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Indigestion medicines

Indigestion (dyspepsia) is the term used to describe pain or discomfort in your upper abdomen (tummy) or chest that generally occurs soon after meals. If you have these symptoms, indigestion medicines can help to relieve your discomfort.

You may wish to take indigestion medicines if lifestyle changes, such as losing weight, stopping smoking and cutting down on certain trigger foods, hasn’t helped.

Symptoms of indigestion can include pain and discomfort in your upper abdomen or chest after you eat. You might also feel a burning sensation in your chest, known as heartburn, or feel sick (nausea).

Indigestion can be caused by acid reflux, which can happen if you have a condition known as gastro-oesophageal reflux disease. This is when your stomach acids (which digest your food) leak back into your oesophagus (the pipe that goes from your mouth to your stomach). Having too much stomach acid in your oesophagus can cause it to become irritated and inflamed.

Other problems that can cause indigestion include a peptic ulcer and infection with a type of bacteria called Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori).

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Details

  • Types What are the main types of indigestion medicines?

    There are four main types of medicine for indigestion. These are:

    • antacids and alginates
    • H2-blockers
    • proton pump inhibitors
    • prokinetics
  • How they work How do indigestion medicines work?

    The types of medicines for indigestion work in different ways.

    Antacids and alginates

    Antacids usually contain aluminium or magnesium. These work by neutralising stomach acid.

    Alginates are another common ingredient of indigestion medicines. These form a protective layer that floats on the surface of your stomach contents to reduce acid reflux.

    Some indigestion medicines contain antacids and alginates, as well as other ingredients such as simeticone and peppermint oil, for symptoms such as wind and bloating.

    H2-blockers

    Usually, a chemical called histamine (which is produced naturally by your body) causes cells in your stomach to make acid. H2-blockers can stop histamine from working, which lowers the amount of acid produced in your stomach.

    Proton pump inhibitors

    Proton pump inhibitors work by blocking the production of stomach acid. They do this by shutting down (inhibiting) a system in the cells of your stomach, known as the proton pump. Proton pump inhibitors are used for treating:

    • H. pylori infections (in combination with antibiotics)
    • peptic ulcers

    Prokinetics

    Prokinetics work by helping food pass more quickly through your stomach. You may be offered these if you still have symptoms after taking the medicines above.

  • Taking the medicine How to take indigestion medicines

    Antacids and alginates

    Antacids come as tablets or liquids. Liquid preparations are more effective than tablets and capsules but may be less convenient to carry around. It’s best to take antacid-containing medicines when you get, or expect to get, indigestion symptoms. This is usually between meals and when you go to bed.

    H2-blockers

    H2-blockers come as tablets and liquids. You can buy some H2-blockers from your pharmacist without a prescription. Your GP may also prescribe medicines from this group in stronger doses and for longer if you have certain digestive problems. These include gastro-oesophageal reflux disease and ulcers.

    Proton pump inhibitors

    Omeprazole is a common type of proton pump inhibitor medicine used to treat indigestion. You can buy it from your pharmacist without a prescription. You can use this medicine for 28 days. If your symptoms continue for longer than this, speak to your GP for advice.

    Your GP may prescribe omeprazole or another proton pump inhibitor to treat stomach and duodenal ulcers. They can also relieve symptoms of gastro-oesophageal reflux disease, and may be part of the treatment to get rid of a H. pylori infection.

    Prokinetics

    If you still have symptoms after taking the medicines above, your GP may recommend that you take a prokinetic medicine. Domperidone is a common prokinetic. This medicine is only available with a prescription from your GP or specialist doctor. Always read the patient information leaflet that comes with your medicine and if you have any questions, ask your GP or pharmacist for advice.

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  • Special care Special care

    Use indigestion medicines with care if you're pregnant or breastfeeding, or if you have problems with your liver, kidney or heart. Speak to your pharmacist or GP if you would like further advice about taking indigestion medicines.

  • Side-effects Side-effects of indigestion medicines

    Side-effects are the unwanted effects of taking a medicine.

    Each type of treatment is associated with different side-effects. For example, antacids that contain magnesium tend to act as a laxative, whereas those that contain aluminium may give you constipation. Magnesium carbonate can cause belching as carbon dioxide gas is released in your stomach.

    Side-effects of H2-blockers can include:

    • diarrhoea
    • a headache
    • dizziness
    • a skin rash

    If you’re taking proton pump inhibitors, you may develop side-effects, including:

    • feeling sick or vomiting
    • abdominal pain
    • wind
    • diarrhoea or constipation
    • a headache

    Prokinetics can also cause side-effects. These include abdominal cramps, a headache and drowsiness.

    This section doesn’t include every possible side-effect of indigestion medicines. Always read the patient information leaflet that comes with your medicine for more information.

  • Interactions Interactions of indigestion medicines with other medicines

    Check with your pharmacist or GP or before you take any other medicines or herbal remedies at the same time as an indigestion treatment. Antacids, for example, can affect how your body absorbs other medicines.

  • Common names Names of common indigestion medicines

    Examples of the main types of indigestion medicines are shown in the table.

    All medicines have a generic name. Many medicines also have one or more brand names. Generic names are in lower case, whereas brand names start with a capital letter.

    Generic name Examples of common brand names
    H2-blockers
    ranitidine Zantac
    famotidine Famotidine
    cimetidine Tagamet
    nizatidine

    Axid
    Nizatidine

    Proton pump inhibitors
    omeprazole Losec
    Proton pump inhibitors (prescription-only)
    esomeprazole Nexium
    lansoprazole Zoton
    pantoprazole Protium
    rabeprazole Pariet
    Examples of popular combination remedies
    Gastrocote
    Gaviscon
    Maalox Plus
  • FAQs FAQs

    Are there any indigestion medicines that can be given to children?

    Answer

    Yes, some indigestion medicines can be given to children who have indigestion. Your GP will advise you about which indigestion medicine is best for your child. Don’t give medicines that have been prescribed for your indigestion to your child.

    Explanation

    Indigestion can affect children as well as adults. If your child has indigestion, your GP may recommend an indigestion medicine that contains alginates. These include medicines such as Maalox plus or Gastrocote. Children may also be prescribed medicines such as proton pump inhibitors and H2-blockers, but only under the advice of a specialist doctor.

    If you have been prescribed medicine for indigestion, never give that medicine to your child as it can be dangerous.

    Always read the patient information leaflet that comes with your medicine and if you have any questions, ask your GP or pharmacist for advice.

    Can I take indigestion medicines when I am pregnant?

    Answer

    Yes, but some indigestion medicines are better than others if you're pregnant. Antacids and alginates are usually recommended as the first choice of medicine to treat indigestion during pregnancy. If you have indigestion during your pregnancy, talk to your pharmacist, midwife or GP about which medicines are best for you.

    Explanation

    There are four main types of indigestion medicine – antacids and alginates, H2-blockers, proton pump inhibitors and prokinetics. These medicines work in different ways and some are a better choice than others if you're pregnant. If a medicine could pass to your unborn baby via your blood, doctors need to consider whether it could harm your baby.

    Antacids and alginates are considered to be safe if you use them occasionally during your pregnancy. These medicines are therefore recommended as a first choice. If your symptoms don’t improve with antacids, your GP may offer you some other medicines. These may include a H2 blocker such as ranitidine or a proton pump inhibitor such as omeprazole.

    It’s important to talk to your pharmacist, midwife or GP about which indigestion medicines are the most suitable for you. Always read the patient information leaflet that comes with your medicine and if you have any questions, ask your pharmacist or GP for advice.

    If my indigestion medicine isn't working, can I combine it with another type?

    Answer

    Don’t combine medicines unless your GP has advised you to. If your symptoms don't go away, or come back frequently, talk to your GP about other medicines that may help relieve your symptoms.

    Explanation

    Don’t ever combine medicines without talking to your pharmacist or GP. This is because some medicines interact with each other and can be dangerous when taken at the same time.

    Antacids are generally recommended as the first choice of treatment for indigestion. However, taking antacids can affect the way your body absorbs other medicines. Therefore, it’s not recommended that you take antacids at the same time as other medicines.

    Indigestion medicines can also interfere with the action of other medicines. For example, some proton pump inhibitors, such as omeprazole, can enhance the effects of medicines used to thin the blood, such as warfarin.

    It’s important to talk to your pharmacist or GP if you have indigestion and the symptoms don't go away. Or if they keep coming back after taking medicines. Always read the patient information leaflet that comes with your medicine and if you have any questions, ask your pharmacist or GP for advice.

  • Resources Resources

    Further information

    Sources

    • Dyspepsia - unidentified cause. NICE Clinical Knowledge Summaries. cks.nice.org.uk, published November 2012
    • Simon C, Everitt H, van Dorp F. Oxford handbook of general practice. 3rd ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press; 2010:390−5
    • Gastroesophageal reflux disease. Medscape. www.emedicine.medscape.com, published 18 November 2013
    • Dyspepsia. Managing dyspepsia in adults in primary care. National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), 2004. www.nice.org.uk
    • Joint Formulary Committee. British National Formulary (online) London: BMJ Group and Pharmaceutical Press. www.medicinescomplete.com, accessed 23 December 2013 (online version)
    • Feher JJ. Quantitative human physiology: an introduction. USA: Elsevier; 2012:707
    • Dyspepsia - pregnancy-associated. NICE Clinical Knowledge Summaries. cks.nice.org.uk, reviewed December 2012
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    Reviewed by Hemali Parekh, Bupa Health Information Team, March 2014.

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