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What Is Indigestion?

Indigestion is an upset stomach that usually happens because a person ate too much or too fast, or ate something that didn't agree with them.

Sometimes heartburn happens along with indigestion. Heartburn is another name for gastroesophageal reflux (GER). This is when stomach acid splashes up from the stomach and into the esophagus, the tube that carries food from the mouth to the stomach. It usually leaves a sour or bitter taste in the mouth and can cause an uncomfortable feeling in the chest.

Indigestion (pronounced: in-dih-JES-chun) and heartburn happen in people of all ages.

What Causes Indigestion?

Many things can cause indigestion, also known as dyspepsia (pronounced: dis-PEP-see-ah). Eating too much or too fast are top causes. This common digestive problem also can:

  • happen more often in people who smoke, drink alcohol, are under stress, or don't get enough sleep
  • be linked to stomach problems, like gastritis (stomach inflammation) or an ulcer

What Are the Signs of Indigestion?

Someone with indigestions can have one or more of these symptoms:

  • pain or burning in the upper belly
  • nausea
  • bloating
  • uncontrollable burping
  • heartburn

How Is Indigestion Diagnosed?

Usually, indigestion only happens once in a while, and goes away quickly. But call the doctor if you get indigestion a lot even when eating healthy foods, exercising, and getting enough sleep.

The doctor will do an exam and ask about symptoms. The doctor might order stomach X-rays or other tests to make sure the symptoms aren't from another problem.

How Is Indigestion Treated?

Depending on test results and the exam, the doctor might recommend lifestyle changes, such as quitting smoking and finding ways to relax and decrease stress.

They also might recommend:

  • changes to your diet, like:
    • eating smaller meals more often instead of two or three big ones
    • avoiding fatty, greasy foods, like fries and burgers
    • not eating foods that don't agree with them
    • not eating too much chocolate
    • limiting citrus fruits (the acid in citrus fruits can upset the digestive tract)
    • eating slowly
    • waiting an hour or two after a big meal before exercising or lying down
  • medicine

Talk to the doctor before taking any over-the-counter antacids or acid reducers. If you also have GER, the doctor can recommend medicines to treat it.

What Else Should I Know?

Some people can eat anything and never get an upset stomach. Others are more sensitive to certain foods and find that some just don't agree with them. If you find that you have a problem with particular foods, it's best to limit them or skip them.

You might still get indigestion once in a while, even if you follow these tips. But as long as your indigestion doesn't go on for a long time or is not excessively painful, it's probably nothing out of the ordinary. But call the doctor right away if you have indigestion along with:

  • vomiting (throwing up), especially if there's blood in the vomit
  • weight loss
  • no appetite for more than a day
  • shortness of breath
  • frequent or intense stomach pain
  • black or bloody bowel movements (poop)

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

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