If you have heartburn or indigestion

Heartburn is a burning sensation behind the breastbone that can be very painful. It’s caused when acid from the stomach irritates the lining of the gullet (oesophagus).

Indigestion is discomfort in the upper part of the tummy (abdomen), occurring particularly after meals. It can happen when stomach acid irritates the lining of the stomach or small bowel. Some drugs (such as steroids or anti-inflammatory painkillers) and some cancer treatments (such as chemotherapy) can also irritate the stomach lining. You may get indigestion if you have a small stomach capacity, don’t eat or drink much or if you don’t move around very much.

The best way of dealing with heartburn and indigestion depends on its cause. Talk to your doctor as they can often prescribe medicines to help reduce or relieve it for you.

Here are some tips for coping with heartburn and indigestion:

  • Take note of any foods that cause discomfort so you can avoid them. When symptoms have settled, you can try reintroducing them in small quantities one at a time. This makes sure that you are not missing out on vital nutrients.
  • Large meals, chocolate, alcohol, fatty and spicy foods, fizzy drinks, chewing gum, hard-boiled sweets, mint, aniseed and dill are all known to commonly cause problems. You may want to limit or avoid these.
  • Wear loose clothing around your waist.
  • Limit activity for at least 45–60 minutes after eating.
  • Antacid medicines can help relieve irritation by neutralizing the acid. You can buy them over the counter at your local pharmacy.
  • If you smoke, stop or cut down as the chemicals in cigarette smoke may make indigestion worse.
  • Try not to lie flat on your back, especially after meals.
  • If you get a lot of indigestion at night, avoid eating for 3–4 hours before you go to bed and sleep propped up on pillows.
  • Try to achieve and maintain a healthy weight.

For information about long-term and late effects, read our section on late effects of head and neck cancer treatment.