Indigestion (Dyspepsia or Heartburn): Care Instructions

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Your Care Instructions

Sometimes it can be hard to pinpoint the cause of indigestion (dyspepsia or heartburn). Most cases of an upset stomach with bloating, burning, burping, and nausea are minor and go away within several hours. Home treatment and over-the-counter medicine often are able to control symptoms. But if you take medicine to relieve your indigestion without making diet and lifestyle changes, your symptoms are likely to return again and again.

If you get indigestion often, it may be a sign of a more serious medical problem. Be sure to follow up with your doctor, who may want to do tests to be sure of the cause of your indigestion.

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse call line if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

How can you care for yourself at home?

  • Your doctor may recommend over-the-counter medicine. For mild or occasional indigestion, antacids such as Tums or Gaviscon may help. Be careful when you take over-the-counter antacid medicines. Many of these medicines have aspirin in them. Read the label to make sure that you are not taking more than the recommended dose. Too much aspirin can be harmful.
  • Your doctor also may recommend over-the-counter acid reducers, such as Pepcid AC or Zantac 75. Read and follow all instructions on the label. If you use these medicines often, talk with your doctor.
  • Change your eating habits.
    • It's best to eat several small meals instead of two or three large meals.
    • After you eat, wait 2 to 3 hours before you lie down.
    • Chocolate, mint, and alcohol can make GERD worse.
    • Spicy foods, foods that have a lot of acid (like tomatoes and oranges), and coffee can make GERD symptoms worse in some people. If your symptoms are worse after you eat a certain food, you may want to stop eating that food to see if your symptoms get better.
  • Do not smoke or chew tobacco. Smoking can make GERD worse. If you need help quitting, talk to your doctor about stop-smoking programs and medicines. These can increase your chances of quitting for good.
  • If you have GERD symptoms at night, raise the head of your bed 15 to 20 centimetres by putting the frame on blocks or placing a foam wedge under the head of your mattress. (Adding extra pillows does not work.)
  • Do not wear tight clothing around your middle.
  • Lose weight if you need to. Losing just 2.3 to 4.5 kilograms can help.
  • Do not take anti-inflammatory medicines, such as aspirin, ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), or naproxen (Aleve). These can irritate the stomach. If you need a pain medicine, try acetaminophen (Tylenol), which does not cause stomach upset.

When should you call for help?

Call 911 anytime you think you may need emergency care. For example, call if:

  • You passed out (lost consciousness).
  • You vomit blood or what looks like coffee grounds.
  • You pass maroon or very bloody stools.
  • You have chest pain or pressure. This may occur with:
    • Sweating.
    • Shortness of breath.
    • Nausea or vomiting.
    • Pain that spreads from the chest to the neck, jaw, or one or both shoulders or arms.
    • Feeling dizzy or light-headed.
    • A fast or uneven pulse.
    After calling 911, chew 1 adult-strength aspirin. Wait for an ambulance. Do not try to drive yourself.

Call your doctor or nurse call line now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • You have severe belly pain.
  • Your stools are black and tar-like or have streaks of blood.
  • You have trouble swallowing.
  • You are losing weight and do not know why.

Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor or nurse call line if:

  • You do not get better as expected.

Where can you learn more?

Go to https://www.healthwise.net/patientEd

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