Heartburn and indigestion are often confused by people since they are similar digestive ailments. However, each has its own characteristics, including what causes it and how to most effectively treat it.
Understanding the difference can help people to better understand any discomfort they may be experiencing.
Heartburn is a condition most often characterized by a burning sensation in the chest. This burning is due to stomach acid that travels back into the esophagus.
Most people suffer from occasional heartburn but there are millions of people who suffer from chronic heartburn as well, which is more than twice per week.
Causes of Heartburn
Heartburn is caused when the lower esophageal sphincter (LES) is not working. The LES is situated between the top of the stomach and the bottom of the esophagus.
Its job is to open to allow food to pass into the stomach and otherwise stay tightly closed to prevent stomach contents from moving backwards. When it fails to work, stomach acid moves into the esophagus and heartburn occurs.
Usually this is due to either too much food in the stomach or too much pressure being put on the stomach.
Everyone has different triggers for heartburn and understanding an individual’s triggers can help treat it more effectively.
The more common foods and beverages that trigger heartburn are:
- Overly fatty foods
Other causes of heartburn include:
- Certain medications
- Lying down immediately after eating
- Hiatal hernia
Symptoms of Heartburn
The most common symptom of heartburn is a burning sensation in the chest and throat area. Other, less common symptoms include pain in the chest area and an acidic taste in one’s mouth.
Treatment of Heartburn
The first course of treatment against heartburn is typically lifestyle and dietary changes. Making these changes will often provide enough relief that medication is not required. The recommended lifestyle changes include:
- Raise the head of the bed 6 inches
- Do not lie down directly after eating
- Quit smoking
- Avoid alcohol
- Avoid trigger foods
- Lose weight if overweight
- Do not wear tight clothes
- Eat smaller meals
- Eat slower
- Avoid trigger foods and beverages
If lifestyle changes do not work, there are a number of medications that are available. The most common medications are:
- H2 blockers
- Proton pump inhibitors
- Foaming agents
Unlike heartburn, indigestion is a digestive ailment that is most often characterized as an upset stomach. Also known as dyspepsia, most people who experience indigestion describe it as an overly full feeling either during or directly after a meal. It occurs when the stomach acid mixes with the digestive lining, causing irritation and inflammation.
Causes of Indigestion
Indigestion is often caused by an underlying medical condition. The most common medical conditions that are known to cause indigestion are:
- Stomach ulcers
- Stomach infections
- Acid reflux or GERD
- Irritable bowel syndrome
- Gastroparesis, a condition in which the stomach does not fully empty
- Pancreatitis, a condition in which the pancreas is inflamed
- Thyroid disease
- Stomach cancer, only in very rare cases
Similar to heartburn, there are a number of lifestyle factors that increase the risk of indigestion. These include:
- Eating too large a meal
- Eating too fast
- Drinking alcohol
- Excessive caffeine
- Consuming high-fat foods
- Consuming spicy foods
Symptoms of Indigestion
Many people who are experiencing indigestion describe it as having an upset stomach. However, there are actually a number of symptoms that one may experience, including:
- Fullness during a meal, often preventing one from finishing
- Fullness after a meal, as though food is in the stomach too long
- Pain in the upper stomach area
- Belching or passing gas
- A burning sensation in the stomach
- Growling stomach
- An acidic taste in one’s mouth
Treatment of Indigestion
In most cases, indigestion will clear up on its own, especially if it is due to lifestyle factors and not an underlying medical condition. If it is caused by an underlying condition, proper diagnosis and treatment of that condition will most likely also clear up indigestion.
Changing the way one eats is one way to reduce the occurrence of indigestion. Some things to consider with regards to eating, including:
- Eating smaller meals
- Eating slower
- Chewing properly to minimize air intake
- Drink beverages before or after a meal instead of during it
Other changes one can make to reduce indigestion include:
- Avoid spicy foods
- Avoid foods with high acidity such as citrus and tomatoes
- Avoid alcohol
- Minimize caffeinated beverages
- Relax one’s body after eating to assist the digestive process
- Refrain from exercising immediately after eating
- Reduce the stress one is experiencing
- Quit smoking
- Avoid late-night eating, ideally waiting at least 3 hours after eating before going to bed
If all else fails, one’s doctor may recommend medication to treat indigestion. The medications most commonly recommended include:
- Proton Pump Inhibitors
- H2 blockers
We always recommend trying an alternative to medication when trying to find relief from indigestion.
While it is easy to understand the confusion between the two ailments, it is important to remember indigestion and heartburn are actually separate conditions. If one is experiencing any of the symptoms listed here, they should seek the advice of a medical professional for proper diagnosis and treatment recommendation. The information provided here is meant to be informational and does not constitute medical advice.