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Indigestion medicines


Expert reviewer, Peter Liu, Pharmacist
Next review due March 2020

Indigestion medicines can be used to relieve pain or discomfort in your upper abdomen (tummy) or chest that may occur soon after meals. If you get indigestion (dyspepsia), you might also have a burning sensation in your chest, known as heartburn, or have a feeling of heaviness or sickness.

This information is for you if you have indigestion and are considering seeing your doctor. You may also find it helpful if you've already been prescribed an indigestion medicine and would like to know more about it, including possible side-effects.

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What are the main types of indigestion medicines?

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

  • antacids and alginates – often these are combined
  • H2-blockers
  • proton pump inhibitors

Examples of the main types of indigestion medicines are shown in the tables below.

An image of a table with common examples of indigestion medicines by Bupa

An image of a table with common examples of indigestion medicines by Bupa

An image of a table with common examples of indigestion medicines by Bupa

How do indigestion medicines work?

The types of medicines for indigestion work in different ways.

Antacids and alginates

Antacids usually contain aluminium or magnesium. They work by neutralising (balancing out) the acid in your stomach.

Alginates are another common ingredient of indigestion medicines. These form a protective layer that floats on the surface of your stomach contents. This helps prevent acid going back up into your oesophagus (the tube that connects your mouth to your stomach).

Simeticone

Simeticone is an anti-foaming medicine used to treat wind. Some indigestion medicines contain simeticone as well as antacids and alginate.

H2-blockers

These drugs work by stopping specific cells in your stomach lining from producing acid. Because they lower the amount of acid in your stomach, they can be used to treat indigestion and reflux, as well as peptic ulcers.

Proton pump inhibitors

These also work by blocking the production of stomach acid, but in a different way to H2-blockers. They stop acid being pumped out of the cells that make it and into the stomach. Proton pump inhibitors are used to treat indigestion and reflux, as well as treating and preventing peptic ulcers.

How to take indigestion medicines

Always read the patient information leaflet that comes with your medicine. Here you’ll find instructions on how to take your medicine. Be sure to follow it correctly and if you have any questions or concerns, ask your pharmacists for advice.  

Below is some general information on taking different types of indigestion medicines.

Antacids and alginates

Antacids and alginate medicines come as tablets or liquids. The ones that come as liquids generally work better than tablets and capsules, but might be less convenient to carry around. It’s best to take these medicines shortly after eating or before bed, as this is when you’re most likely to get indigestion symptoms. So you may have to take them four times a day or more.

H2-blockers

H2-blockers come as tablets and liquids, which you take when you get indigestion symptoms. You can buy some H2-blockers from your pharmacist without a prescription. Your GP may also prescribe H2-blockers in stronger doses and for longer if you have certain digestive problems. These include gastro-oesophageal reflux disease (GORD) and peptic ulcers.

Proton pump inhibitors

Proton pump inhibitors are usually only available if you have a prescription from your doctor. Omeprazole is a common type of proton pump inhibitor medicine, which you can buy from your pharmacist without a prescription. You can use this medicine for 28 days. But 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 peptic ulcers. They can also relieve symptoms of gastro-oesophageal reflux disease (GORD).

Monitoring your health

Your doctor will want to keep an eye on you when you start taking prescribed medicines for indigestion and reflux. They may ask you to come back for another appointment after four weeks of taking your new medicines. If you still have symptoms, they may want you to have some further investigations, particularly if you are over 55.

If you’re taking over-the-counter medicines, do take note of how often you are needing to take them. It’s fine to take these if you occasionally get indigestion caused by eating and drinking. But if you find you’re taking them regularly for longer than a week or two, or there is no obvious cause for your bouts of indigestion, see your GP. Your symptoms could be caused by something more serious. You should definitely see your GP if you have any of the following:

  • difficulty swallowing – feeling food as if it’s ‘sticking’ or feeling as if there’s a lump in your throat
  • weight loss (if you’re not dieting)
  • being sick, particularly if there are any signs of blood in what you bring up

You should also see your GP if you’re over 55 and keep getting bouts of indigestion.

Can anyone take indigestion medicines?

Speak to your pharmacist or doctor before taking over-the-counter medicines if you have problems with your liver or kidneys.

You should also take care if you have diabetes as some indigestion medicines contain a lot of sugar. Some indigestion medicines can interact with other medication. For an explanation, see our section on interactions below, and for more information speak to your pharmacist or doctor.

Pregnancy

Indigestion and reflux are common in pregnancy. To help, try lifestyle changes first.

  • Eat smaller meals more often
  • Avoid foods and drinks that might make your indigestion worse, such as spicy or fatty foods and coffee
  • Try not to eat within two or three hours of going to bed

If these don’t work, it’s fine to take antacids and alginates, which you can buy over the counter. However, don’t take anything stronger without checking with your doctor, midwife or pharmacist.

H2-blockers can pass into breast milk. Although this doesn’t cause any known problems, it’s best to avoid them if you’re breastfeeding.

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 medicine has different side-effects. For example, antacids that contain magnesium tend to act as a laxative and cause diarrhoea, whereas those that contain aluminium may give you constipation. Antacids that specifically contain magnesium carbonate can cause belching as carbon dioxide gas is released in your stomach.

The most common side-effects of H2-blockers can include:

  • diarrhoea
  • a headache
  • dizziness

Skin rash is less common.

The most common side-effects of proton pump inhibitors include:

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

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

Can I take indigestion medicines with other medicines?

Check with your pharmacist or GP 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 and can also dissolve the coating on some tablets that protects your stomach lining. Some proton pump inhibitors, such as omeprazole, can also enhance the effects of medicines such as warfarin, which is used to thin your blood.

Other ways to treat your indigestion

Your doctor will discuss your lifestyle with you if you have indigestion. This is because there are changes that you can make that will help. If you have indigestion, it may help if you:

  • lose weight if you are overweight
  • stop smoking, if you are a smoker
  • cut down on alcohol, or stop altogether
  • avoid foods that are likely to make it worse, such as fatty foods (cream, butter, cheese, for example)

If you have reflux, it may help if you:

  • avoid eating for three to four hours before you go to bed
  • raise the head of your bed a few inches

For more information about healthy eating and diet, losing weight safely, and drinking sensibly, see our related information below.

Frequently asked questions

  • Indigestion can affect children as well as adults.

    Some indigestion medicines can be given to children, but which medicines your child can have will depend on your GP or specialist doctor’s advice. Some medicines have age restrictions.

    Most over-the-counter (OTC) indigestion medicines such as antacids and alginates (combined or otherwise) aren’t recommended or licensed for children under 12. Exceptions include Maalox Plus and Gaviscon infant. Maalox Plus can be used by both adults and children as young as two. Gaviscon infant can be used for children under two. If your child is 12 or over, they may be given medicines such as Gaviscon or Tums.

    You should always check with your GP or the pharmacist before giving indigestion medicines to your child. Be sure to also read the patient information leaflet that comes with their medicine carefully.

    Children may also be prescribed medicines such as proton pump inhibitors and H2-blockers, but only under the advice of a specialist doctor.

    Never give medicine that has been prescribed for you or someone else to your child as this can be dangerous.

    If after taking medicine your child’s indigestion persists, make sure you take them back to see their doctor.

  • You shouldn’t ever combine medicines without talking to your pharmacist or GP first. Some medicines interact with each other and can be dangerous when taken at the same time.

    It’s important to talk to your pharmacist or GP if you have indigestion and the symptoms don't go away, or keep coming back after taking medicines. Your GP may be able to prescribe another medicine that may be better at relieving your symptoms, or may want to carry out some tests.


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Related information

Tools and calculators

    • Dyspepsia. NICE Clinical Knowledge Summary. cks.nice.org.uk, last updated July 2015
    • Recommended regimens for Helicobacter pylori eradication in adults. NICE British National Formulary. www.evidence.nhs.uk/formulary/bnf/current, reviewed November 2016
    • Antacids and simeticone. NICE British National Formulary. www.evidence.nhs.uk/formulary/bnf/current, reviewed November 2016
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    • H2-receptor antagonists. NICE British National Formulary. www.evidence.nhs.uk/formulary/bnf/current, reviewed November 2016
    • Proton pump inhibitors. NICE British National Formulary. www.evidence.nhs.uk/formulary/bnf/current, reviewed November 2016
    • Ranitidine. NICE British National Formulary. www.evidence.nhs.uk/formulary/bnf/current, reviewed November 2016
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    • Cimetidine. NICE British National Formulary. www.evidence.nhs.uk/formulary/bnf/current, reviewed November 2016 
    • Nizatidine. NICE British National Formulary. www.evidence.nhs.uk/formulary/bnf/current, reviewed November 2016 
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    • Gavislat 75mg tablets. electronic Medicines Compendium (eMC). www.medicines.org.uk, last updated September 2012
    • Dyspepsia. NICE British National Formulary for Children. www.evidence.nhs.uk/formulary/bnfc/current, last reviewed March 2017
    • Tums assorted fruit antacid tablets. electronic Medicines Compendium (eMC). www.medicines.org.uk, last updated March 2016
    • Personal communication, Peter Liu, Pharmacist, March 2017
  • Reviewed by Laura Blanks, Specialist Health Editor, Bupa Health Content Team, March 2017
    Expert reviewer, Peter Liu, Pharmacist
    Next review due March 2020



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