Self care advice

Heartburn and indigestion are symptoms of pain or discomfort in the upper abdomen or chest. They often result from overeating, eating high fat meals or being overweight. Symptoms typically occur after meals.

Dyspepsia is commonly accompanied by belching and feeling bloated or sick. Common causes include acid reflux from your stomach, inflammation of the gullet, certain medicines (check the patient information leaflet), infection with a bug called helicobacter pylori (or H. pylori), or when part of the stomach squeezes through the diaphragm muscle into the chest (known as hiatus hernia).

Less common, a stomach ulcer or cancer of the stomach or gullet may be responsible. Sometimes, no underlying cause can be found (this is known as functional dyspepsia).

What can I do to get better?

  • Reduce or stop smoking, which may help improve your symptoms.
  • Various drugs that neutralise the acid in your stomach (antacids) as well as other drugs called H2-receptor antagonists and proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) are available without prescription over the counter at pharmacies and in supermarkets. It’s best not to take these medicines for prolonged periods without consulting a pharmacist or other health professional.
  • If you regularly take over-the-counter anti-inflammatory pain killers, such as aspirin or ibuprofen, consult a health professional in case these could be the cause of the indigestion.

When should I seek medical advice?

  • Severe, persistent (longer than three weeks), worsening and unexplained pain in your upper abdomen – particularly if occurring together with other symptoms, such as pain in your chest, breathlessness, sweating, feeling sick or vomiting
  • You vomit blood or dark lumps (like ‘coffee grounds’).
  • Your stool colour has become very dark (looking like tar). But remember that if you take iron tablets your stool can also become black – a harmless side effect which will go when you stop taking iron.
  • You feel faint, or you’ve collapsed.
  • You develop difficulties with swallowing.
  • You suffer from unexplained fever, night sweats, weight loss for no apparent reason, or you notice a swelling or mass in your upper abdomen.