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Indigestion medicines


Expert reviewer, Shabina Azmi, Pharmacist
Next review due August 2022

Indigestion medicines can help to relieve symptoms of indigestion (dyspepsia) – such as heartburn, and pain and discomfort in your upper abdomen (tummy). There are several different medicines for indigestion. Which one is right for you will depend on what’s causing your symptoms and how often you’re experiencing problems.

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Uses of indigestion medicines

There are a number of reasons why you might take indigestion medicines.

  • Occasional, mild bouts of indigestion. Most people experience this once in a while. It’s often triggered by what you eat, and certain factors such as being overweight and stressed can make it worse. If it’s only for occasional or short-term use, you can buy indigestion medicines from a shop or pharmacy to help manage this.
  • Indigestion during pregnancy. It’s common to get indigestion during pregnancy, and certain over-the-counter indigestion medicines are ok to take if you’re pregnant. Check with your midwife, pharmacist or doctor what is most appropriate for you.
  • Long-term digestive problems. Certain health conditions, such as gastro-oesophageal reflux disease (GORD) and peptic ulcers can cause frequent indigestion. If you keep getting indigestion, your doctor may prescribe stronger indigestion medicines to keep it under control.

Not all indigestion medicines are suitable for everyone. Check with your pharmacist or doctor before taking over-the-counter medicines if you have any health conditions such as problems with your liver or kidneys. Some indigestion medicines can interact with other medicines you may be taking. For more information, see the section: Interactions.

Types of indigestion medicine

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

  • antacids and alginates
  • proton pump inhibitors
  • H2-blockers

These all act in different ways to either neutralise or block production of stomach acid – which is often associated with indigestion.

Antacids and alginates

You can buy these medicines over the counter to treat your indigestion, without a prescription from a doctor. Antacids usually contain aluminium, magnesium, calcium or sodium compounds, which act to neutralise your stomach acid. They’re often combined with an alginate. These form a protective layer over the surface of your stomach contents to prevent acid rising back up your oesophagus (the tube that goes from your mouth to your stomach). Sometimes another medicine (simeticone), which reduces wind, is added too.

Examples include Gaviscon, Maalox, Remegel, Settlers and Tums. Check the patient information leaflet or ask your pharmacist to find out exactly what active ingredients your medicine contains.

Proton pump inhibitors

You can also take a proton pump inhibitor (PPI) if you keep getting heartburn. You can buy a PPI from your pharmacy if it’s just for short-term or occasional use. If you start to need PPIs more often or you’re known to have peptic ulcers or gastro-oesophageal reflux disease (GORD), your GP may prescribe one. They work by reducing the amount of acid produced by your stomach.

Examples include omeprazole (for example, Losec, Mezzopram) and lansoprazole (for example, Zoton).

H2-blockers

You can buy low-dose H2-blockers for short-term use from your pharmacist without a prescription. Your GP may also prescribe H2-blockers in stronger doses and for longer if you have ongoing problems with indigestion. Like PPIs, these medicines stop your stomach from producing so much acid – although they work in a different way.

An example of an H2 blocker is ranitidine (for example, Gavilast, Zantac).

Taking indigestion medicines

How you take your indigestion medicines will depend on the specific type you’re taking. Here we give a general guide, but always read the patient information leaflet that comes with your medicine for full details of how to take your medicine. If you have any questions or concerns, ask your pharmacist or GP for advice.

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 you might find them less convenient to carry around. You take these medicines whenever you get – or expect to get – symptoms. This is usually shortly after eating or before bed.

Proton pump inhibitors

Proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) come as tablets or capsules, which you might take once or twice a day. You can buy PPIs from a pharmacy to treat heartburn. But if you have peptic ulcers or gastro-oesophageal reflux disease (GORD), your doctor may prescribe you a full dose to take for four to eight weeks. If you’re still getting symptoms after this time, they may suggest you continue taking it at a lower dose or just when your symptoms flare up.

H2-blockers

H2-blockers come as tablets and liquids. You can buy lower-dose forms from a pharmacy without a prescription. You can take these whenever you get symptoms. If you’re taking a stronger medicine prescribed by your doctor, you might need to take it a couple of times a day, for a set period of time. Your doctor may prescribe these medicines if treatment with PPIs hasn’t helped.

Interactions of indigestion medicines

Indigestion medicines can sometimes interact with other medicines. This may affect how well your medicines work. For example, antacids can affect how your body absorbs other medicines. Some proton pump inhibitors such as omeprazole and lansoprazole have quite powerful effects on certain other medicines – either reducing or enhancing their effects.

Your doctor will always check what is the best medicine to give you, based on any other medicines you’re taking. But check with your pharmacist or GP before taking any new medicines or herbal remedies at the same time as an indigestion treatment.

There aren’t generally any restrictions around drinking alcohol with indigestion medicines. But alcohol can irritate your stomach lining and worsen your symptoms of indigestion, so it’s best to avoid it while you have symptoms.

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Side-effects of indigestion medicines

Side-effects are the unwanted effects that you may get from taking a medicine. Each type of indigestion medicine has different side-effects. Below are some of the most common side-effects for each type. But read the patient information leaflet that comes with your medicine or speak to your pharmacist to discover the specific side-effects of your medicine.

  • Antacids that contain magnesium tend to act as a laxative and cause diarrhoea, whereas those that contain aluminium may give you constipation.
  • The most common side-effects of H2-blockers can include constipation or diarrhoea, dizziness, fatigue, headache and skin reactions.
  • For proton pump inhibitors, the most common side-effects tend to be abdominal pain, constipation or diarrhoea, dizziness, feeling sick or vomiting, dry mouth, trouble sleeping and skin reactions.

If you’re having side-effects from a new medicine, wait a few days to see if they settle down. If they continue and you’re feeling unwell or concerned, contact your doctor or pharmacist for advice and help.

Frequently asked questions

  • Indigestion can affect children from time to time, just as it can adults. However, many over-the-counter (OTC) indigestion medicines such as antacids and alginates aren’t recommended or licensed for children under 12, except on advice from your doctor.

    There are a few exceptions: Maalox Plus liquid can be used by both adults and children. Gaviscon infant can be used for children under two. You should always check with your GP or the pharmacist before giving indigestion medicines to your child. Be sure to also carefully read the patient information leaflet that comes with their medicine.

    Children may also be prescribed medicines such as proton pump inhibitors and H2-blockers if they have ongoing problems with indigestion and reflux, but only under the advice of a doctor.

  • In some circumstances, your doctor may recommend taking different types of medicine together – for instance, a proton pump inhibitor with an H2 blocker. However, 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 come back after taking medicines. Your GP may prescribe another medicine that may be better at relieving your symptoms or they may want to carry out some tests.


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Related information

Tools and calculators

    • Gastro-oesophageal reflux disease and dyspepsia in adults: investigation and management. National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), November 2014. www.nice.org.uk
    • Conditions for which over the counter items should not routinely be prescribed in primary care: Guidance for CCGs. NHS England, 29 March 2018. www.england.nhs.uk
    • Dyspepsia – unidentified cause. NICE Clinical Knowledge Summaries. cks.nice.org.uk, last revised October 2018
    • Gastrointestinal medicine. Oxford handbook of general practice. Oxford Medicine Online. oxfordmedicine.com, published April 2014
    • Dyspepsia – proven functional. NICE Clinical Knowledge Summaries. cks.nice.org.uk, last revised October 2018
    • Non-ulcer dyspepsia. Guts UK! gutscharity.org.uk, accessed 28 June 2019
    • Dyspepsia – pregnancy-associated. NICE Clinical Knowledge Summaries. cks.nice.org.uk, last revised April 2017
    • Magnesium carbonate. NICE British National Formulary. bnf.nice.org.uk, last updated 30 May 2019
    • Interactions. NICE British National Formulary. bnf.nice.org.uk, last updated 30 May 2019
    • Antacids. NICE British National Formulary. bnf.nice.org.uk, last updated 30 May 2019
    • Electronic medicines compendium (eMC). www.medicines.org.uk, accessed 1 July 2019
    • Omeprazole. NICE British National Formulary. bnf.nice.org.uk, last updated 30 May 2019
    • Ranitidine. NICE British National Formulary. bnf.nice.org.uk, last updated 30 May 2019
    • Gastro-oesophageal reflux disease in children and young people: diagnosis and management. National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), January 2015. www.nice.org.uk
    • Dyspepsia – proven GORD. NICE Clinical Knowledge Summaries. cks.nice.org.uk, last revised April 2017
  • Reviewed by Pippa Coulter, Freelance Health Editor, August 2019
    Expert reviewer, Shabina Azmi, Pharmacist
    Next review due August 2022



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