What causes indigestion?

A disease or an ulcer in the digestive tract might cause indigestion. However, for most people, it is the result of eating too much, eating too fast, eating high-fat foods, or eating during stressful situations. Indigestion is not caused by excess stomach acid. Swallowing a great deal of air when eating may increase the symptoms of belching and bloating, which are often associated with indigestion. Some medications can also irritate the stomach lining and cause indigestion.

Being tired or stressed, smoking, or drinking too much alcohol or caffeinated beverages can cause indigestion or make it worse. These factors can also worsen underlying conditions that cause indigestion, such as hiatal hernias and gastroesophageal reflux disorder (GERD). Emotional stress or other psychological conditions may result in abdominal pain.

Sometimes people have persistent indigestion that is not related to any of these factors. This type of indigestion is called functional, or nonulcer, and is caused by a problem with how food moves through the digestive tract.

What are some of the symptoms of indigestion?

Some characteristic symptoms of indigestion are:

  • Burning in the stomach or upper abdomen
  • Heartburn
  • Abdominal pain
  • Bloating (full feeling)
  • Belching and gas
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Acidic taste
  • "Growling" stomach
  • Diarrhea (sometimes).

Symptoms of indigestion usually increase in times of stress, and decrease in times of relaxation.

How is indigestion diagnosed?

Because indigestion is such a broad term, it is helpful to provide your physician with a precise description of the discomfort you are having. In describing the symptoms, try to define where in the abdomen the discomfort usually occurs. Simply reporting indigestion as pain in the stomach is not detailed enough for your physician to help identify and treat your problem.

To diagnose indigestion, your physician must first rule out any underlying conditions such as ulcers. You may have X-rays of the stomach or small intestine. Your physician may also use an instrument called an endoscope to look closely at the inside of the stomach. An endoscope is a flexible tube that contains a light and a camera to produce images of the stomach and intestines in a procedure called endoscopy. A gastroscopy is a similar procedure used to evaluate just the inside of the stomach.

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