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What is indigestion?

Indigestion (dyspepsia) is a pain, general discomfort, or burning feeling in your upper belly (abdomen). It's common in adults. Indigestion is not the same as heartburn. Heartburn is when stomach acid goes out of your stomach and back into your food pipe (esophagus). Indigestion may be linked to stomach acid. You can have symptoms of indigestion and heartburn at the same time.

What causes indigestion?

Indigestion can be caused by health problems, lifestyle issues, or medicines.

Health problems or diseases include:

  • Sores or ulcers in your stomach or small intestine

  • Redness and swelling or inflammation in your stomach (gastritis)

  • Acid flowing from your stomach into your esophagus (GERD)

  • Bacterial infection in your stomach (H. pylori)

  • Inflammation of your gallbladder (cholecystitis)

  • Lumps of solid material (gallstones) in your gallbladder

  • Swelling of your pancreas (pancreatitis)

  • Food moving too slowly out of your stomach (gastroparesis)

Lifestyle issues include:

  • Smoking

  • Having too much caffeine

  • Drinking too much alcohol

  • Eating too fast

  • Eating too much

  • Eating spicy, fatty, or greasy foods

  • Eating high-fiber foods

  • Feeling very stressed

Medicines include:

  • Bacteria-fighting medicines (antibiotics)

  • Aspirin and over-the-counter pain and fever medicines (NSAIDs) 

  • Some medicines for osteoporosis (bisphosphonates)

  • Certain medicines, such as iron and potassium tablets

What are the symptoms of indigestion?

Each person’s symptoms may vary. Symptoms may include:

  • Feeling full too soon while eating

  • Feeling pain, burning, and discomfort in your upper belly or abdomen

  • Feeling bloated

  • Burping and loud stomach gurgling

  • Having an upset stomach or vomiting

  • Having diarrhea

  • Having gas

The symptoms of indigestion may look like other health problems. Always see your healthcare provider to be sure.

How is indigestion diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will look at your past health and give you a physical exam.

To make sure other health problems aren’t causing indigestion, you may have tests. These may include:

  • Blood tests

  • Stool or breath tests. These are done to check for a stomach bacteria (H. pylori).

  • X-rays of your stomach and small intestine

  • Upper endoscopy 

  • Ultrasound of your gallbladder or belly (abdomen)

  • Stomach emptying scan

How is indigestion treated?

You will need to not have foods or medicines that cause indigestion. It is also helpful to stay away from stressful situations.

Your symptoms may feel better if you:

  • Quit smoking

  • Take medicines that weaken or offset stomach acid (antacids)

Your healthcare provider may suggest you take medicines to:

  • Help your stomach move food more quickly into your small intestine

  • Decrease the amount of acid in your stomach

  • Kill bacteria (antibiotics) if tests show you have the H. pylori bacteria in your stomach

  • Help calm the gut's nervous system

What can I do to prevent indigestion?

There are many things you can do to try to prevent indigestion.

Making changes in your diet and eating habits can help. These include:

  • Eating several small, low-fat meals each day instead of 3 large meals

  • Eating slowly and giving yourself enough time for meals

  • Limiting spicy, fatty, greasy, or high-fiber foods

  • Chewing your food well

  • Limiting or not having any coffee, soda, or alcohol

Don't use medicines that hurt your stomach unless they are medically necessary. These include aspirin and over-the-counter pain and fever medicines (NSAIDs).

Other lifestyle changes that may keep indigestion from happening include:

  • Quitting smoking

  • Getting enough rest

  • Finding ways to lower your emotional and physical stress, such as meditation or yoga

  • Exercising before a meal or waiting at least 1 hour after eating

  • Stopping or limiting how much alcohol you drink

When should I call my healthcare provider?

Indigestion can be a sign of a serious health problem. Call your healthcare provider right away if you have indigestion and any of these symptoms:

  • Frequent vomiting

  • Blood in vomit

  • Weight loss or not feeling hungry

  • Bloody, black, or tarry stools. This may mean you have blood in your stool.

  • Sudden sharp pain in your belly (abdomen)

  • Trouble breathing

  • Sweating

  • Pain that spreads to your jaw, neck, or arm

  • Difficult, painful swallowing

  • Yellow coloring of your eyes or skin (jaundice)

Also call your healthcare provider if you have indigestion that lasts longer than 2 weeks.

Key points about indigestion

  • It's a discomfort, painful, or burning feeling in your upper belly (abdomen).

  • It's not the same thing as heartburn. But you can have both.

  • It may be caused by health problems, such as ulcers.

  • It may also be caused by lifestyle and eating habits.

  • You should not have foods or medicines that cause indigestion. It's also helpful to stop smoking and limit or stop alcohol use.

  • Try to stay away from stressful situations. Regular exercise, meditation, or yoga can also help decrease stress.

Next steps

Tips to help you get the most from a visit to your healthcare provider:

  • Know the reason for your visit and what you want to happen.

  • Before your visit, write down questions you want answered.

  • Bring someone with you to help you ask questions and remember what your provider tells you.

  • At the visit, write down the name of a new diagnosis, and any new medicines, treatments, or tests. Also write down any new directions your provider gives you.

  • Know why a new medicine or treatment is prescribed, and how it will help you. Also know what the side effects are.

  • Ask if your condition can be treated in other ways.

  • Know why a test or procedure is recommended and what the results could mean.

  • Know what to expect if you do not take the medicine or have the test or procedure.

  • If you have a follow-up appointment, write down the date, time, and purpose for that visit.

  • Know how you can contact your healthcare provider if you have questions.