Here are a few questions you may want to think about asking, things you should mention to your doctor and some of the potential responses you’ll receive.
First, take a look at the most common heartburn and indigestion symptoms so you can tell your GP exactly how you are feeling:
Heartburn: A burning pain in the chest area, often behind your breastbone; a tight feeling in your chest; an acidic taste in the back of your throat and mouth.
Indigestion: Pain in your lower chest/upper abdomen/top of your stomach; feeling very full (bloated); needing to pass wind or belching.
Research shows that 73% of people will suffer from both heartburn and indigestion interchangeably, so don’t be surprised if you experience all of the symptoms above at some point.
Q1: Why am I getting heartburn and indigestion?
No doubt your doctor will reply to this question by asking you about lifestyle and dietary habits. They will want to know when you usually get heartburn and indigestion. Expect to be asked questions such as: Is it after a meal? Does it come on as a result of eating certain foods? Do you suffer at night? Do you eat on the run?
Eating big meals, particularly if they consist of spicy food, fatty food or contain ingredients like tomatoes, can trigger heartburn and indigestion. Alcohol, caffeinated and carbonated drinks can also be triggers. Indigestion, in particular, can often come on soon after a meal.
Q2: Why doesn't it go away?
In order for your doctor to be able to find out why you are still suffering with heartburn and indigestion, you will need to let your doctor know how long your symptoms usually last and what treatments or dietary adjustments you may have already tried.
Q3: Is it serious?
Doctors see a lot of people with heartburn and indigestion. They're both quite common conditions. Your doctor will probably reassure you that in the majority of cases there is nothing to worry about. However, if you're suffering severe pain and you get it often, you may be referred to a consultant who can carry out some tests.
Some symptoms, like those of stomach ulcers, can be similar to those of heartburn and indigestion. Additionally, stomach acid can sometimes affect the lining of your oesophagus (food pipe) causing inflammation, a condition known as oesophagitis. A consultant will consider these possibilities and may perform tests to find out if it's more than simple heartburn and indigestion.
Q4: Am I worrying too much?
Your doctor will be able to reassure you once they know more about your personal circumstances. Remember stress is associated with heartburn and indigestion. If you've been worrying about these conditions, or something else, you may be advised to try to relax and take things a little easier if possible. For example, a hectic lifestyle may not help your stress levels, heartburn or indigestion.
Q5: What can I do to help myself?
If you have been eating trigger foods or your eating patterns are contributing to your condition, you may be advised to change your diet and eating habits. Most GP surgeries have dieticians and nutritionists, so it's possible that your doctor will get you to talk to one of them. If you're a little overweight, they may advise you to try to lose a few pounds. All of these steps will teach you how to get rid of or prevent heartburn and /or indigestion.
Q6: Am I taking the right medicine?
Let your doctor know all of the treatments you may have taken. Tell them how long you have taken them for, or how often you have needed them. Make a note of the names of the treatments and dosages if appropriate, so you can give your doctor the most accurate information. They can then assess whether the medicine is the correct choice for you.
Q7: Have I been taking it correctly?
Following on from the previous question, you should check not only whether the medicine is correct but that you've been taking the most suitable dose for you - in the right way, at the right time. The more information you give your doctor, the more they are likely to be able to provide the most helpful advice.
Q8: Should I have tried ‘XYZ’ treatment or solution?
Again, this question may be returned with a question to you about why you haven't tried X, Y or Z to help treat your heartburn and indigestion! There are many reasons for not trying something, for example, you may have another medical condition that you don't want to risk making worse or you are concerned about mixing medications. If so, tell your doctor about your concerns.
Q9: Can you prescribe or recommend something for me?
The answer to this question will almost certainly be yes. First of all, it's highly likely your doctor will make some recommendations about your lifestyle, diet and eating habits. Secondly, based on what you've already told them about the medications you may have tried, they may:
- Recommend a medication that you can buy over the counter in a pharmacy - such as Gaviscon Double Action. Full details of this treatment are available here
- Advise that you take any current medication exactly according to the instructions
- Recommend an increased dose of your current medication
- Prescribe a medication - for example, an acid suppressant, which may need to be taken daily for a few weeks or months
- Refer you to a consultant / dietician / nutritionist
Q10: Will heartburn and indigestion ever come back?
Your doctor won't be able to guarantee that heartburn and indigestion will never come back, even if you follow all of their advice and take the right medications. However, they will probably reassure you that following their advice can make a real difference. Reducing the frequency and the severity of heartburn and indigestion is a positive step and it may take time to have periods when you don't suffer at all, or perhaps never suffer again. Remember, because heartburn and indigestion are frequently linked to the foods you eat, you may get symptoms if you overindulge on future occasions.
Q11: Are there any long term consequences?
Neither heartburn nor indigestion needs to have long term consequences. However, it is advisable not to put up with the symptoms for too long. The longer you leave it, the greater the chance that a more serious condition may develop. You can read another article that specifically addresses long term consequences of heartburn here.
If you have any doubt about your heartburn or indigestion, seeing your GP is a good idea. They should be able to help you get all the answers you need - so why wait?
All information presented is not meant to diagnose or prescribe. Gaviscon for Heartburn & Indigestion. Always read the label. If symptoms are severe or prolonged you should consult a doctor or pharmacist. Always talk to your doctor or pharmacist before taking any medicine.
Article published 1 January 2021