What is indigestion?
Indigestion, or dyspepsia, describes an upset stomach. It may cause a painful or burning feeling in your abdomen (belly). Also called a sour stomach, indigestion may happen once in a while or often.
Indigestion is sometimes confused with heartburn. Heartburn, is a separate condition that affects your upper chest.
How common is indigestion?
Indigestion is a very common condition. About 25% of people in the U.S. experience indigestion each year.
How is indigestion diagnosed?
A healthcare provider will review your medical history, symptoms and lifestyle. Try to explain your indigestion in as much detail as possible. Note the type of discomfort and where you feel it. Also tell your healthcare provider when you experience indigestion. For example, does it occur after a meal or on an empty stomach? Is it worse in the morning or at night? Do certain foods make it worse?
Your healthcare provider will do a physical exam. They’ll check your belly for swelling or tenderness. They may use a stethoscope (medical instrument to hear sounds inside the body) to check your stomach for growling or gurgling.
Other diagnostic tests may include:
- Blood tests, to assess your liver, kidney and thyroid function.
- Breath test, to check for H pylori.
- Imaging exams, to check for blockages or other problems in the intestines. Imaging exams may include X-ray, CT scan or upper endoscopy.
- Stool test, to check poop for H. pylori or other bacterial infections.
What causes indigestion?
- Indigestion is usually caused by:
- Drinking too much alcohol or caffeine.
- Eating too much or too fast.
- Eating fatty, spicy or acidic foods.
- Experiencing stress or anxiety.
- Taking certain medications, including aspirin — especially if taken on an empty stomach.
Sometimes indigestion means there’s a problem in your digestive tract. Your digestive system contains organs that help your body break down food and absorb nutrients.
Indigestion could be a sign of:
- Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).
- Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) infection.
- Hiatal hernia.
- Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
- Peptic ulcer disease.
- Stomach cancer.
Sometimes chronic (ongoing) indigestion isn’t related to any of these causes. In that case, it’s called functional indigestion.
What are the symptoms of indigestion?
Symptoms of indigestion may include:
- Acidic taste in your mouth.
- Bloating (full feeling).
- Burning or pain in your stomach or upper abdomen.
- Burping and gas.
- Gurgling sound in your stomach.
- Nausea or vomiting.
Care and Treatment
How can indigestion be prevented?
You can reduce your risk of indigestion by:
- Avoiding alcohol.
- Eating a healthy, balanced diet.
- Managing your stress level.
- Not eating meals before bed.
- Not smoking.
- Replacing aspirin with acetaminophen.
How is indigestion treated?
Most people find relief from indigestion by making diet changes or taking medication. Your healthcare provider may recommend a combination of both.
Diet changes include:
- Avoiding foods or drinks that trigger indigestion.
- Cutting down on alcohol, caffeine and carbonated drinks.
- Removing fatty, spicy or acidic foods from your diet.
What medications help indigestion?
Indigestion caused by another health condition might improve with medication. Common medications for relief include:
- Antacids: These over-the-counter medications provide quick relief for acid reflux. They neutralize stomach acid.
- Antibiotics: Antibiotics treat bacterial infections like H. pylori.
- H2 blockers: These medications decrease the amount of acid your stomach produces. H2 blockers may help peptic ulcers.
- Proton pump inhibitors (PPIs): PPIs decrease the acid in your stomach, but are usually only for people with heartburn.
Will I need surgery for indigestion?
Your healthcare provider may recommend surgery if ongoing acid reflux gives you indigestion. A procedure called laparoscopic antireflux surgery may help relieve the symptoms of GERD. It’s a minimally invasive procedure, meaning it doesn’t need a large incision (cut).
How long will indigestion last?
Indigestion might go way as soon as you change your diet and habits. If you do take medication for your upset stomach, only do so with your healthcare provider’s approval. Some medications, especially acid reducers, can have long-term side effects. These may include an increased risk of infections or low levels of important nutrients.
When to Call the Doctor
When should I contact my healthcare provider about indigestion?
Contact a healthcare provider right away if you experience:
- Black stools.
- Chest pain.
- Difficulty breathing.
- Frequent or bloody vomiting.
- Jaundice (yellowing of your eyes or skin).
- Severe pain in your belly.
- Unexplained weight loss.
The occasional stomach problem is normal. But frequent stomach problems can keep you from eating, sleeping or working. If indigestion is affecting your quality of life, it’s time to see a healthcare provider. There are a variety of professionals who can help with stomach problems. They include primary care providers, dietitians, gastroenterologists and talk therapists.