What is indigestion?
Indigestion (dyspepsia) happens to almost everyone. Eating habits or a chronic digestive problem can trigger indigestion.
Indigestion can cause:
- stomach pain or bloating
Other common symptoms of include:
- feeling full during a meal and not being able to finish eating
- feeling very full after eating a normal-sized meal
- burning sensation in the stomach or esophagus
- gnawing sensation in the stomach
- experiencing excessive gas or belching
Don’t’ ignore severe symptoms of indigestion. See your doctor right away if you experience any of the following:
- severe vomiting
- vomit that is bloody or looks like coffee grounds
- unexplained weight loss
- black stools
- trouble swallowing
Causes of indigestion
Indigestion something results from overeating or eating too fast. Spicy, greasy, and fatty foods also increase the risk of indigestion. Lying down too soon after eating can make it harder to digest food. This increase your risk for abdominal discomfort.
Other common causes of poor digestion include:
- drinking too much alcohol
- side effects of medications
Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, such as aspirin, ibuprofen, and naproxen, are one class of medications that can cause side effects.
Eating habits and lifestyle choices can cause. Symptoms of indigestion can also be caused by:
- acid reflux disease (GERD)
- gastric cancer
- pancreatic or bile duct abnormalities
- peptic ulcers
Peptic ulcers are sores in the lining of the stomach, esophagus, or duodenum that can be caused by H. pyloribacteria.
Sometimes, there’s no known cause of indigestion, which is referred to as functional dyspepsia. Functional dyspepsia may be caused by abnormal muscle motility, like a squeezing action, in the area where the stomach muscles digest and move food into the small intestine.
Your doctor will likely start by asking questions about your medical history and eating habits. You’ll also undergo a physical examination. Your doctor may order X-rays of your abdomen to see if there are any abnormalities in your digestive tract.
They may also collect blood, breath, and stool samples to check for a type of bacteria that causes peptic ulcers.
Your doctor can order an endoscopic exam to check your upper digestive tract for abnormalities.
During an endoscopy, your doctor passes a small tube with a camera and biopsy tool through your esophagus into your stomach. They can then check the lining of the digestive tract for diseases and collect tissue samples. You’ll be mildly sedated for this procedure.
An upper gastrointestinal (GI) endoscopy can diagnose the following:
- reflux esophagitis
- inflammatory diseases
- infection cancer
Treatment options for indigestion
Several medications can be used to treat indigestion, but they may cause side effects. Over-the-counter antacids like Maalox and Mylanta help neutralize stomach acid, but may cause diarrhea or constipation.
H2 receptor antagonists (H2RAs) like Pepcid reduce stomach acid. Side effects are uncommon, but can include:
- rash or itching
- bleeding or bruising
Prokinetics, like prescription medications Reglan and Motilium, improve the muscle action — or motility — of the digestive tract. These medications may cause:
- involuntary movements or spasms
Proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) like Prilosec reduce stomach acid, but are stronger than H2RAs. Side effects include:
- nausea and vomiting
- abdominal pain
Both PPIs and H2 drugs are typically used to treat peptic ulcers. If H. pylori are the cause of ulcers, these drugs are used in combination with antibiotics like clarithromycin and amoxicillin.
Lifestyle changes and home care
Medication isn’t the only treatment for indigestion. You may be able to improve digestion and relieve uncomfortable symptoms with lifestyle adjustments. For example:
- Eat smaller meals throughout the day.
- Avoid spicy, fatty foods that can trigger heartburn.
- Eat slower and don’t eat before lying down.
- Stop smoking, if you smoke.
- Lose excess body weight.
- Reduce the amount of coffee, soft drinks, and alcohol you consume.
- Get plenty of rest.
- Stop taking medications that can irritate the stomach lining, such as NSAIDs
- Reduce stress through yoga or relaxation therapy.
Why do you feel bloated?
Gas and air
Gas is the most common cause of bloating, especially after eating. Gas builds up in the digestive tract when undigested food gets broken down or when you swallow air. Everyone swallows air when they eat or drink. But some people can swallow more than others, especially if they are:
- eating or drinking too fast
- chewing gum
- wearing loose dentures
Burping and flatulence are two ways swallowed air leaves the body. Delayed emptying of the stomach (slow gas transport) in addition to gas accumulation can also cause bloating and abdominal distension.
Other causes of bloating may be due to medical conditions. These include:
- irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
- inflammatory bowel disease, such as ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease
- other functional gastrointestinal disorders (FGIDs)
- food intolerance
- weight gain
- hormonal flux (especially for women)
- giardiasis (intestinal parasite infection)
- eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa or bulimia nervosa
- mental health factors such as stress, anxiety, depression, and more
- some medications
These conditions cause factors that contribute to gas and bloating, such as:
- overgrowth or deficiency of bacteria within the GI tract
- gas accumulation
- altered gut motility
- impaired gas transit
- abnormal abdominal reflexes
- visceral hypersensitivity (feeling of bloating in small or even normal body changes)
- food and carbohydrate malabsorption
Abdominal bloating can also be a symptom of several serious conditions, including:
- pathologic fluid accumulation in the abdominal cavity (ascites) as a result of cancer (e.g., ovarian cancer), liver disease, kidney failure, or congestive heart failure
- celiac disease, or gluten intolerance
- pancreatic insufficiency, which is impaired digestion because the pancreas cannot produce enough digestive enzymes
- perforation of the GI tract with escape of gas, normal GI tract bacteria, and other contents into the abdominal cavity
Treatments to prevent or relieve bloating
In many cases, the symptoms of abdominal bloating can be diminished or even prevented by adopting a few simple lifestyle changes such as losing weight, if you’re overweight.
To reduce swallowing too much air, you can:
- Avoid chewing gum. Chewing gum can cause you to swallow extra air, which in turn can lead to bloating.
- Limit your intake of carbonated drinks.
- Avoid foods that cause gas, such vegetables in the cabbage family, dried beans, and lentils.
- Eat slowly and avoid drinking through a straw.
- Use lactose-free dairy products (if you are lactose intolerant).
Probiotics may also help with repopulating healthy gut bacteria. Research is mixed on the effectiveness of probiotics. One review found that probiotics have a moderate effect, with a 70-percent agreement on its effect on bloating relief. You can find probiotics in kefir and Greek yogurt.
Shop for kefir and Greek yogurt online.
Talk to your doctor if lifestyle changes and dietary interventions don’t relieve abdominal bloating. If your doctor finds a medical cause for your bloating, they may recommend medical treatments.
Treatments may require antibiotics, antispasmodics, or antidepressants, but it also depends on your condition.
When to see a doctor
Consult your doctor if bloating is accompanied by any of the following:
- severe or prolonged abdominal pain
- blood in the stools, or dark, tarry looking stools
- high fevers
- worsening heartburn
- unexplained weight loss
If you don’t already have a primary care doctor, you can browse doctors in your area through the Healthline FindCare tool.
What is heartburn?
Heartburn is a burning sensation in your chest that often occurs with a bitter taste in your throat or mouth. The symptoms of heartburn may get worse after you eat a large meal or when you’re lying down.
In general, you can successfully treat the symptoms of heartburn at home. However, if frequent heartburn makes it difficult to eat or swallow, your symptoms may be a sign of a more serious medical condition.
What causes heartburn?
Heartburn typically occurs when contents from the stomach back up into the esophagus. The esophagus is a tube that carries food and fluids from the mouth into the stomach.
Your esophagus connects to your stomach at a juncture known as the cardiac or lower esophageal sphincter. If the cardiac sphincter is functioning properly, it closes when food leaves the esophagus and enters the stomach.
In some people, the cardiac sphincter doesn’t function properly or it becomes weakened. This leads to contents from the stomach leaking back into the esophagus. Stomach acids can irritate the esophagus and cause symptoms of heartburn. This condition is known as reflux.
Heartburn can also be the result of a hiatal hernia. This happens when part of the stomach pushes through the diaphragm and into the chest.
Heartburn is also a common condition during pregnancy. When a woman is pregnant, the progesterone hormone can cause the lower esophageal sphincter to relax. This allows stomach contents to travel into the esophagus, causing irritation.
Other health conditions or lifestyle choices can worsen your heartburn, including
- being overweight or obese
- consuming caffeine, chocolate, or alcohol
- eating spicy foods
- lying down immediately after eating
- taking certain medications, such as aspirin or ibuprofen
When should I see my doctor about heartburn?
Many people occasionally experience heartburn. However, you should contact your doctor if you experience heartburn more than twice per week or heartburn that doesn’t improve with treatment. This could be a sign of a more serious condition.
Heartburn often occurs alongside other gastrointestinal conditions, such as ulcers, which are sores in the lining of the esophagus and stomach, or gastroesophageal reflux disease. Contact your doctor if you have heartburn and develop:
- difficulty swallowing
- pain with swallowing
- dark, tarry, or bloody stools
- shortness of breath
- pain that radiates from your back to your shoulder
- sweating while having chest pain
Heartburn isn’t associated with a heart attack. However, many people that have heartburn believe they’re having a heart attack because the symptoms can be very similar. You may be having a heart attack if you have:
- severe or crushing chest pain
- difficulty breathing
- jaw pain
- arm pain
What are the treatment options for heartburn?
If you experience occasional heartburn, there are several home remedies and lifestyle changes that can help alleviate your symptoms. Lifestyle changes, such as maintaining a healthy weight, can help reduce your symptoms. You should also avoid:
- lying down after meals
- using tobacco products
- consuming chocolate
- consuming alcohol
- consuming caffeinated drinks
Certain foods can increase the likelihood of experiencing heartburn. These include:
- carbonated drinks
- citrus fruits
- fried foods
Avoiding these foods can help decrease how often you experience heartburn.
If these treatments don’t improve your symptoms, you may need to see your doctor. Your doctor will review your medical history and ask you about your symptoms. Your doctor may also order several tests to find out what’s causing your heartburn. Tests may include:
- an X-ray of the stomach or abdomen
- an endoscopy to check for an ulcer or irritation of the esophagus or lining of the stomach, which involves passing a small tube equipped with a camera down your throat and into your stomach
- at pH test to determine how much acid is in your esophagus
Depending on your diagnosis, your doctor will be able to provide you with treatment options to help reduce or eliminate your symptoms.
Medications for the treatment of occasional heartburn include antacids, H2 receptor antagonists to reduce stomach acid production, such as Pepcid, and proton pump inhibitors that block acid production, such as:
Although these medications can be helpful, they do have side effects. Antacids can cause constipation or diarrhea. Talk to your doctor about any medications you’re already taking to see if you’re at risk for any drug interactions.
What are the complications associated with heartburn?
Occasional heartburn isn’t typically a cause for concern. However, if you get this symptom frequently, you may have a serious health problem that requires treatment.
If you don’t get treatment for serious heartburn, you can develop additional health problems, such as an inflammation of the esophagus, which is called esophagitis, or Barrett’s esophagus. Barrett’s esophagus causes changes in the lining of the esophagus that can increase your risk of esophageal cancer.
Long-term heartburn can also affect your quality of life. See your doctor to determine a course of treatment if you find it difficult to carry on your daily life or are severely limited in your activities due to heartburn.
How can I prevent heartburn?
Follow these tips to prevent heartburn:
- Avoid foods or activities that may cause your symptoms.
- You can also take an over-the-counter medication, such as a chewable antacid tablet, before you eat to prevent heartburn before symptoms start.
- Ginger snacks or ginger tea are also helpful home remedies that you can buy in many stores.
- Lead a healthy lifestyle and avoid alcohol and tobacco.
- Try to avoid snacking late at night. Instead, stop eating at least four hours before bedtime.
- Rather than two or three large meals, eat smaller meals more frequently to ease the impact on your digestive system.