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How to Deal With Indigestion & Heartburn

You’ve just eaten a delicious meal but your stomach is now starting to rebel. You’re feeling decidedly full and a little bit sick. Maybe you’re belching a lot or even hiccupping. Perhaps you’ve got a burning sensation in your chest and throat. It’s likely that most of you will have experienced these feelings at some point in your lives, but do you have indigestion or heartburn?

Indigestion and heartburn is not the same thing although many people do get them confused. We’re about to expose the differences between the two so let’s start with indigestion.

Causes of indigestion

Indigestion is a medical condition, otherwise known as dyspepsia. Many people experience indigestion after eating too quickly or eating too much food, especially foods that are high in fat, greasy or spicy.

You can also experience indigestion after drinking too much alcohol or caffeine. However, indigestion may also be caused by conditions such as pancreatitis, gastritis, gallstones and ulcers, or if you’re under a lot of stress or feeling anxious. Some medications will also cause indigestion, while smoking is another culprit.

Symptoms of indigestion

If you’re suffering from indigestion you’ll probably feel generally uncomfortable in the stomach area; you may feel bloated or over full and you may experience pain and nausea. You’ll probably belch frequently and you may suffer from heartburn.

Causes of heartburn

Which brings us onto heartburn. It’s not a condition or a disease, but a symptom of indigestion. You may suffer from heartburn if you’ve been eating chocolate, fatty foods, acidy foods or peppermint.

Heartburn can also occur as a result of a hiatus hernia, as a side effect of medication, or if you have gastroesophageal reflux disease. Put simply, it’s caused by acid reflux, which allows acid to go from your stomach into your oesophagus.

Symptoms of heartburn

Most people will experience symptoms such as a sour taste that creeps up the throat into the mouth, a burning sensation in the chest, or a pain in the throat or neck.

So why the confusion between indigestion and heartburn?

Both describe the symptoms that one might feel after they’ve eaten. They’re usually caused by eating certain trigger foods, or by eating too much or too quickly. However, heartburn is linked to stomach acid and is a symptom of indigestion. Indigestion doesn’t have anything to do with stomach acid; it’s often triggered by emotions, such as feeling stressed, nervous or anxious.

How to treat indigestion

One of the easiest ways to treat both indigestion and heartburn is to avoid the common trigger foods such as spicy and fatty dishes, and to resist drinking too much alcohol. You should also try to slow down as you eat, and eat smaller portions.

To prevent indigestion, try to relax more before meals. You should also do things that will reduce the amount of air that you swallow as you eat, such as closing your mouth as you chew and avoiding talking with your mouth full of food.

How to treat heartburn

As heartburn involves stomach acid there are several over the counter medications available to treat it, such as antacids and drugs that reduce the amount of acid in the stomach. However, if you prefer not to rely on such medications, here are some simple steps to relieve the discomfort.

  • Firstly, loosen any tight clothing and try to sit up as straight as possible. It may also help to stand up. This will reduce the pressure on your internal organs.
  • If you don’t have any specialist medication, head to the kitchen for some baking soda to neutralise the acid in the stomach. Just a teaspoon in a glass of water will do, and don’t forget to drink it slowly.
  • If you have chewing gum handy, this will also help to neutralise and remove the acid by increasing your production of saliva.

Don’t rely on antacids

You should not rely on antacids as a long-term way to treat indigestion as they may cause their own side effects, including diarrhoea, constipation, sickness and headaches, and ultimately make the problem worse.