Family Health Diary

How to tell if you have just eaten too much or if there is another reason for your pain.

A lot of us eat too much over the festive season. In fact many of us eat too much a lot of the time. Over eating can cause indigestion or heart burn. There are also other health conditions that might appear to be indigestion or heart burn but will need to be checked out by a doctor.

Indigestion and reflux
If you feel uncomfortable fullness or burning in the area from the top of your belly button to the bottom of your ribs, this is usually indigestion. Or you might feel full when you have only just started eating and don’t think you will be able to finish your meal. Indigestion can also make you feel like you want to be sick.

Everyone is different and some people only get indigestion occasionally; others get it nearly every day. Some people with indigestion experience burping or bringing up a little bit of food that causes an acid taste or burning in the back of their mouth. When food comes back up from your stomach this is called reflux or heartburn. Heartburn can also be a pain or burning feeling in the centre of your chest. The pain may radiate into your neck or back during or after eating.

There are medicines and lifestyle changes that can reduce how often you feel indigestion or reflux. Talk to your pharmacist about liquid medicines that sit on top of the stomach contents so that when you burp or reflux, what comes up is soothing and not acidic or burning. Your pharmacist can also help you with medicines that neutralise too much stomach acid and break down wind that is causing bloating. There are also medicines that can reduce the amount of acid your stomach produces. These are best taken for only a short amount of time and you should check with your doctor first to ensure these are suitable for you.

Lifestyle suggestions
If you suffer with ongoing indigestion:

  • Are there certain foods that set off your indigestion (commonly spicy or fatty foods)? Can you avoid those?
  • Some medicines like anti-inflammatories can cause indigestion. Check with your pharmacist and consider alternative medicines if possible.
  • Try eating smaller meals. Maybe three even sized meals, instead of a big meal close to bedtime or eat more midmorning and mid-afternoon and make the other meals smaller.
  • Chew your food slowly. My grandad used to chew each mouthful 20 times. This is good practice to reduce indigestion. It also tends to reduce how much you eat.
  • Alcohol, caffeine, fizzy drinks and smoking can all make indigestion worse. Try reducing or stopping these to improve your overall health as well as reduce indigestion.
  • Keep to your healthy weight. Being overweight increases indigestion.
  • Regular exercise helps reduce indigestion, reduces stress (which can also cause indigestion) and it helps you keep to your healthy weight.

See your doctor if:
You should see your doctor if your indigestion goes on for more than two weeks. It is good to be certain that it is simple indigestion not something else. Ask your doctor for lifestyle advice to reduce the frequency of the indigestion or heart burn. Sometimes what you are feeling has another cause.

Contact your doctor right away if your heartburn pain is severe or if you also have:

  • Unintentional weight loss or loss of appetite
  • Repeated vomiting or vomiting with blood
  • Black, tarry stools (black bowel motions)
  • Trouble swallowing that gets progressively worse
  • Fatigue or weakness
  • Shortness of breath, sweating, or chest pain that spreads to the jaw, neck, or arm
  • Chest pain triggered by physical exertion or stress
  • Severe and constant abdominal (stomach) pain

The above symptoms might mean you have a more serious condition that needs to be checked. It is always better to get checked by the doctor if you have any new symptom or if any of you usual symptoms gets a lot worse.

Indigestion is usually mild and stops by itself. If you are worried about your symptoms, if they are getting worse or if you have any of the warning signs above, go to the doctor.

Written by Linda Caddick

This blog provides general information and discussion about medicine, health and related subjects. The information contained in the blog and in any linked mate­ri­als, are not intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice.

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