No matter what your age, gender, or race, you may be affected by indigestion. Also
known as dyspepsia, heartburn, and upset stomach, indigestion
is not a clear-cut condition. Instead, it is believed to be a symptom of certain
underlying intestinal disorders such as chronic appendicitis, gallbladder disease,
or peptic ulcer.
Sometimes described simply as abdominal discomfort or a painful burning sensation
in the upper abdomen, indigestion can often be accompanied by abdominal bloating,
belching, nausea, and even vomiting.
What Causes Indigestion?
Contrary to the popular myth, indigestion isn’t caused by hyperchlorhydria, otherwise
known as excessive stomach acid or an abundance of hydrochloric acid.
Indigestion is often attributable to poor eating habits such as eating while stressed,
the consumption of high-fat foods, eating too quickly, or simply overeating.
It can also be caused by various conditions such as
gastroesophageal reflux disorder (GERD), hiatal hernias, an inflamed esophagus,
peptic ulcers (involving the stomach – gastric ulcers – and the duodenum – duodenal
ulcers), stomach cancer, or stomach
Other causes of indigestion include:
- Excessive alcohol
- Excessive consumption of caffeinated beverages
- Medications that irritate the stomach lining
- Ongoing emotional stress
These factors can also irritate any underlying conditions that may be the cause
Note that there is another type of indigestion known as functional, or non-ulceric.
Though the cause is unknown, some research suggests the condition is related to
how food moves through the digestive tract.
Symptoms of Indigestion
Symptoms of indigestion are not normally present all the time; they tend come and
go, occurring in bouts. During times of stress, symptoms tend to increase.
Common symptoms of indigestion include a burning sensation in the stomach or upper
abdomen, abdominal pain, an acidic taste in the mouth, belching and gas, bloating
(sometimes described as a full feeling), diarrhea, a growling
stomach, heartburn, nausea, and vomiting.
Unfortunately, the symptoms of indigestion are similar to those of other more serious
illnesses. In fact, some symptoms mirror those caused by heart attacks. It is crucial
to seek the advice of your health care provider if you have had or experienced…
- An appetite loss
- Black tarry stools
- Bloody vomit
- Discomfort, unrelated to eating
- Indigestion accompanied by pain radiating to the jaw, neck, or arm; shortness of
breath; or sweating
- Severe pain in the upper right abdomen
- Weight loss
…Or if your symptoms have lasted for more than a couple of weeks.
In order to make an accurate diagnosis, your health care provider will ask about
your symptoms, medical history, and current medications. It will help expedite your
diagnosis to describe where, exactly, in your abdomen the discomfort normally occurs.
It is crucial that your physician also be made aware of habits such as alcohol intake,
smoking, and other lifestyle factors that can be associated with indigestion.
Your health care provider will likely recommend a variety of tests in order to rule
out certain medical conditions. These may include X-rays of the stomach or small
intestine, an endoscopy to closely examine the inside of the stomach, and/or a gastroscopy
to evaluate the inside of the stomach.
Treating and Preventing Indigestion
Treatment for indigestion can depend on the underlying illness that is causing it.
However, often indigestion treatment and prevention are two sides of the same coin;
what works to prevent indigestion is usually the key to effective treatment, too.
The Do’s and Don’ts of Preventing Indigestion
- Avoid alcoholic beverages
- Avoid carbonated beverages
- Avoid all foods that are known triggers
- Avoid foods high in acid such as citrus fruits and tomatoes
- Avoid late-night eating
- Avoid situations that are known triggers
- Avoid spicy foods
- Do not chew with your mouth open or talk while chewing
- Do not eat too quickly
- Do not exercise on a full stomach
- Do not lie down after eating
- Do not overindulge in fatty foods
- Do not wear tight-fitting clothing; it compresses the stomach
- Drink fluids after meals, not during
- Keep a food diary to help identify indigestion triggers
- Eat several small meals a day rather than three large ones
- Eat slowly and chew thoroughly
- Exercise regularly
- Learn to reduce and manage stress
- Maintain a healthy weight
- Quit smoking (or avoid smoking prior to eating)
- Reduce or avoid all foods and beverages containing caffeine
- Relax after meals
- Sleep with your head elevated at least six inches above your feet; this discourages
digestive juices from flowing into the esophagus
- Switch from aspirin to acetaminophen
- Wait three hours after your last meal before going to bed
A Special Tip About Overeating
Always stop eating BEFORE you are full. Your brain, unfortunately,
For more information on good eating habits, see
Stomach acid doesn’t cause indigestion, so antacids – in most cases – are not usually
effective. However, indigestion caused by acid reflux is sometimes treatable with
antacids, histamine 2-blockers (H2 blockers), or proton pump inhibitors (PPIs).
Medicine that affects stomach motility is sometimes prescribed for functional indigestion.
A few final points…
Dietary changes are crucial to managing indigestion. It is also important to reduce
your stress levels. An unavoidable reality for most of us, stress can be better
managed when we eat properly, get enough sleep, and make sure to incorporate some
form of exercise into our daily routines.
While in some cases persistent indigestion may be an indication of other more serious
digestive conditions such as stomach cancer, for the most part indigestion is entirely
preventable. And with the implementation of proper dietary care, and other lifestyle
changes, sufferers tend to improve rapidly.