Around 40% of the UK population experiences indigestion every year.
This refers to pain or discomfort in your upper abdomen after eating, which is called dyspepsia, or a burning sensation behind your breastbone, which is called heartburn. You may experience both types of indigestion at the same time or separately.
Despite how common indigestion is, there are still several misconceptions about it that persist. Here, we’ll dispel five of the most common myths.
If you have indigestion it doesn’t mean that you are necessarily making too much stomach acid. If you have heartburn as a symptom of your indigestion, it means that your stomach acid is in the wrong place and it has moved up into your gullet (oesophagus) from your stomach where it normally resides. This may occur due to a hiatus hernia or the valve between your oesophagus and stomach not working as well as it should.
Around six in 10 people with indigestion have non-ulcer or functional dyspepsia, which means no underlying medical cause can be found but they still have symptoms. Consequently, most people with indigestion do not have stomach ulcers. In the minority of people with indigestion who do have stomach ulcers, it may be caused by infection with the bacteria H. pylori.
Avoiding carbohydrates in your diet doesn’t reduce your risk of indigestion. However, you can reduce your risk of heartburn by avoiding acidic and spicy food, as well as alcohol and caffeine.
Although indigestion is common, if you have persistent or worsening indigestion it’s still important to see a doctor, particularly if you are aged over 40. This will help rule out any serious underlying health conditions that are causing your indigestion.
Persistent heartburn can cause irritation to your oesophagus, causing oesophagitis ie inflammation of the lining of your oesophagus. This can lead to a condition called Barrett’s oesophagus, which can change the appearance of the cells lining your oesophagus. Although Barrett’s oesophagus is a risk factor for oesophageal cancer, the lifetime risk of someone with Barrett’s developing oesophageal cancer is low, at between 3–13% in the UK.
Mr Paul Goldsmith is a Consultant General and Upper GI Surgeon at Spire Cheshire and Spire Manchester hospitals and the NHS Manchester Foundation Trust, specialising in reflux, indigestion, gastroscopy, gallstone surgery, hernia surgery and difficulty swallowing. He is also active in clinical research, with over 30 published articles. In collaboration with a team of specialists, Mr Goldsmith is part of the dedicated Reflux Clinic at Spire Manchester Hospital.
If you're concerned about symptoms you're experiencing or require further information on the subject, talk to a GP or see an expert consultant at your local Spire hospital.