The main symptom of heartburn is a burning pain behind the breastbone. This can be caused due to pregnancy, being overweight, or wearing tight clothes – all of which can put pressure on the stomach and cause stomach acid to leak back up into the food pipe and cause irritation. Smoking and eating certain foods (e.g. tomatoes, spicy food, fatty food and coffee) can also cause heartburn.
Indigestion occurs when the stomach acid comes into contact with the lining of the digestive system. This causes pain in the upper abdomen, belching, nausea and a feeling of fullness.
There are triggers that can cause indigestion or make it worse and these include: smoking, eating heavy or spicy meals, alcohol and certain medication such as NSAIDs.
If you have blood in your stools, difficulty swallowing, recurrent vomiting or weight loss, you must seek medical attention.
IBS usually causes symptoms such as stomach cramps, bloating, diarrhoea and constipation. The causes of this are still unknown.
There is a wide range of treatments for indigestion and heartburn such as those that neutralise stomach acid (e.g. Bisodol, rennie), those that form ‘rafts’ on top of the stomach’s contents (e.g. Gaviscon), prevent stomach irritation and help nausea (e.g. Pepto-bismol), and those that reduce the amount of acid in the stomach (e.g. Nexium, Zantac, Pantoloc).
For IBS, laxatives can be used for constipation (except lactulose as it may cause bloating) and Loperamide is available for diarrhoea. Stomach cramps can usually be relieved by Buscopan or other antispasmodics such as Alverine, Mebeverine and Peppermint oil. Make sure you refer to the patient information leaflets before you buy any of these medicines to see if it is suitable for you.