Indigestion is discomfort in the upper belly or chest. It may result in pain or a burning feeling after eating. A person may also have nausea, belching, or bloating.
Location of Indigestion Symptoms
Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.
The exact cause is not known. It is due to an action in the stomach or intestine.
Most often, it is linked to unhealthy lifestyle habits. These habits can make it hard for the body to properly digest food.
These lifestyle habits may raise the risk:
- Eating too quickly or at irregular intervals
- Eating greasy, high-fat, or spicy foods
- Drinking large amounts of caffeine, alcohol, or soft drinks
- Taking nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen or naproxen
Problems may be:
- Pain or burning in the upper belly or chest
- Abdominal bloating
- Burping or swallowed food that comes back up to the mouth
When Should I Call My Doctor?
It is common to have indigestion from time to time. If it gets worse or happens more often, make an appointment to see the doctor.
You should also call the doctor if you have:
- Trouble swallowing
- Vomiting with most episodes
- Weight loss
- A family history of cancer
- Been taking medicines for more than one month to try to ease symptoms
When Should I Call for Medical Help Right Away?
Most indigestion is not serious. However, sometimes it is a sign of a more serious health problem. Call for medical help or go to the emergency room right away if you have:
- Severe belly pain
- Bloody or dark black stool
- Bloody vomit
- Problems breathing
- Chest pain
The doctor will ask about your symptoms and health history. A physical exam will be done. This is often enough to make the diagnosis.
Underlying causes will need to be treated. The goal of treatment is to manage symptoms. Choices are:
Diet and Lifestyle Changes
It may help to eat smaller meals throughout the day instead of three large meals. A dietitian can help with meal planning. Avoiding foods and drinks that trigger symptoms may also help, such as:
- Eating less fatty and spicy foods
- Drinking less alcohol, caffeine, and fizzy drinks
- Eating foods that contain probiotics, such as yogurt
Lifestyle changes that may help are:
- Not smoking
- Avoiding nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen and naproxen
Medicines may be given to ease symptoms, such as:
- Antacids and acid suppression agents to control stomach acid
- Prokinetic agents to help the stomach empty more quickly
Probiotics and prebiotics may also be advised.
People who are not helped by these methods may benefit from counseling. It may help ease symptoms.
Healthy diet and lifestyle habits may lower the risk of indigestion.
- Not overeating
- Eating slowly and regularly
- Avoiding greasy, high-fat foods
- Limiting spicy foods
- Not smoking
- Limiting alcohol, caffeine, and fizzy drinks
Chisty A. (2021). Update on Indigestion. The Medical clinics of North America, 105(1), 19–30.
Dyspepsia. Family Doctor—American Academy of Family Physicians website. Available at: https://familydoctor.org/condition/dyspepsia. Accessed February 3, 2021.
Functional dyspepsia. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/functional-dyspepsia. Accessed February 3, 2021.
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 February 3, 2021.
Moayyedi PM, Lacy BE, et al. ACG and CAG Clinical Guideline: Management of Dyspepsia. Am J Gastroenterol. 2017 Jul;112(7):988-1013.
Last reviewed December 2020 by EBSCO Medical Review Board
Dianne Scheinberg Rishikof MS, RD, LDN
Last Updated: 2/3/2021