore, their symptoms are thought to be caused by increased sensitivity of the mucosa (to acidity or stretching).

In most cases indigestion is related to eating, although it can be triggered by other factors such as smoking, drinking, alcohol, pregnancy, stress or taking certain medications.

Treating indigestion at home

Most people are able to treat indigestion with simple changes to their diet and lifestyle, or with a number of different medications, such as antacids.

Very rarely, a serious underlying health condition is the cause of indigestion. If this is suspected, then further investigation such as an endoscopy will be required (see below).

When to see your doctor

Most people will not need to seek medical advice for their indigestion. However, it is important to see your GP if you have recurring indigestion and any of the following apply:

  • You are 55 years old or over
  • You have lost a lot of weight without meaning to
  • You have increasing difficulty swallowing (dysphagia)
  • You have persistent vomiting
  • You have iron deficiency anaemia
  • You have a lump in your stomach
  • You have blood in your vomit or blood in your stools

This is because these symptoms may be a sign of an underlying health condition, such as a stomach ulcer or stomach cancer. You may need to be referred for an endoscopy to rule out any serious cause.

An endoscopy is a procedure where the inside of the body is examined using an endoscope (a thin, flexible tube that has a light and camera on one end).

Severe indigestion can cause long-term problems with parts of your digestive tract, such as scarring of the oesophagus or the passage from your stomach.

Ask your CarePlus Pharmacist for advice. Indigestion can be easily treated with over the counter medicines and lifestyles changes can prevent re-occurrence.