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Indigestion - Causes, Symptoms, Risk Factors, Complications, Diagnosis, and Treatment

Published on Jun 28, 2021 and last reviewed on Nov 25, 2022   -  5 min read


Indigestion is usually a sign of an underlying problem rather than a condition of its own. Please read the article to know its causes, symptoms, risk factors, complications, diagnosis, and treatment.

Indigestion - Causes, Symptoms, Risk Factors, Complications, Diagnosis, and Treatment

What is Indigestion?

Indigestion, also called dyspepsia, is the term that describes the discomfort of the upper abdomen. The gastrointestinal organs, primarily the stomach and the first part of the small intestine and occasionally the esophagus, will function abnormally. As indigestion is a chronic disease, the symptoms may vary in frequency and intensity, usually across many months or years. It will occur every day or intermittently for days or weeks, followed by days or weeks of relief.

How Does Indigestion Feel Like?

The symptoms of indigestion usually originate from the upper gastrointestinal tract, the stomach, and the first part of the small intestine. The symptoms may include:

  • Upper abdominal pain or discomfort above or around the navel area.

  • Belching or burping.

  • Abdominal bloating.

  • Nausea with or without vomiting.

  • A sensation of fullness with a tiny amount of food.

  • Abdominal distention (visible swelling seen).

  • Lower chest pain.

The symptoms are often provoked by eating, which is when many different gastrointestinal functions are called upon to work in harmony. This tends to occur after meals and gives rise to the false impression that indigestion is caused after food.

How Prevalent Is Indigestion?

Indigestion is one of the most common illnesses of the intestines, affecting about 20% of the population. But only 10% of those affected will seek medical attention for their indigestion.

What Are the Causes of Indigestion?

Indigestion can be caused by many diseases, medications, or lifestyles.



  • Aspirin and other painkillers, usually NSAIDs like Ibuprofen (Motrin and Advil) and Naproxen (Naprosyn).

  • Steroid medications.

  • Estrogen and oral contraceptives.

  • Certain antibiotics.

  • Thyroid medicines.


  • Drinking too much alcohol.

  • Cigarette smoking.

  • Overeating, eating too fast, or eating during stressful situations.

  • Stress and fatigue.

  • Eating spicy, fatty, or greasy foods.

  • Having too much caffeine.

How To Diagnose Indigestion?

  • Physical examination.

  • Blood tests to check for anemia or metabolic disorders.

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

  • X-rays of the stomach and small intestine.

  • The upper endoscopy test employs a long, thin, flexible tube called an endoscope, which has a light and a tiny camera on its end. The endoscope is inserted via the mouth, into the food pipe (esophagus), and the stomach to check for any problems in the esophagus or the stomach.

  • Ultrasound of the gallbladder.

  • Stomach emptying scan.

Who Is At Risk To Get Indigestion?

People of all age groups and both sexes are affected by indigestion. It is very prevalent, and the individual's risk increases with:

  • Excess alcohol consumption.

  • Using drugs that can irritate the stomach, like Aspirin and other pain relievers.

  • Conditions where the digestive tract is abnormal, such as in ulcer.

  • Emotional problems like anxiety, stress, or depression.

How To Prevent Indigestion?

The best way to prevent indigestion is by avoiding the foods and situations that appear to cause it. Try to keep a food diary to find out what you eat and which gives you trouble. Other ways to prevent the problem are:

  • Eat small meals.

  • Eat slowly.

  • Avoid foods with lots of acids, like citrus fruits and tomatoes.

  • Limit fried and greasy foods.

  • Limit spicy foods.

  • Avoid caffeine.

  • Manage stress by relaxation and biofeedback techniques.

  • Quit smoking as it can irritate your stomach.

  • Avoid alcohol consumption.

  • Avoid wearing tight-fitting clothes that can pressure your stomach and make the food eaten move up into your esophagus.

  • Do not exercise with a full stomach.

  • Do not lie down right after eating.

  • Wait at least for 3 hours after the last meal of the day before going to bed.

  • Raise the top of the bed so that the head and chest are higher than the feet while lying down.

How To Deal With Indigestion?

Indigestion is considered a symptom rather than a disease. Therefore it will often go away on its own after a few hours. You may not need any treatment at all, and if required, it usually depends upon the underlying condition causing indigestion. But do not fail to inform your doctor to know if your symptoms get worse.

If the symptoms persist, over-the-counter antacids are generally the first choice of drug. Other options may include:

  • Proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) can reduce stomach acid and heartburn.

  • H-2-receptor antagonists (H2RAs) are also given to reduce stomach acid.

  • Prokinetics may be helpful for a stomach that empties slowly.

  • Antibiotics, if H. pylori bacteria are causing indigestion.

  • Antidepressants or anti-anxiety medications can ease the discomfort from indigestion by decreasing the sensation of pain.

What Are Foods Good for Indigestion?

Foods good for indigestion are:

  • Drinking enough water.

  • Vegetables like leafy greens, broccoli, and cucumbers.

  • Cereals like oatmeal.

  • Lean meat that has low fat may reduce reflux

  • Non-citrus fruits with low acidity like melons.

  • Dairy milk, sour cream, cottage cheese, and yogurt.

When Should You Seek Medical Advice For Indigestion?

Indigestion with any of the following symptoms may have a more severe condition that should be consulted with a doctor. The symptoms are:

  • Indigestion that persists for more than two weeks.

  • Black and tar-like stools.

  • Bloody vomit.

  • Difficulty swallowing or painful swallowing.

  • Frequent vomiting.

  • Losing weight without trying.

  • Pain in the chest, jaw, neck, or arm.

  • Severe and constant pain in the abdomen.

  • Shortness of breath.

  • Sweating.

  • Yellowing of the eyes or skin.

Which Specialist to Seek for Indigestion?

Indigestion is a prevalent disease, and almost all doctors can see and treat the condition, especially internists, family practitioners, and even pediatricians. If these general doctors cannot provide satisfactory treatment, the patient is usually referred to a gastroenterologist, an internist, or a pediatrician with special training in gastrointestinal diseases.


Patients with indigestion must be educated about their illness, especially by reassuring them that the disease is not a severe threat to their physical health. Patients need to understand the potential causes of their symptoms, whom to approach for their problem, and the purposes for each test or treatment being done. Educating them may also prevent patients from falling prey to the impostors who offer unproven and probably dangerous remedies for indigestion. The truth is that psychologically healthy patients can tolerate a good deal of distress and continue to lead happy and productive lives.

Frequently Asked Questions


How Does Indigestion Present?

Abdominal pain and discomfort, heartburn, an early stomach full feeling while eating, an uneasy feeling after eating, bloating, burping, and nausea are the signs of indigestion.


How to Get Rid Of My Indigestion at Home?

Home remedies for indigestion include intake of peppermint tea, chamomile tea, apple cider vinegar, ginger tea, fennel seed, baking soda, lemon water, and licorice root.


For How Many Days Will Indigestion Persist?

Indigestion is a chronic condition that results from an underlying cause, and so the duration of indigestion is dependent on that. In mild cases, indigestion usually lasts for less than two hours, whereas indigestion caused by a medical condition lasts long until the medical condition is treated.


What Lifestyle Changes Help Treat Indigestion?

- Avoiding the triggering food substances.
- Avoiding or reducing the intake of alcohol and caffeine.
- Intake of five to six petite meals instead of three big meals.
- Avoiding pain-relieving medications like Aspirin, Ibuprofen, and Naproxen and using equivalent alternatives for it.
- Managing stress and anxiety.


Does Increased Water Intake Help in Indigestion?

Drinking water before and after a meal makes the digestion process easier by breaking the food substances and promoting nutrient absorption.


Which Is the Advised Sleeping Position for Indigestion?

Sleeping on your left side is recommended in people with indigestion, as it contracts the connective tissues between the esophagus and stomach, thereby relieving the lower esophageal sphincter from pressure.


What Is the Recommended Diet for Indigestion?

Fiber-rich vegetables, fruits, whole-grain foods, yogurt, green leafy vegetables, unsaturated fats, ginger-containing foods, probiotic milk drinks, etc., help prevent indigestion.


When Is My Indigestion a Problem of Concern?

Indigestion is a sign of an underlying medical condition. If there is blood in vomiting, black stools, sudden weight loss, loss of appetite, and severe abdominal pain, it is advisable to consult with a doctor immediately.


What Are the Foods to Be Avoided for Indigestion?

Diary products, acidic foods, fatty foods, oil-fried foods, artificial sweeteners, processed foods, alcohol, caffeine, increased intake of salt or sugar, spicy foods, and spoiled foods should be avoided in people with indigestion.


Which Area Presents Indigestion Pain?

As indigestion occurs due to impaired function of the stomach and the initial part of the small intestine, upper abdominal pain is an important characteristic of indigestion.


What Causes Indigestion at Night?

Consuming triggering foods at night, sleeping soon after eating dinner, and taking certain medications can cause indigestion at night.


What Is the Preferred Drug for Indigestion?

Antacids are the drug of choice for indigestion; however, proton-pump inhibitors, prokinetics, histamine 2 receptor antagonists, and antidepressants also help treat it.

Last reviewed at:
25 Nov 2022  -  5 min read




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