Is it indigestion or something more serious?
How to deal with Christmas indigestion
If you've ever spent post-Christmas dinner time bloated, uncomfortable, and with upper tummy pain, you wouldn't be alone. Many people experience Christmas indigestion, but there are ways to enjoy your festive feast without upsetting your gut.
Indigestion (also called dyspepsia) is a very common symptom of an upper gut problem that may affect as much as 25%-41% of the population at any given time of year. Although it usually disappears by itself, indigestion can be unpleasant, causing discomfort and even pain in your upper tummy (abdomen).
We all like to indulge ourselves at Christmas, but our festive eating habits can easily trigger Christmas indigestion. To enjoy the festive season free from indigestion, we can make small changes to what we eat and how - without depriving ourselves over Christmas.
The symptoms of indigestion
Indigestion is the term used to describe a group of symptoms that can occur from time to time when your gut is unhappy. Typically, this happens in response to the types of food we consume, as well as if we 'over-eat' beyond the point of fullness.
As such, indigestion often occurs soon after eating. The main symptom to look out for is pain or discomfort in the upper abdomen. Other symptoms that can also occur include:
These symptoms can be annoying - particularly on Christmas Day - but the good news is they usually go away after a short while and are not a serious health concern. This said, if you experience indigestion often and it's negatively impacting your life, you can speak to your GP about treatment.
Red flag alert
In addition, you should always seek help if you develop 'red flag' symptoms of indigestion. These include indigestion associated with:
- Losing weight without meaning to.
- Difficulty swallowing food or having severe pain on swallowing.
- Vomiting up blood or black 'coffee grounds'.
- Passing black, tarry poos.
- Persistent vomiting.
- Feeling very tired or looking pale.
- Worsening or persistent indigestion if you're over the age of 55.
Heartburn (a burning sensation in the lower chest) used to be associated with indigestion but is usually a symptom of a separate condition called gastro-oesophageal reflux disease (GORD), in which stomach acid refluxes into the oesophagus (gullet). However, heartburn can also be triggered by eating habits around Christmas.
What can trigger Christmas indigestion?
"Christmastime includes a wide variety of foods that can contribute to indigestion," explains Reema Patel, registered dietitian at Dietitian Fit.
"In particular, foods that are greasy or higher in fats can lead to indigestion, as can certain spicy foods. An increase in alcohol, fizzy drinks, or chocolate are also frequent contributors to indigestion."
It's no surprise that our intake of these 'treat' foods spikes over Christmas, and in fact for many of us this is a conscious effort as we get into the festive spirit. While a little over-indulgence can be fun, those who are more prone to indigestion can reduce the risk, without completely ruling out these foods.
The way that we eat at Christmas is also an important factor. Eating large portions, eating too fast, and eating even when we're full can all trigger Christmas indigestion.
How do I stop indigestion at Christmas?
The best way to combat Christmas indigestion is to prevent it occurring in the first place. Of course, it's unlikely that you will avoid all the major trigger food and drinks on Christmas Day.
Instead, being aware of what these high-risk food and drinks are, and then making a conscious effort to consume them in relative moderation and throughout the day (rather than piled high on one plate) could be enough to keep your gut happy.
On top of this, Patel shares some more tips to help prevent indigestion from disrupting your festivities.
Patel's top tips for preventing Christmas indigestion
- Try to minimise foods and drinks that trigger your symptoms.
- Be more aware of the overall amount and frequency of the high-risk food and drinks you have.
- Sometimes having smaller, more frequent meals across the day is better than three larger meals.
- Try to take your time, to eat slowly and relax, rather than rushing your meals.
- Stop eating when you are feeling comfortably full.
- Work on managing stress and anxiety levels too, which can also contribute to indigestion.
Relieving Christmas indigestion
If you couldn't resist over-filling on Christmas dinner and mince pies (it is Christmas, after all) and you're feeling uncomfortably full, then remain upright and avoid lying down. A good posture can aid digestion and help to avoid acid reflux (where stomach acid travels back up the oesophagus) which can in turn trigger the symptoms of indigestion.
If Christmas indigestion has developed and you wish to relieve your discomfort, there are over-the-counter medicines that you can take. These are known as antacids and they can come in tablet or liquid form. Antacids ease the symptoms of indigestion through your stomach acid. While some work by neutralising your stomach acid, others reduce the amount of acid your stomach is producing.
Pharmacists can also provide treatment with more powerful medication called proton pump inhibitors, which suppress acid production and offer longer-lasting relief.
While antacids can ease indigestion and provide a solution on Christmas Day, Patel advises that it's best to seek medical advice if you experience frequent indigestion that's negatively affecting your day-to-day life. You should always seek help if you're experiencing the red flag symptoms above.
Your GP will be able to advise you on possible triggers and may prescribe longer-term medication if over-the-counter medicines are ineffective.