15 Jun 2020

It is normal for your stomach to produce acid, but sometimes this acid can hurt your gullet (oesophagus), lining of your stomach, or top part of your bowel (duodenum). This is called indigestion or heartburn and causes pain or discomfort in your stomach or a burning pain behind your breastbone. You might have both these symptoms, or only one, and they may happen just after eating or drinking.

Other symptoms of indigestion can be:

  • feeling full or bloated
  • feeling sick (nausea)
  • burping
  • bringing up (regurgitating) fluid or food into higher up your stomach (the oesophagus).

Why do I have indigestion?

Indigestion can be caused by different things such as:

  • some medicines (e.g. aspirin or ibuprofen)
  • stress or anxiety
  • physical changes, such as a hiatus hernia, stomach ulcer or reflux disease
  • infections (such as Helicobacter pylori – a bacteria usually found in the stomach)
  • smoking
  • alcohol
  • being overweight.

It is common to have indigestion after a critical illness because of the medications you may have had or just because our bodies have been through a lot of stress.

What can I do to help my indigestion?

There are different things which could help your indigestion including some of the following lifestyle changes:

  • eat ‘little and often’ and stop eating before you feel full
  • try to sit down during and after eating or drinking
  • don’t wear tight fitting clothes around your stomach, for example tight trousers or belts
  • avoid eating large meals 2-3 hours before sleeping if you find your indigestion is worse at night or when lying down
  • sleep propped up with a pillow
  • cut down or stop smoking and having alcohol, especially around mealtimes. Please see your nurse or doctor if you need support or advice to help you with this
  • keep a diary for a few days when you have indigestion. This will help you to see if specific foods, drinks or eating patterns are causing you a problem
  • losing weight if you are overweight, because extra weight around your stomach can put pressure on it and cause indigestion. A healthy, balanced diet combined with regular exercise may help you to achieve gradual weight loss. For more guidance on losing weight during recovery, see the ‘Healthy eating advice for life after critical illness of the ‘Nutrition at home after critical illness’ leaflet.

What foods or drinks may make indigestion worse?

Although it is difficult to give tips that will help everyone, some people with indigestion often say that some foods or drinks sometimes make indigestion worse, such as:

  • rich or fatty foods – which may take longer to digest
  • spicy foods and caffeine – which may irritate your stomach lining
  • fizzy drinks– which may increase pressure in your stomach, causing acid to rise up.

What medicines may help?

Treatment will depend on the likely cause of your indigestion. You can ask your pharmacist for medicines that might help you (such as heartburn relief liquid or tablets).  If symptoms carry on, speak to your doctor who may ask you to have some tests to check the cause, or who may give you medicine to protect your stomach lining and reduce symptoms.


Any indigestion you have after your critical illness should settle in time, but choosing certain foods and drinks fluids, as well as how and when you have them, could help the symptoms of indigestion.

More information:

NHS UK advice on:

See ICUsteps information for more information