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Indigestion medicines

Key points

  • Indigestion medicines help to ease the symptoms of indigestion, such as chest pain and heartburn.
  • There are four main types of indigestion medicine.
  • The type of indigestion medicine you take will depend on how severe your symptoms are.
  • Your pharmacist or GP will advise you about which type of indigestion medicine is best for you.

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.

Why would I take indigestion medicines?

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).

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 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.

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.

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 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 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.

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 names 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


Reviewed by Hemali Parekh, Bupa Health Information Team, March 2014

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  • This information was published by Bupa's Health Information Team and is based on reputable sources of medical evidence. It has been reviewed by appropriate medical or clinical professionals. Photos are only for illustrative purposes and do not reflect every presentation of a condition. The content is intended only for general information and does not replace the need for personal advice from a qualified health professional. For more details on how we produce our content and its sources, visit the about our health information page.

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