Heartburn and Indigestion

Heartburn and Indigestion

Indigestion is a general term for pain or discomfort felt in the stomach and under the ribs. 

Heartburn is when acid moves up from the stomach into the gullet (oesophagus) and causes a burning pain behind your breastbone. 

Indigestion and heartburn can occur together or on their own.

It's a common problem that affects most people at some point. In most cases it's mild and only occurs occasionally.

Self-Care Techniques

Some simple self-care techniques are:

  • Lose weight – being overweight can contribute to heartburn.
  • Stop or cut down smoking and/or alcohol.
  • Have your last meal of the day at least three hours before going to bed.
  • Try raising the head of your bed by a few inches – simply raising your head by using an extra pillow won't have the same beneficial effect.
  • Make a note of any food or drink that seems to make your indigestion worse, and try to avoid them.
Visit Your Pharmacist

For short-term relief, your pharmacist can recommend antacid medicines to neutralise stomach acid, or alginates to protect your food pipe (oesophagus) from acid.

When to See Your GP

There's usually no need to seek medical advice for indigestion as it's often mild and infrequent and specialist treatment isn't required.

However, you should see your GP if you have recurring indigestion and any of the following apply:

  • you're 55 years of age or over
  • you've lost a lot of weight without meaning to
  • you have difficulty swallowing
  • 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

These symptoms may be a sign of a more serious underlying health problem, such as a stomach ulcer or stomach cancer.

Also see your GP if you get indigestion regularly, if it causes you severe pain or discomfort, or if your regular anti-reflux remedies stop working.