Indigestion is discomfort in the upper abdomen or chest. It is often linked to nausea, belching, or bloating.
The exact cause is not known. Most often, the condition is linked to a number of unhealthy lifestyle factors. These factors can result in poor digestion.
The following lifestyle factors increase your chances of experiencing indigestion:
- Eating too quickly or at irregular intervals
- Eating greasy, high-fat, or spicy foods
- Drinking caffeine, alcohol, or soft drinks in excess
- Taking nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (eg, aspirin , ibuprofen )
- Psychological stress
Indigestion is characterized by a variety of symptoms, including:
- Pain or burning sensation in the upper abdomen or chest
- Abdominal bloating
- Belching or regurgitation
When Should I Call My Doctor?
It is common to have indigestion occasionally. If the episodes worsen or happen more frequently, make an appointment to see your doctor. If you have indigestion, important reasons to call your doctor include:
- Having trouble swallowing
- Vomiting with most episodes
- Experiencing weight loss
- Being aged 55 or older
- Having a family history of cancer
When Should I Call for Medical Help Immediately?
Call for medical help or go to the emergency room right away if you have:
- Severe abdominal pain
- Blood in your stool or dark black stool
- Blood in the vomit
- Trouble breathing
- Chest pain
Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. Indigestion is diagnosed mainly on the symptoms listed above.
Tests may be ordered if your symptoms worsen or you have more serious symptoms, like severe abdominal pain. Examples of tests that may be ordered include:
- Laboratory blood work
- Barium x-ray —a chalky solution is used to highlight the upper digestive tract in an x-ray
- Ultrasound —high-frequency sound waves a used to view and examine the organs of the abdominal cavity
- Endoscopy—a long, thin tube affixed with a light and camera is inserted into the throat to examine the lining of the esophagus, stomach, and upper part of the small intestine
- Gastric emptying study—food containing a small amount of radioactive material is tracked to help determine the rate at which the stomach empties of food
Your doctor will suggest a plan based on the severity of your symptoms. Treatment options may include the following:
Dietary and Lifestyle Changes
Your doctor may advise you to:
- Reduce your intake of fatty and spicy foods.
- Eat smaller meals throughout the day (instead of three large meals).
- Reduce your intake of alcohol, caffeine, and carbonated beverages.
- If you smoke, quit.
- Avoid nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs).
- If stress is related to your symptoms, find ways to manage stress.
- Lose weight if you are overweight.
- Exercise regularly.
Medicines your doctor may recommend include:
- Antacids (eg, Rolaids , Maalox Advanced Regular Strength, Mylanta)—to help neutralize stomach acid
- Acid suppression agents (eg Zantac , Pepcid , or Prilosec )
- Prokinetic agents—to help the stomach empty its contents more quickly
- Antidepressants—to treat the pain associated with indigestion
- Antibiotics—to treat a bacterial infection ( Helicobacter pylori) (only used if tests confirm that you have this infection)
If the discomfort persists, your doctor may order tests to determine if the symptoms are related to a more serious condition, such as:
- Peptic ulcer
To prevent indigestion:
- Avoid overeating.
- Eat slowly and regularly.
- Avoid greasy, high-fat foods.
- Limit spicy foods.
- Do not smoke.
- Drink coffee, alcohol, and caffeinated beverages in moderation.
- Maintain a healthy weight.
- Exercise regularly.