Carl R. Darnall Army Medical Center - Health Library

Indigestion

(Dyspepsia; Non-ulcer Dyspepsia; Non-ulcer Stomach Pain)

Definition

Indigestion is discomfort in the upper belly or chest. It may result in pain or a burning feeling after eating. You may also have nausea, belching, or bloating.

Locations of Indigestion Symptoms
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Causes ^

The exact cause is not known. It is due to an action in the stomach or intestine.

Most often, the condition is linked to unhealthy lifestyle habits. These habits can make it hard for the body to properly digest food.

Risk Factors ^

The following lifestyle factors increase your chances of indigestion:

  • Overeating
  • Eating too quickly or at irregular intervals
  • Eating greasy, high-fat, or spicy foods
  • Drinking caffeine, alcohol, or soft drinks in excess
  • Taking nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen or naproxen
  • Smoking
  • Psychological stress

Symptoms ^

Indigestion can have number of symptoms including:

  • Pain or burning sensation in the upper abdomen or chest
  • Nausea
  • Abdominal bloating
  • Belching or regurgitation

When Should I Call My Doctor?

It is common to have indigestion occasionally. If the episodes worsen or happen more frequently, make an appointment to see your doctor. If you have indigestion, important reasons to call your doctor include:

  • Having trouble swallowing
  • Vomiting with most episodes
  • Experiencing weight loss
  • Having a family history of cancer
  • Taking medications to ease symptoms for more than one month

When Should I Call for Medical Help Immediately?

Most indigestion is not serious. Some can be a sign of a more serious condition. Call for medical help or go to the emergency room right away if you have:

  • Severe abdominal pain
  • Blood in your stool or dark black stool
  • Blood in the vomit
  • Trouble breathing
  • Chest pain

Diagnosis ^

You will be asked about your symptoms. The doctor will also ask about your health history. The diagnosis will be made mainly on your symptoms.

Treatment ^

Your doctor will suggest a plan based on your symptoms. Treatment options may include the following:

Dietary and Lifestyle Changes

Symptoms may be relieved by one or more of the following:

  • Reduce your intake of fatty and spicy foods.
  • Eat smaller meals throughout the day instead of 3 large meals.
  • Reduce your intake of alcohol, caffeine, and carbonated beverages.
  • Quit smoking.
  • Avoid nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). This includes such as ibuprofen and naproxen.
  • If stress is related to your symptoms, find ways to manage stress. This may include relaxation techniques.
  • Lose weight if you are overweight.
  • Exercise regularly.

Medications

Medications your doctor may recommend include:

  • Antacids—to help dull stomach acid
  • Acid suppression agents—to decrease amount of acid that stomach makes
  • Prokinetic agents—to help the stomach empty more quickly
  • Antibiotics—to treat a bacterial infection if one is present

Prevention ^

To help reduce the chance of indigestion:

  • Avoid overeating
  • Eat slowly and regularly
  • Avoid greasy, high-fat foods
  • Limit spicy foods
  • Do not smoke
  • Only drink coffee, alcohol, and caffeinated beverages in moderation
  • Maintain a healthy weight
  • Exercise regularly
  • Do not lie down within 2 hours of eating
RESOURCES:

American College of Gastroenterology
http://gi.org

American Gastroenterological Association
http://www.gastro.org

CANADIAN RESOURCES:

Canadian Association of Gastroenterology
https://www.cag-acg.org

The College of Family Physicians of Canada
http://www.cfpc.ca

REFERENCES:

Dyspepsia. Family Doctor—American Academy of Family Physicians website. Available at: https://familydoctor.org/condition/dyspepsia/. Updated February 2014. Accessed December 15, 2017.

Functional dyspepsia. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at:http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T114754/Functional-dyspepsia. Updated September 1, 2016. Accessed December 15, 2017.

Indigestion (dyspepsia). National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Disorders website. Available at: https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/digestive-diseases/indigestion-dyspepsia. Accessed December 15, 2017.

Last reviewed December 2017 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Marcie L. Sidman, MD  Last Updated: 7/12/2018