Acid Indigestion and Heartburn

Acid indigestion, or dyspepsia, is a type of chronic or recurrent discomfort in the upper abdomen that's often accompanied by gas, bloating, and heartburn (a painful, burning sensation in your throat or chest).

Heartburn is the most common symptom of gastroesophageal reflux (GER), also known as acid reflux, a condition in which stomach acid backs up into your esophagus. Recurrent acid reflux is called gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD.

Heartburn and acid reflux, two of the most common digestive issues in the United States, can be triggered by many pharmaceuticals, including cardiac medications and drugs used to treat osteoporosis, insomnia, and anxiety. Both prescription and nonprescription pain medications have also been implicated, as have some oral contraceptives.

Heartburn and acid indigestion often run in families, but they can also be caused by lifestyle factors (smoking, obesity, drinking alcohol or caffeinated drinks, and eating foods that are very acidic or fatty). And while heartburn is most often only an annoyance, it can lead to more serious problems, including ulcers and precancerous cell changes.

Chronic heartburn can also be a symptom of serious conditions, including erosion of the esophagus and cancer.

Conventional Treatments

Dyspepsia, heartburn, acid reflux, and GERD are typically treated with these drugs:

  • Antacids. Over-the-counter (OTC) remedies like sodium bicarbonate (Alka-Seltzer) neutralize acid and provide rapid heartburn relief; antacids can cause side effects like headaches, nausea, constipation, and diarrhea.

  • Acid Blockers. Acid blockers like famotidine (Pepcid) and ranitidine (Zantac) reduce the amount of acid your stomach makes. They also can cause headaches, nausea, constipation, and other problems.

  • Bismuth Subsalicylate. Bismuth subsalicylate (Pepto-Bismol, Kaopectate) balances the fluids in your GI tract. It can cause reactions in people who are allergic to aspirin and other salicylates and can make an ulcer or other bleeding problem worse. It can also interact with other drugs (including those prescribed to treat heart disease, arthritis, and diabetes, as well as nonprescription pain relievers and cold medicines).

  • Proton Pump Inhibitors (PPIs). People with GERD are often prescribed drugs called proton pump inhibitors, or PPIs, which stop your body's production of gastric acid. They include omeprazole (Prilosec), lansoprazole (Prevacid), and esomeprazole (Nexium). Prilosec OTC is a nonprescription option. Nearly 40 percent of the people who take them daily still experience symptoms — and must use additional drugs. PPIs can also cause abdominal pain and headaches, and they've been linked with increased risk of infection and pneumonia.

  • Herbal Answers

    Many herbs have a long history of use in treating dyspepsia and reflux, including:

    Artichoke (Cynara cardunculus, C. scolymus)

    Artichoke leaf extracts have been shown to significantly reduce dyspepsia symptoms, including heartburn and nausea.

    Chamomile (Matricaria recutita)

    Chamomile is a traditional remedy for all kinds of GI problems, and research shows it can relieve spasms and reduce inflammation in gastrointestinal tissues.

    Turmeric (Curcuma longa)

    This is a classic Ayurvedic remedy for digestive disorders-and studies show it can reduce the release of acid in the stomach.

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