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A question of indigestion

Does your Christmas dinner come with a side order of discomfort? Our experts can help

Q. ‘I often feel bloated and a bit sick after a big meal, sometimes with burning in my chest. What’s going on?’


Boots pharmacist Scot Taylor says:

‘That’s not ideal during the festive period! It sounds like it might be indigestion with a dash of heartburn. Some people get them confused, but they’re different. Both are extremely common and can happen separately or together. Indigestion is the umbrella term for a group of symptoms that includes feeling full and bloated, belching or passing wind, feeling sick, and bringing up food or bitter fluids – none of which is very pleasant. Heartburn is caused by stomach acid travelling up towards the throat (also known as acid reflux) and it’s characterised by a painful, burning feeling in the chest, which is usually worse after eating. Both may be more common at this time of year due to the change in our lifestyles – perhaps we’re drinking more, our diet is different (all those parties!), or we’re under pressure to meet work deadlines and finish all the Christmas shopping – causing stress, which can make digestive trouble worse. The upside is that indigestion and heartburn can usually be managed with over-the-counter antacids, which you can take after eating to help ease the discomfort. The effect will last around three hours on a full stomach, but antacids should only be used for the short-term relief of symptoms. If you have regular indigestion or heartburn, along with bad pain, vomiting or unintentional weight loss, see your GP.’


Dr Ben Hope† says:

‘If you usually only suffer from indigestion or heartburn after a large meal, sadly, there’s an element of paying the price for over-indulging. Christmas dinner traditionally contains a lot of fat, sugar and alcohol, and your body has to work hard to process these things, so sometimes it struggles. Where possible, try to avoid rich, spicy or fatty foods, as this should prevent some of the pain and discomfort. It can also help to cut down on acidic foods, such as citrus fruits and tomatoes, as well as caffeine. Being overweight can increase pressure on the stomach and worsen symptoms, too. Pregnant women are also prone to indigestion and heartburn – particularly from 27 weeks onwards – due to both hormonal changes and having limited space in the abdomen for the baby and food. Eating little and often, and no later than 3-4 hours before bed, is a good strategy, largely because simply keeping upright helps to take the pressure off your stomach. And peppermint tea may help with a gassy tummy. For the most part, both conditions can be managed through some straightforward lifestyle changes and pharmaceutical remedies. However, as Scot said, if they occur frequently, then make an appointment to see your GP.’

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Words Rosie Benson Photography Getty Images


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