Neil Scobie
  Written by Neil Scobie - BScPharm Hons, MRPharmS - Pharmacist Consultant


Heartburn and indigestion – What’s the difference?

Heartburn and indigestion are very common, particularly after eating a delicious three course meal or a meal that is slightly larger and or richer than you maybe used to.

‘I have just started seeing someone who likes to go out for dinner a lot, but kept getting a bloated feeling afterwards. I went to my local pharmacy and saw so many products on the shelf but after speaking with the pharmacist, they worked out it was indigestion and gave me some antacids. They also suggested some foods to avoid and other things I could do to help.’

Symptoms of Indigestion

Common symptoms of indigestion include:

  • Feeling bloated during or after a meal
  • Belching
  • Nausea and occasionally vomiting
  • Acidic taste in the mouth
  • Pain or discomfort in the upper abdomen

Indigestion is normally related to eating – perhaps after eating certain foods, or eating too much too quickly. It can also be caused by other factors such as smoking, alcohol, pregnancy, stress and some prescribed medicines.

Indigestion vs Heartburn?

People often confuse indigestion with heartburn, or vice versa. These are two different conditions, although some people can experience them both together. Heartburn is a symptom of acid reflux and is caused when stomach acid rises up from the stomach into the oesophagus, causing inflammation.

Common Symptoms of Heartburn

The main symptom of heartburn is a burning pain in the chest, just below the breastbone. The pain usually occurs after eating a meal and can also cause a tightening sensation in the chest. Similar symptoms may also be caused by a heart attack so if symptoms also include shortness of breath, sweating and pain down the arm, seek immediate medical attention.

Most cases of indigestion and heartburn can be managed by making changes to diet and lifestyle, and over the counter medicines. Your pharmacist will be able to give you advice on the most appropriate treatment for you.

‘My indigestion was much better after I took the advice of my pharmacist and lost a few pounds, had smaller portions and avoided spicy foods late at night. I also tried to drink less alcohol, all of which seem to have made a big difference! I now really look and feel better and forward to going out for a meal!’

Managing & Treating Indigestion & Heartburn

Other diet and lifestyle changes that you can make to manage your symptoms include:

  • Stop smoking
  • Not talking when eating or chewing with your mouth open, and taking your time
  • Eat fewer fatty or acidic foods
  • Not lying down after eating a meal and waiting at least three hours after your last meal before going to bed
  • Don’t exercise straight after eating a meal – leave an hour after eating

When to Seek Medical Help?

You should speak to your GP if you experience any of the following:

  • Have difficulty swallowing
  • Persistent vomiting or blood in your vomit (your vomit may look like coffee grounds)
  • Loss of appetite
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Severe pain in your abdomen
  • Discomfort unrelated to eating
  • Black, tarry stools or visible blood in stools
  • If you are 55 years or over and are experiencing the symptoms for the first time

Many people can identify the triggers for their indigestion or heartburn symptoms and take appropriate action. If you are suffering regularly, speak to your pharmacist or consult your GP.



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