Everything gives me indigestion

Indigestion

Treatment for indigestion (dyspepsia) will vary, depending on what is causing it and how severe your symptoms are.

If you have been diagnosed with an underlying health condition, you may want to read our information on:

  • treating gastro-oesophageal reflux disease (GORD)
  • treating a stomach ulcer

Diet and lifestyle changes

If you only have indigestion occasionally, you may not need to see your GP for treatment. It may be possible to ease your symptoms by making a few simple changes to your diet and lifestyle, summarised below.

Healthy weight

Being overweight puts more pressure on your stomach, making it easier for stomach acid to be pushed back up into your gullet (oesophagus). This is known as acid reflux, and is one of the most common causes of indigestion.

If you are overweight or obese, it is important to lose weight safely and steadily through regular exercise and by eating a healthy, balanced diet. Read advice on losing weight.

Stop smoking

If you smoke, the chemicals you inhale in cigarette smoke may contribute to your indigestion. These chemicals can cause the ring of muscle that separates your oesophagus from your stomach to relax, causing acid reflux.

Read more about quitting smoking, or speak to your GP or pharmacist. You can also call the Quit Your Way Scotland service on 0800 84 84 84 (8.00am to 10.00pm, every day).

Diet and alcohol

Make a note of any particular food or drink that seems to make your indigestion worse, and avoid these if possible. This may mean:

  • eating less rich, spicy and fatty foods
  • cutting down on drinks that contain caffeine – such as tea, coffee and cola
  • avoiding or cutting down on alcohol

At bedtime

If you tend to experience indigestion symptoms at night, avoid eating for three to four hours before you go to bed. Going to bed with a full stomach means there is an increased risk that acid in your stomach will be forced up into your oesophagus while you are lying down.

When you go to bed, use a couple of pillows to prop your head and shoulders up or, ideally, raise the head of your bed by a few inches by putting something underneath the mattress. The slight slope that is created should help to prevent stomach acid moving up into your oesophagus while you are asleep.

Stress or anxiety

If you regularly experience feelings of stress or anxiety, this can contribute to symptoms of indigestion.

Read some relaxation tips to relieve stress.

Changing current medication

Your GP may recommend making changes to your current medication if they think it could be contributing to your indigestion.

As long as it is safe to do so, you may need to stop taking certain medications, such as aspirin or ibuprofen. Where possible, your GP will prescribe an alternative medication that will not cause indigestion. However, never stop taking any medication without consulting your GP first.

Immediate indigestion relief

If you have indigestion that requires immediate relief, your GP can advise you about the best way to treat this. As well as lifestyle changes and reviewing your current medication, your GP may prescribe or recommend:

  • antacid medicines
  • alginates

These are described in more detail below.

Antacids

Antacids are a type of medicine that can provide immediate relief for mild to moderate symptoms of indigestion. They work by neutralising the acid in your stomach (making it less acidic), so that it no longer irritates the lining of your digestive system.

Antacids are available in tablet and liquid form. You can buy them over the counter from most pharmacies without a prescription.

The effect of an antacid only lasts for a few hours at a time, so you may need to take more than one dose. Always follow the instructions on the packet to ensure you do not take too much.

It is best to take antacids when you are expecting symptoms of indigestion, or when they start to occur, such as:

  • after meals
  • at bedtime

This is because antacids stay in your stomach for longer at these times and have more time to work. For example, if you take an antacid at the same time as eating a meal, it can work for up to three hours. In comparison, if you take an antacid on an empty stomach, it may only work for 20 to 60 minutes.

Read more about antacids, including possible interactions with other medicines and side effects.

Alginates

Some antacids also contain a medicine called an alginate. This helps relieve indigestion caused by acid reflux.

Acid reflux occurs when stomach acid leaks back up into your oesophagus and irritates its lining. Alginates form a foam barrier that floats on the surface of your stomach contents, keeping stomach acid in your stomach and away from your oesophagus.

Your GP may suggest that you take an antacid that contains an alginate if you experience symptoms of acid reflux or if you have GORD.

Take antacids containing alginates after eating, because this helps the medicine stay in your stomach for longer. If you take alginates on an empty stomach, they will leave your stomach too quickly to be effective.

Treating persistent indigestion

If you have indigestion that is persistent or recurring, treatment with antacids and alginates may not be effective enough to control your symptoms. Your GP may prescribe a different type of medication, which will be prescribed at the lowest possible dose to control your symptoms. Possible medications include:

  • proton pump inhibitors (PPIs)
  • H2-receptor antagonists

These are described in more detail below. Your GP may also test you for the Helicobacter pylori (H pylori) bacteria (see Indigestion – diagnosis) and prescribe treatment for this if necessary.

Proton pump inhibitors (PPIs)

PPIs restrict the acid produced in your stomach.

The medication is taken as tablets and is generally only available with a prescription. If you are over 18, you can buy some types of PPIs over the counter in pharmacies, but these should only be used for short-term treatment. If your ingestion is persistent, see your GP.

PPIs may enhance the effect of certain medicines. If you are prescribed a PPI, your progress will be monitored if you are also taking other medicines, such as:

  • warfarin – a medicine that stops the blood clotting
  • phenytoin – a medicine to treat epilepsy

If your GP refers you for an endoscopy (a procedure that allows a surgeon to see inside your abdomen), you will need to stop taking a PPI at least 14 days before the procedure. This is because PPIs can hide some of the problems that would otherwise be spotted during the endoscopy.

PPIs can sometimes cause side effects. However, they are usually mild and reversible. These side effects may include:

  • headaches
  • diarrhoea
  • constipation
  • feeling sick (nausea)
  • vomiting
  • flatulence
  • stomach pain
  • dizziness
  • skin rashes

H2-receptor antagonists

H2-receptor antagonists are another type of medication that your GP may suggest if antacids, alginates and PPIs have not been effective in controlling your indigestion. There are four H2-receptor antagonists:

  • cimetidine
  • famotidine
  • nizatidine
  • ranitidine

These medicines work by lowering the acidity level in your stomach.

Your GP may prescribe any one of these four H2-receptor antagonists, although famotidine and ranitidine are available to buy over the counter in pharmacies. H2-receptor antagonists are taken either in tablet or liquid form.

As with PPIs, you will need to stop taking H2-receptor antagonists at least 14 days before having an endoscopy. This is because they can hide some of the problems that could otherwise be spotted during the endoscopy.

Helicobacter pylori (H pylori) infection

If your indigestion symptoms are caused by an infection with H pylori bacteria, you will need to have treatment to clear the infection from your stomach. This should help relieve your indigestion, because the H pylori bacteria will no longer be increasing the amount of acid in your stomach.

H pylori infection is usually treated using triple therapy (treatment with three different medications). Your GP will prescribe a course of treatment containing:

  • two different antibiotics (medicines to treat infections that are caused by bacteria)
  • a PPI

You will need to take these medicines twice a day for seven days. You must follow the dosage instructions closely to ensure that the triple therapy is effective.

In up to 85% of cases, one course of triple therapy is effective in clearing an H pylori infection. However, you may need to have more than one course of treatment if it does not clear the infection the first time.

Symptoms & Causes of Indigestion

What are the symptoms of indigestion?

When you have indigestion, you may have one or more of the following symptoms:

  • pain, a burning feeling, or discomfort in your upper abdomen
  • feeling full too soon while eating a meal
  • feeling uncomfortably full after eating a meal
  • bloating
  • burping

Other symptoms may include

  • burping up food or liquid
  • loud growling or gurgling in your stomach
  • nausea
  • gas

Sometimes when you have indigestion, you may also have heartburn. However, heartburn and indigestion are two separate conditions.

When you have indigestion, you may have pain, a burning feeling, or discomfort in your upper abdomen.

Seek care right away

If you have indigestion and any of the following symptoms, you may have a more serious condition and should see a doctor right away:

  • black, tarlike stools
  • bloody vomit
  • difficulty swallowing or painful swallowing
  • frequent vomiting
  • losing weight without trying
  • pain in your chest, jaw, neck, or arm
  • severe and constant pain in your abdomen
  • shortness of breath
  • sweating
  • yellowing of your eyes or skin

You should also see a doctor if your indigestion lasts longer than 2 weeks.

What causes indigestion?

Some of the causes of indigestion include

  • drinking
    • too many alcoholic beverages
    • too much coffee or too many drinks containing caffeine
    • too many carbonated, or fizzy, drinks
  • eating
    • too fast or too much during a meal
    • spicy, fatty, or greasy foods
    • foods that contain a lot of acid, such as tomatoes, tomato products, and oranges
  • feeling stressed
  • smoking

Some medicines can cause indigestion, such as

  • certain antibiotics—medicines that kill bacteria
  • nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs

Health problems and digestive tract diseases and conditions can cause indigestion, including

  • acid reflux (GER and GERD)
  • anxiety or depression
  • gallbladder inflammation
  • gastritis
  • gastroparesis
  • Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) infection
  • irritable bowel syndrome
  • lactose intolerance
  • peptic ulcer disease
  • stomach cancer

Researchers do not know what causes functional dyspepsia. Some research3 suggests that the following factors may play a role in functional dyspepsia:

  • eating
  • gastroparesis
  • problems in the first part of your small intestine, including inflammation and being overly sensitive to stomach acids
  • infection by microorganisms such as H. pylori, Salmonella, Escherichia coli (E. coli), Campylobacter, giardia, or norovirus
  • psychological problems, especially anxiety
  • genes—a trait passed from parent to child

The medical term for indigestion is ‘dyspepsia’ – this includes several different types of abdominal pain caused by problems with your digestive tract.

Symptoms of indigestion

Indigestion covers a multitude of symptoms. The most common is pain – typically a burning pain in your upper abdomen, or travelling behind your breastbone. However, indigestion can also cause:

  • Nausea or being sick.
  • Bloating of your tummy.
  • Belching.
  • Feeling full quickly when you eat.
  • Heartburn.

Our picks for When to worry about indigestion

The digestive system

The gut (gastrointestinal tract) is the long tube that starts at the mouth and ends at the back …

Causes of indigestion

Indigestion is usually caused by inflammation in your stomach. This is often due to an excess of stomach acid, which your body produces to digest food. If this acid refluxes into your gullet, it can cause heartburn – burning pain behind your breastbone, sometimes accompanied by a bitter liquid rising into your mouth. In the UK, one in three adults suffer from heartburn and one in six get it at least twice a week.

Other causes include:

Ulcers

Peptic ulcers include ulcers in your stomach and the duodenum – the first part of the gut after your stomach.

Hiatus hernia

Hiatus hernia occurs when the top part of the stomach pushes up into the chest cavity, and it often causes heartburn.

Your medication

Medicines are a common cause of indigestion. Some of the most likely culprits include:

  • Aspirin.
  • Anti-inflammatory tablets (taken for muscle pains, arthritis, etc – they include medicines like ibuprofen, diclofenac and naproxen).
  • Bisphosphonates (tablets taken daily, weekly or monthly to prevent osteoporosis, or ‘thinning’ of the bones).
  • Some antibiotics (especially erythromycin).
  • Digoxin.
  • Steroid tablets.
  • Iron tablets.
  • Calcium antagonists (used for high blood pressure or sometimes angina).

If your indigestion starts, or becomes worse, shortly after you start taking one of these medicines, see your GP. They may be able to change your tablet – or the time you take it – to stop indigestion from occurring.

Medicines that can help

We’ve come a long way in the treatment of indigestion, heartburn and peptic ulcers, and it’s all down to advances in medicines.

When I was a medical student, it was fairly common for people to need surgery to control their symptoms – these days tablets like PPIs (their names all end in ‘-azole’ – omeprazole, lansoprazole, esomeprazole, etc) keep acid under control much better.

Sometimes a germ called Helicobacter pylori can make indigestion worse. Your doctor may perform a breath, stool or blood test for this and if necessary, give you a one-week course of treatment with three different tablets to get rid of it. This doesn’t always work and it involves taking several tablets a day and often having to avoid even a sip of alcohol for a week, but it can greatly reduce the chance of symptoms returning.

When to worry

Indigestion and heartburn are rarely due to a serious cause, but there are some ‘red flags’ or warning signs which should be checked out by a doctor. They include:

  • Severe pain which doesn’t settle with remedies from your pharmacist or doctor.
  • Being off your food or losing weight for no obvious reason.
  • Food sticking when you swallow, or severe pain on swallowing.
  • Vomiting up blood or black ‘coffee grounds’.
  • Blood in your poo, especially if it’s dark red and mixed in with the poo (rather than being on the paper or in the pan) or passing black, tarry poos.
  • Feel generally unwell (which can be down to anaemia) or tired.
  • Persistent bloating that lasts for three weeks or longer (which could in rare cases be caused by ovarian cancer).

Further investigation

If you get any of these symptoms, if you have a past history of peptic ulcer or a condition called Barrett’s oesophagus, or if you develop persistent indigestion or reflux (especially with weight loss) over the age of 55, your doctor may recommend further investigations.

There are two main investigations.

Gastroscopy

One is a gastroscopy – a small flexible tube is passed down your throat, sometimes under sedation, to look inside your tummy. This is done as a day case in hospital but you’ll need someone to take you home afterwards.

Colonoscopy

The other, done where an abnormality of the lower bowel is suspected, is a colonoscopy. You take medicines at home to empty your bowels completely, then go in as a day case to hospital and have a small flexible tube passed up from your bottom to examine your large bowel.

Preventing indigestion

There’s much that you can do to relieve or prevent your symptoms happening the first place.

In heartburn, lying down often brings on the problem because the acid doesn’t have to travel against gravity up into your gullet. Propping the head of the bed up on a couple of bricks may help.

So too can losing weight, avoiding tight belts or trousers and staying away from large meals or eating too close to bedtime.

For other indigestion, you may find that some foods like peppermint, tomatoes, alcohol or spicy foods are best avoided.

Your pharmacist can advise on short-term remedies or a course of tablets to relieve the misery. It’s worth reading our article on probiotics too, to see if they might be worth trying.

Why do I feel sick after I eat?

For many different reasons, the food that a person chooses to eat may lead to their stomach hurting afterward.

1. Food poisoning

Share on PinterestStomach pain is a common symptom of food poisoning.

One of the key symptoms of food poisoning is stomach pain. Other symptoms include:

  • vomiting
  • diarrhea
  • lack of energy
  • high temperature

Symptoms can appear a few hours after eating, but they may take days or weeks to surface.

Food poisoning normally only lasts a few days. It can usually be treated at home with rest and fluids.

2. Acidic foods

Acidic foods that can irritate the stomach include fruit juices, processed cheese, and tomatoes.

Finding alternatives, such as replacing fruit juices with water or tea, may help to cut down on stomach pain.

3. Trapped wind

Trapped wind in the digestive tract can cause discomfort. The stomach may feel stretched and uncomfortable, or there may be a sharp pain.

Sugary drinks and certain foods can cause bloating and wind. These include:

  • onions
  • beans
  • cabbage
  • broccoli

When someone chews gum, sucks sweets, or eats with their mouth open, it can lead to them swallowing air. This can be another cause of wind.

4. Spicy foods

Chili peppers are often used to flavor spicy food. They contain capsaicin, a chemical that causes the hot or burning sensation. Capsaicin may irritate sensitive parts of the body, including the stomach.

5. Indigestion

A person can suffer indigestion after eating or drinking. As well as stomach ache, they may feel bloated or sick.

The stomach contains acid to break down food. Sometimes, this can irritate the stomach lining and cause indigestion.

Rich or fatty foods, caffeine, sugary drinks, and alcohol can make indigestion worse.

Over-the-counter medication, which is available online and known as an antacid, may help if cutting out certain foods and drinks makes no difference.

6. Caffeine

Caffeine is a stimulant found in tea and coffee. It can irritate the stomach and cause discomfort for some people.

People can choose alternatives and still enjoy hot drinks. Decaffeinated tea and decaffeinated coffee are available online. Fruit teas or hot water with a slice of lemon are also healthful to help people stay hydrated during the day.

7. Alcohol

Alcoholic drinks can cause bloating. This is especially true if they are carbonated, such as beer or sparkling wine. They may also make heartburn worse.

If someone cuts down on the amount of alcohol they drink, it can have many health benefits. Drinking a soft drink or water between alcoholic ones or choosing alcohol-free wine or beer are ways to reduce alcohol consumption.

8. Food allergy or intolerance

Share on PinterestFood allergies may cause stomach pain.

Some people may be allergic to certain foods. These can irritate the stomach and may cause pain after eating.

An intolerance is a milder form of an allergy. Both allergies and intolerances can be caused by many different foods.

Common intolerances include gluten, wheat, and lactose.

People can keep a food diary if they think they might have an allergy.

A food diary is a written record of what they have consumed at each meal, including drinks and snacks. They should also include a note of when their stomach hurts.

Keeping a diary can help determine the foods causing an issue. People can then cut this food out of their diet.

9. Eating too much

Overfilling the stomach on a regular basis is not good for health. Discomfort after eating may be a sign that a person is eating too much.

People can find guidance on healthy portion sizes from the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.

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