What is indigestion?
Indigestion is a condition medically known as dyspepsia. This condition causes discomfort in the upper abdomen, resulting in belching, bloating and nausea. Indigestion most often occurs during or right after eating and is a very common digestive problem, often mistaken for heartburn. Most commonly, people suffer indigestion from overeating, drinking alcohol while eating, or eating greasy, fried or spicy foods.
Symptoms of indigestion vary in intensity among individuals. Some people experience only mild symptoms, such as uncomfortable fullness and belching after a meal, while others may experience abdominal bloating, a burning feeling in the abdomen, and pain. Episodes of indigestion may subside quickly and can recur frequently, even daily.
Among patients seeking medical care for indigestion symptoms, an underlying cause is discovered in only 25%. The remaining 75% are considered to have functional dyspepsia.
Fortunately, indigestion can be treated with medications. More importantly, you can reduce your risk of indigestion by avoiding overly spicy, greasy or fried foods, not overeating, and aiding digestion by eating at least two hours before bedtime to avoid lying down right after your meal.
Seek prompt medical care if you are being treated for indigestion but symptoms worsen, recur, or are persistent.
What are the symptoms of indigestion?
Indigestion causes abdominal discomfort that may result in a number of symptoms. The symptoms can vary in intensity among individuals.
Common symptoms of indigestion
You may experience common indigestion symptoms daily or just once in a while. At times, any of these digestive symptoms may be severe:
- Abdominal pain
- Burning feeling in the abdomen
- Burping or belching
- Feeling of fullness after eating that lasts longer than it should
- Feeling uncomfortably full after a normal size meal
Less common symptoms of indigestion
You may experience less common indigestion symptoms frequently, even daily, or only on occasion. At times any of these digestive symptoms can be severe:
- Abdominal bloating (feeling of tight, swollen stomach)
- Nausea with or without vomiting
Serious symptoms that might indicate a life-threatening condition
In some cases, symptoms of a heart attack can mimic those of indigestion. Seek immediate medical care (call 911) if you, or someone you are with, have any of these life-threatening symptoms including:
What causes indigestion?
Indigestion is caused by multiple factors that affect the normal process of digestion. There are many possible causes of indigestion. Some are related to lifestyle and what you eat and drink. Indigestion can also be caused by other digestive conditions.
Common causes of indigestion
The most common causes of indigestion include:
Certain medications such as antibiotics, aspirin, and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
Eating too much at one sitting
Eating too rapidly
Eating while emotionally upset
Spicy, high-fat, or greasy food
A number of factors increase your risk of developing indigestion. Not all people with risk factors will get indigestion. Risk factors for indigestion include:
- Eating meals too quickly
- Emotional stress while eating
- Helicobacter pylori infection
- Overabundance of high-fiber foods
- Overconsumption of alcohol
- Overconsumption of caffeine
- Spicy, high-fat, and greasy foods
- Tobacco use
- Too much food at meals
Reducing your risk of indigestion
You may be able to lower your risk of indigestion by:
- Allowing plenty of time for meals
- Avoiding alcohol with meals
- Avoiding emotionally upsetting situations during meals
- Avoiding spicy, high-fat, and greasy foods
- Avoiding strenuous exercise right after a meal
- Chewing food thoroughly before swallowing
- Limiting high-fiber foods
How is indigestion treated?
Treatment for indigestion begins with seeking medical care from your health care provider. To determine if you have indigestion, your health care provider will ask you questions and may recommend that you undergo diagnostic tests. The goal of clinical evaluation is to identify the root cause for the indigestion, making sure to exclude serious and treatable conditions.
Your health care provider can develop a treatment plan specifically tailored to your needs. It is important that you follow your treatment plan for indigestion precisely and take all medications as instructed to help avoid worsening symptoms and recurrence.
Medications to treat indigestion
Antacids are the mainstay of treatment for indigestion and can be highly effective in relieving symptoms. In addition, medications to decrease stomach acid and help increase antibiotic effectiveness may be given.
Proton pump inhibitors that are effective in the treatment of indigestion include:
- Esomeprazole (Nexium)
- Lansoprazole (Prevacid)
- Omeprazole (Prilosec)
- Pantoprazole (Protonix)
- Rabeprazole (Aciphex)
Histamine (H-2) blockers that are effective in the treatment of indigestion include:
- Cimetidine (Tagamet)
- Famotidine (Pepcid)
- Nizatidine (Axid)
- Ranitidine (Zantac)
While indigestion does not usually lead to serious complications, it can affect your quality of life by causing distress and discomfort when you eat. This may cause you to change your eating patterns and limit your food choices, resulting in an unbalanced diet. You can help minimize your risk of serious complications by following the treatment plan you and your health care professional design specifically for you. Potential complications of indigestion include:
- Abdominal pain
- Acid reflux
- Difficulty swallowing
- Decreased quality of life due to an inability to eat without discomfort
- Excessive daytime sleepiness