While heartburn and indigestion are often used interchangeably, they are actually two different conditions – though both can be triggered by one common factor: The foods we eat. But first, we’ll discuss the difference between the two. Indigestion is a condition that consists of symptoms such as stomach pain, nausea and bloating, gas, belching, and sometimes even diarrhea; whereas heartburn consists of symptoms such as chest pain, a burning sensation in the chest and/or throat, the taste of sour/acidic fluid in the back of the throat (also known as regurgitation), and even the sensation of food being stuck in the throat.
While heartburn and indigestion can be triggered by many things, food, as mentioned, is often the biggest culprit for a trigger of both of these conditions. Among some of the most commonly known triggers for heartburn are fried, greasy foods, as well as things like chocolate, tomatoes, citrus fruits, fruit juice, as well as drinking carbonated and alcoholic beverages. Eating larger meals in addition to eating right before bed can also cause heartburn. In some cases, the symptoms and pain associated with heartburn can be so severe that one may in fact think they are having a heart attack, hence how the condition got its name. There are also certain lifestyle habits that can be contributing factors, such as being overweight, smoking, and even stress. Similar to heartburn, indigestion can also be triggered by certain foods in addition to overeating or eating too quickly, smoking, anxiety, as well as taking certain medications and supplements – such as antibiotics, pain relievers, and iron. Indigestion has also been linked to other health conditions such as ulcers and abnormalities of the pancreas; therefore, if your symptoms are severe or persist for more than two weeks, you should book an appointment with your doctor as soon as possible.
There are many things you can do in order to find relief from heartburn and indigestion. First, try to avoid chewing with your mouth open, eating too fast, or talking while you’re chewing, as when you do this, this causes you to swallow air which can lead to indigestion. It’s also recommended that you drink beverages after meals rather than right before or during, and make sure you rest after meals before doing any immediate strenuous activity. If you suffer from heartburn, you can often find quick relief from over-the-counter antacids (i.e. Tums); though if you’re finding that these aren’t effective enough, you may need to turn to something stronger and your doctor will have to write you a prescription. Common prescription strength medications that are prescribed to treat heartburn include Histamine-2 blockers (also known as H2 blockers), Proton Pump Inhibitors (also known as PPIs), and promotility agents. Many of these medications are often a case of trial and error and finding what best works for you. Bismuth subsalicylate is another OTC medication that you can get at the drug store, which can help provide you with quick and effective relief of many of the symptoms associated with both indigestion and heartburn, including upset stomach, nausea and diarrhea – but be careful to follow the dosing instructions, as too much of this medication can lead to a stomach bleed.
It’s also important to know which foods to avoid in order to prevent a flare-up of symptoms, and which foods you should be eating more of. As mentioned, greasy, fried and acidic foods are all bad for heartburn and indigestion. Instead, try incorporating more vegetables into your diet. They are naturally low in both fat and sugar and can therefore help to reduce stomach acid, while other foods such as ginger, oatmeal, egg whites, and lean meat and seafood are also all easier on the stomach.
It is important to note that chest pain, while a common symptom of heartburn, can also be a major red flag and indication of something other than heartburn, such as a heart attack, so it’s always a good idea to get this and any other unusual symptoms double checked by a medical professional just to rule out anything serious.