Heartburn, wind, acid reflux and cramps – no, it’s not dinner party conversation but these can all be under-recognised symptoms that may show up during menopause. Fortunately, there are simple steps you can take to help yourself.
Why menopause can cause indigestion
The link isn’t well understood but it seems the midlife fall in oestrogen and progesterone has some effect on the digestive tract. One theory is that, as the stress hormone cortisol can rise as oestrogen drops, this disrupts digestion – stress hormones basically put your body into fight or flight mode, putting the digestive process on hold as your body prepares for action.
As with so much about menopause, the picture isn’t clear-cut as there are midlife issues other than hormones that can contribute. Any stress in your life can exacerbate digestive symptoms. Weight gain, which is fairly common at this time, can put pressure on your digestive system, too. And it’s worth noting some research has shown oestrogen-only HRT may be linked with indigestion, while other medications, including ibuprofen or aspirin, can also trigger it.
The symptoms you may notice
The digestive tract runs from your throat to your anus so you may have symptoms that affect any part of it, including:
- Acid reflux, where acid comes back up your oesophagus into the back of your throat. Waking in the night, coughing, can sometimes be a tell-tale sign this is happening.
- Heartburn, an uncomfortable burning pain in your chest
- Bloating and cramps
- Passing wind
- Constipation and/or diarrhoea
What to do if you’ve noticed indigestion
To manage these symptoms, it’s time to put all your good-digestion basics into place – here are the steps that can help.
Watch your weight
Being overweight is a common contributor to indigestion. It can be harder to shed those extra kilos around middle age but try to watch portion sizes and bump up your activity – even losing a small amount of weight can make a difference.
Eat smaller, slower
Big, rich meals can overload your digestive system. Try switching to smaller, lighter meals, and eat slowly, making sure you chew thoroughly between mouthfuls. Avoid distractions, such as the TV, while you’re eating.
Rethink your diet
Avoid too much fatty, fried, stodgy or spicy food and try eating simpler meals, with plenty of fibre-rich vegetables. Plain meals such as fish with steamed veg can be beneficial when your digestion is playing up. It’s also important to drink lots of fluids.
Cut the culprits
Smoking, fatty food, excess alcohol and caffeine – yes, the usual suspects – can all be connected to indigestion. Try to quit cigarettes if you smoke, and cut right down on all the others.
Try to prioritise stress management in whatever way works for you – which may mean gardening, bird-watching, reading time with friends or a meditation app. Do something each day to reduce your stress levels.
Being active can keep your digestive system ticking over more efficiently, and it also helps soothe stress and promotes weight loss – win, win, win. When you’re experiencing symptoms of indigestion, gentle activity, such as walking, swimming or cycling, may be best.
Be careful at bedtime
Avoid eating within three or four hours of going to bed. And in bed, prop your head and shoulders up to prevent acid coming back up while you’re asleep.
Your pharmacist can give you simple medicines called antacids, which make your stomach less acidic and can calm symptoms. If self-help steps don’t make a difference and symptoms persist or get worse, you should always see your doctor. They can prescribe medication such as proton pump inhibitors to help. Rarely, symptoms of indigestion, including bloating, can indicate a more serious problem. And in the long term, acid reflux can damage your gullet, so you need to get it under control.
Related article: Why does menopause make you feel bloated?