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What Is Indigestion?

Indigestion (say: in-dih-JES-chun) is just another name for an upset stomach. It's also called dyspepsia (say: dis-PEP-shuh).

What Causes Indigestion?

Indigestion usually happens when people eat too much, too fast, or foods that don't "agree" with them. Called heartburn, this is a burning feeling that travels from a person's chest up to the neck and throat. It's caused by stomach acid, which isn't a problem unless it gets out of your stomach.

With heartburn, stomach acid splashes up and irritates the esophagus (say: ih-SAH-fuh-gus), the tube that carries food from the mouth to the stomach. This is called esophagealreflux (say: ih-sah-fuh-JEE-ul REE-fluks) and can leave a sour or bitter taste in the person's mouth.

Indigestion and heartburn are common problems for both kids and grownups. That's why you see all those commercials for heartburn and indigestion medicines on TV! But don't take any medicine for indigestion unless your parents or doctor says it's OK. Most of the ones that are advertised on TV are meant for adults, not kids.

Stress, not enough sleep, smoking, or drinking alcohol also can make indigestion worse.

Digestive problems, such as ulcers, can cause the symptoms of indigestion and heartburn, too. But they're not common in kids.

What Are the Signs of Indigestion?

Besides heartburn, if you have indigestion, you'll probably have one or more of these symptoms:

  • pain or burning in your upper belly — usually in the middle
  • nausea (feeling sick to your stomach)
  • bloating (that too-full feeling where your stomach sticks out)
  • burping that you have a hard time controlling

When to Go to the Doctor

Usually, indigestion only happens once in a while, like after eating one too many hot dogs. But you'll want to see the doctor if you get indigestion even when you're eating healthy foods, exercising, and getting enough sleep.

You may need an exam, and the doctor might do stomach X-rays or other tests to make sure your indigestion is not the sign of another problem in your digestive tract. Depending on what the doctor finds, you might need to make changes in your diet or take medicine.

Be sure to tell your parent right way if you:

  • throw up (or vomit), especially if you ever see blood in your throw up
  • think you're losing weight
  • have no appetite for more than a day
  • ever feel short of breath
  • sweat for no reason
  • have belly pain that won't go away or feels really bad
  • have poop (bowel movements) that look black or sticky or you see blood in the toilet or on the toilet paper after you wipe

Can I Prevent Indigestion?

Some people can eat anything and they never get upset stomachs. But other people are more sensitive to food and they might find certain ones just don't agree with them. If you discover one of these foods, it's best not to eat a lot of them or skip them entirely.

It's also a good idea to eat several smaller meals instead of a couple of really big ones. Here are some other tips to prevent indigestion:

  • As much as possible, avoid fatty, greasy foods, like fries and burgers.
  • Avoid too much chocolate.
  • Eat slowly.
  • Don't smoke!
  • Find ways to relax and decrease stress.
  • Give your body a chance to digest food. Don't eat a huge meal and immediately go to sports practice. Try to eat at least an hour beforehand, or eat afterward.

You might do all these things, but still get indigestion once in a while. If you do, just remember to say "excuse me" if it makes you burp!

Reviewed by: J. Fernando del Rosario, MD
Date Reviewed: May 10, 2023

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