Heartburn and indigestion are extremely common. More than 60 million Americans experience heartburn each year. Indigestion affects nearly 25 percent of Americans. Thankfully, you can prevent many bouts of heartburn and indigestion. You just have to know what causes your symptoms to flare up. Then, avoid those triggers.
Understanding Heartburn and Indigestion
Many people think heartburn and indigestion are the same. They can cause similar symptoms, but they’re not the same thing. And no, heartburn doesn’t involve your heart at all. Most of the time, acid reflux causes heartburn. This occurs when your stomach acid backwashes into your esophagus and throat. The result is the burning discomfort known as heartburn.
Indigestion covers a wide range of conditions. All conditions have a common thread: they upset your stomach. When you have indigestion, you may feel full before eating much. Following a meal, you may be uncomfortably full. You may also feel bloated and belch.
It can be difficult to figure out the root cause of both conditions. However, some things increase the risk of heartburn and indigestion.
Smoking, certain medications and excessive stress can lead to indigestion. Specific drinks and foods may cause heartburn and indigestion. Some of the most common causes include:
- Alcoholic beverages
- Coffee, tea and other caffeinated beverages
- Fatty, greasy or spicy foods
- Tomatoes, oranges, lemons and other foods that have high acid content
Dealing with Heartburn and Indigestion
The best treatment for heartburn and indigestion is to avoid what causes them. That means staying away from the foods and drinks that trigger digestive problems. Not smoking and maintaining a healthy weight also helps. As does working to manage stress.
Unfortunately, lifestyle changes aren’t always enough to manage heartburn or indigestion. If lifestyle changes don’t help, the next step is medication.
For many people, heartburn relief comes with over-the-counter antacids. Prescription medications may be necessary for more severe cases. Eating more low-fat protein and elevating your head when you’re in bed can also be helpful.
Over-the-counter antacids also help with indigestion. Your provider may recommend prescription-strength medication for long-lasting indigestion. Sometimes, you need antibiotics or other prescription medication. If your indigestion is linked to anxiety or depression, you may benefit from talk therapy.
Setting Your Worry Meter
Dealing with heartburn and indigestion isn’t just annoying. It can be confusing.
Typically, neither condition causes serious complications if it happens occasionally. See your provider immediately if your indigestion is accompanied by any of the following:
- Bowel movements that produce black, tarry stools
- Eyes or skin that turns yellow
- Sweating or shortness of breath
- Weight loss without any known cause
- Vomiting blood or vomiting frequently
Frequent heartburn may be the result of gastroesophageal reflux disease. In severe cases, when lifestyle changes and medication don’t help, surgery may be necessary.