Indigestion is a very broad term covering anything from a sensation of bloating and mild discomfort to severe acidic, burning pains felt in the epigastrium, the area just below the breast bone. The discomfort can travel up into the chest and throat and can be associated with diseases such as stomach ulcers, duodenal ulcers, hiatus hernia and gallbladder problems. Persistent indigestion should be thoroughly examined by a GP or specialist and once a diagnosis is made please review the relevant section here.
Indigestion medicines fall into two categories:
Drugs that prevent acid production.
This latter group, containing common drugs such as cimetidine, ranitidine and omeprazole, works by stopping the production of hydrochloric acid by the special cells lining the stomach wall. These drugs are dealing with the symptom of pain created by an acid burn and in no way are they working on the cause of the loss of protection that the gut normally produces against acid.
In many cases a six-week course is ‘curative’, although if the underlying reason for the diminished gut protection is not dealt with, the problem will return and very often people are kept on a daily or nightly dose of the antacid preparation.
This is not good medicine and antacids of this nature should only be used if alternative or complementary medical treatments are not working or if the necessary lifestyle changes, such as stopping smoking and reducing alcohol and spicy foods, are not taken into consideration. I suspect that over the next 20 years we will see an increase in stomach cancer because the cause of indigestion is rarely dealt with and other, hopefully less sinister, problems arising because we are not producing enough acid to break down our foods.
Some of these drugs are used in the popular triple and double therapies to fight Helicobacter pylorus in conjunction with antibiotics. This once again returns to the principle of the germ theory where everything that goes wrong with us is caused by a bug rather than our depressed immune system and is, in my opinion, missing the point. Use triple therapy only after alternative treatments have failed.