Indigestion is the name given to a collection of digestive symptoms, including a feeling of fullness or discomfort in your upper abdomen, heartburn, and nausea. The medical term for indigestion is dyspepsia.
People often experience indigestion after eating large meals. However, several other factors can lead you to develop symptoms of indigestion.
There are many possible causes of indigestion. These can range from dietary and lifestyle habits to the side effects of medications and serious underlying conditions.
You experience indigestion when your body cannot digest food as normal. This may be the result of eating a lot 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 increases your risk of abdominal discomfort.
Other common causes of poor digestion include:
- drinking too much alcohol
Indigestion can be a side effect of taking specific medications.
Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, such as aspirin, ibuprofen, and naproxen, are one class of medications that can cause indigestion.
Antibiotics, medications that treat or prevent bacterial infections, can also irritate the digestive system and cause indigestion as a side effect.
Several medical conditions can also cause indigestion. These include:
- gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
- gastric cancer
- pancreatic or bile duct abnormalities
- peptic ulcers
- lactose, gluten, and other intolerances
- irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
Sometimes you may experience indigestion with no apparent cause. The medical term for this is functional dyspepsia.
Indigestion can cause:
- abdominal pain or bloating
Other common symptoms include:
- quickly feeling full during a meal
- burning sensation in the stomach or esophagus
- experiencing excessive gas or belching
Indigestion may accompany severe symptoms such as:
- vomit that is bloody or looks like coffee grounds
- unexplained weight loss
- black stools
- trouble swallowing
If you experience any of these severe symptoms, seek medical assistance immediately.
Indigestion does not typically lead to severe complications. However, severe or persistent symptoms may make it more difficult for you to eat the necessary amount of food. This may have an effect on the overall nutritional balance of your diet.
You may also experience indigestion alongside other symptoms, which themselves can lead to complications. For example, GERD can lead to the following complications:
- esophageal stricture
- pyloric stenosis
- Barrett’s esophagus
Your doctor will likely start by asking questions about your medical history and eating habits. You may also undergo a physical examination. Your doctor might 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 also 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.
An upper gastrointestinal (GI) endoscopy can diagnose the following:
- reflux esophagitis
- inflammatory diseases
Indigestion often goes away on its own and will pass with time. For example, if you experience indigestion after a large meal, your abdominal discomfort may lessen as your body begins to digest the food you’ve eaten.
However, some medications and lifestyle changes can help you treat and prevent indigestion symptoms.
Your doctor may prescribe medications to treat common indigestion symptoms, but they can cause side effects.
H2 receptor antagonists (H2RAs) like Pepcid reduce stomach acid. Side effects are uncommon but can include:
- rash or itching
- bleeding or bruising
Proton pump inhibitors (PPIs), like Prilosec, reduce stomach acid but are stronger than H2RAs. Side effects include:
- nausea and vomiting
- abdominal pain
Prokinetics, like prescription medications Reglan and Motilium, improve the muscle action of the digestive tract. However, taking these medications may cause side effects, including:
- involuntary movements or spasms
Medication isn‘t the only treatment for indigestion. You may be able to improve digestion and relieve uncomfortable symptoms with lifestyle changes. For example, it can be helpful to:
- avoid foods that can trigger heartburn
- eat slower
- don’t eat before lying down
- try to stop smoking, if you smoke
- try to maintain a moderate weight
- reduce the amount of coffee, soft drinks, and alcohol you consume
- reduce stress through yoga or relaxation therapy
Poor digestion is a common problem. However, you shouldn’t ignore indigestion that‘s:
- chronic (long term)
- unresponsive to OTC medication
If left untreated, the symptoms of indigestion may interfere with your quality of life.
If you’re unable to manage indigestion at home, speak with a doctor. They can help determine the underlying cause of your digestion issues.