Indigestion & heartburn

Indigestion describes discomfort felt in the upper part of the tummy or higher up in the chest, usually experienced after meals. This happens when the lining of the stomach is irritated, usually by stomach acid. However, cancer treatments such as chemotherapy can also cause this irritation. You may feel sick or vomit, or feel uncomfortably full and need to pass wind or burp.

Heartburn (acid reflux) describes a tight, burning sensation felt behind the chest bone. Again, it is caused by irritation, this time of the lining of the oesophagus (gullet). This can be extremely painful.

In this section

There are lots of things that you can do to prevent or ease indigestion and heartburn.

Treatment

If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, your doctor may be able to prescribe medicines to reduce the amount of acid in your stomach (tummy). These are known as anti-acids e.g. Gaviscon, Omeprazole and Lansoprazole. Other medications help your stomach to empty quicker, to stop it being irritated by stomach acid (e.g. Metoclopramide) or a medication to reduce wind (e.g. Simethicone).

Some of these can be bought over the counter without a prescription, however it is important to speak to your doctor (or, if you have one, your breast cancer nurse) before taking these medications to make sure they can be taken alongside your cancer treatment.

Tips for coping with indigestion and heartburn

  • Try not to eat too quickly. Chew your food slowly before swallowing.
  • Try not to eat too much at once. Eat little and often rather than having three large meals a day.
  • Avoid fatty, spicy, and greasy foods. Also, keep a diary of the foods that cause these symptoms for you, or which make them worse, so that you can avoid them. For example, for some people, chocolate, fizzy drinks, chewing gum and mint can bring on their symptoms.
  • Cut down on alcohol and caffeine.
  • Cut down or stop smoking. Reducing the amount you smoke can help to prevent indigestion and heartburn in the longer term.
  • Maintaining a healthy weight can also help to prevent indigestion and heartburn.
  • Try and wait 45-60 mins before doing any physical activity after eating.
  • Avoid wearing tight clothing around your stomach and waist.
  • Try not to eat too close to bedtime; leave 3-4 hours between eating and going to bed if possible.
  • Sleep propped up with extra pillows (lying flat can worsen your symptoms).
  • Managing stress and anxiety can also help to reduce or even prevent indigestion and heartburn. Try some simple relaxation techniques.

Once your symptoms have settled down, try slowly re-introducing the foods you have cut out one at a time to see if you are able to tolerate them as part of a healthy, balanced diet.

Disclaimer: on this website you will find self-management advice to help you to manage a range of mild symptoms and side effects of secondary breast cancer and its treatment. Please ONLY use this advice if you are currently participating in the LIBERATE study. Otherwise, please follow the advice of your own healthcare team.

Page last updated: April 2020