Understanding Heartburn & Indigestion
The terms heartburn and indigestion are often interchanged, but they are actually two different conditions.
Heartburn (or acid reflux)
- Occurs when acid, which normally sits within the protected lining of the stomach, escapes back up into the oesophagus (food pipe)
- Because the oesophagus is not as well protected as the stomach the acid can irritate the lining
- This can cause painful symptoms such as burning, pain (usually behind the breastbone) and a feeling of sickness (often described as a 'bad taste in mouth')
- This can also be caused by acid irritation - hence the common confusion
- The term 'indigestion' encompasses a range of digestive symptoms
- These tend to be milder - in comparison with heartburn - but include pain/discomfort in the upper part of the stomach, sickness and nausea and an uncomfortable bloated feeling
Heartburn and indigestion can tend to have similar triggers. These include:
The Way You Eat...
- Eating large meals can cause your stomach to produce too much acid. Physically 'overfilling' the stomach can also create pressure and cause acid to escape
- Eating irregularly or too quickly can mean that acid levels in the stomach don't have time to regulate
- Eating on the run or just before bedtime can make it easier for acid to escape back up into the oesophagus (food pipe)
The Types of Food You Eat...
- Fatty foods tend to stay in your stomach for longer because fats are slower to digest
- Foods such as chocolate and mint may have a relaxant effect on the sphincter (ring of muscle) at the entrance to the stomach enabling acid to escape back up
- Spicy foods, onions and tomato products may also be triggers
- The Types of Drinks You Drink...
- Caffeinated drinks and alcohol tend to increase acidity in your stomach
- Very hot drinks and citrus juices may also be triggers
Other known triggers include...
- Certain medicines, such as those for heart problems, asthma and high blood pressure can sometimes make your stomach produce more acid.
- Being overweight or wearing tight clothes can put pressure on your stomach.
- Smoking can encourage acid production and cause the sphincter to relax. It may also slow down the production of saliva which helps protect the oesophagus.
- The symptoms of heartburn (acid reflux) are generally described as a kind of tightening or burning sensation in the back of the throat and chest area
- Some people also experience a bitter or acidic taste in the back of the throat
- With indigestion, pain may be felt in the chest or top of the stomach
- However many people complain of feeling 'bloated' or uncomfortably full and gaseous - needing to burp, belch or pass wind a lot
- There may also be nausea or vomiting and a loss of appetite.
- If you are not sure which you are suffering from, see how you feel if you lie down or bend over. If this seems to make symptoms worse it is more likely that you have heartburn.
If you are suffering from any of the following you should consult your doctor:
- Symptoms developing for the first time in mid or later life
- Abdominal pain before or after meals
- Persistent feeling of fullness, bloating or flatulence
- Nausea or vomiting - particularly if it has bright red blood or dark brown bits in it
- Pain or difficulty in swallowing
- Ongoing loss of appetite/continued unexplained weight loss
- Persistent diarrhoea, constipation or any alteration in bowel habit
- Change in stools (bowel motions) especially if they become black, dark red, pale or contain mucus (slime)
- Bleeding or pain when you pass a stool
- Generally feeling tired, lethargic or unwell in association with any abdominal symptoms
If you are suffering from heartburn or Indigestion, you can try relieving your symptoms with a fast and effective treatment from the Gaviscon range.
However, if you find you are repeatedly suffering, it is probably worth trying to establish what triggers your symptoms and making any appropriate lifestyle or dietary changes such as:
Keep your weight in check
- Eat smaller meals more frequently throughout the day
- Take your time eating - chew every mouthful slowly
- Sit up straight when you eat - not on the sofa if you can help it
- Loosen clothes or belts that are too tight
- Don't eat late, or on the run
- If you are prone to night time symptoms prop yourself up slightly with a couple of pillows
- Avoid spicy, acidic and fatty food
- Cut down on alcohol, caffeine and fizzy drinks
- Let very hot drinks cool slightly before drinking them
- Don't smoke
- Relax - stress can cause digestive slow down
Understanding heartburn / indigestion in pregnancy:
Both heartburn (acid reflux) and indigestion are common in pregnancy and tend to become more so as the pregnancy progresses. In fact, by the third trimester nearly three quarters of pregnant women will suffer from heartburn.
There are two main reasons why heartburn and, to a lesser extent, indigestion are common at this time. Firstly, because the surge in the hormone progesterone causes muscles to relax. This includes the sphincter (ring of muscle) at the entrance to the stomach. When this relaxes, stomach acids are able to travel back up into the oesophagus (food pipe) causing heartburn.
During pregnancy you will naturally be wary about taking medicines, however you need not put up with the symptoms of heartburn or indigestion.
Many of the products in the Gaviscon range are completely safe to use in pregnancy and can be used by expectant women. For example, Gaviscon Original, Gaviscon Cool and Gaviscon Advance are all suitable for use in pregnancy. This is because they are remedies known as alginates. Gaviscon products contain sodium alginate. Alginates work with the body by forming a thick layer on top of the stomach contents which prevents the acid rising into the oesophagus (food pipe) - they do not enter the bloodstream.
Gaviscon Cool has added xylitol (an ingredient often found in chewing gum) to give it a refreshing cool feel - which you may appreciate if you are suffering from a bad taste in the mouth.
Gaviscon Advance has double the concentration of sodium alginate compared to the Original formula - but still works with the body rather than entering the bloodstream so despite its extra strength, it still works in the same way and is suitable for use during pregnancy.
Another product you may wish to consider is Gaviscon Double Action. This is both an alginate and an antacid (i.e. it helps to neutralise the stomach acid as well). This can be useful if you are suffering from both heartburn and indigestion and again, Gaviscon Double Action is suitable to use in pregnancy.