- Cancer Information
- Living well
- Nutrition and cancer
- Treatment side effects and nutrition
- Reflux (indigestion, heartburn)
Reflux (indigestion, heartburn)
Some cancers, treatments and medicines can cause stomach contents to come back up into the oesophagus (food pipe). This is known as reflux, and it can irritate the lining of the oesophagus. Reflux can lead to a burning feeling in the upper chest, oesophagus and/or throat. This sensation is called indigestion or heartburn. Eating certain foods or lying down after eating can make heartburn worse.
Heartburn may make you feel too uncomfortable to eat much, which could lead to weight loss. Keeping a diary of the foods you eat and your symptoms can help you identify which foods trigger the heartburn. If the tips below don’t relieve heartburn, let your doctor know. They may be able to prescribe medicines to help.
How to manage reflux
- Avoid large meals; try to eat three small meals and three snacks throughout the day.
- Eat slowly and enjoy your meal. Avoid wearing tight clothing (especially belts) while eating.
- Sip fluids between meals, rather than drinking large amounts at mealtimes.
- Limit or avoid foods that may make heartburn worse – very spicy foods, high-fat foods (e.g. fried food, pastries, cream), acidic foods including tomato and tomato products, citrus fruits, vinegar, chocolate, coffee (including decaf), strong tea, soft drinks and alcohol.
- After eating, sit upright for at least 30 minutes and avoid lying down or activities that involve bending over (e.g. gardening).
- Sleep with the head of the bed lifted by 15–20 cm. Put blocks under the front bed legs or use a wedge under the mattress.
Podcast: Appetite Loss and Nausea
Download a PDF booklet on this topic.
Jacqueline Baker, Senior Oncology Dietitian, Chris O’Brien Lifehouse, NSW; Lauren Atkins, Advanced Accredited Practising Dietitian, OnCore Nutrition, VIC; Dr Tsien Fua, Head and Neck Radiation Oncology Specialist, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, VIC; Rosemerry Hodgkin, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council WA; Clare Hughes, Manager, Nutrition Unit, Cancer Council NSW; John Spurr, Consumer; Emma Vale, Senior Dietitian, GenesisCare, SA; David Wood, Consumer.
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