What is Indigestion?

General description/overview

Indigestion (dyspepsia) is characterized by discomfort in the upper abdomen. It is a condition rather than a disease, and it can occur at any time. It does not necessarily happen after eating or drinking. Although not life-threatening in itself, indigestion can be a sign of more serious issues including a digestive condition or other problems.


  • Eating too quickly
  • Eating large quantities of food
  • Fats
  • Spices
  • Oils
  • Caffeine
  • Smoking
  • Certain medications
  • Stress and anxiety
  • An underlying condition

What are the Symptoms of Indigestion?

Doctors consider all symptoms and medical history when determining a course of treatment for indigestion including possible underlying causes.

Symptoms include

  • Unusual feeling of fullness
  • Feeling full for an extended period of time
  • Pain in the upper abdominal region
  • Sensation of burning in upper abdominal region
  • Heartburn
  • Unexplained nausea

Most cases of indigestion clear up on their own, either with or without antacids or other over-the-counter medications. If they persist for longer than two weeks, a professional medical exam is advised.

Seek medical attention if

  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Appetite loss
  • Black stools that may indicate bleeding
  • Worsening difficulty with swallowing
  • Lethargy that may indicate anemia

Chest pain that circulates to the jaw, neck, or arm that worsens when physically active, unusual sweating and shortness of breath either with or without indigestion is a medical emergency. Those experiencing these symptoms should obtain immediate medical attention.

Indigestion Causes

Indigestion can be caused by many different things, including eating too fast or overeating. Greasy, spicy foods – and foods high in fat – also cause indigestion, as well as drinking too much alcohol, smoking, drinking too much caffeine, eating too much chocolate, and consuming too many carbonated beverages. Generalized anxiety disorder and some antibiotics such as iron supplements and pain relievers can also cause indigestion.

Digestive conditions can also be the cause of indigestion. Some of those conditions include intestinal blockage, chronic and acute gastritis, constipation, reduced blood flow in the intestine (intestinal ischemia), congestive heart failure, gallbladder disease, peptic ulcers, celiac disease, stomach cancer, cirrhosis, pregnancy, ovarian cancer, pancreas inflammation (pancreatitis), chronic cholecystitis, and gallstones.

How is Indigestion Treated?

Indigestion that is not caused by an underlying condition may be fairly simple to remedy. In other cases, the cause of indigestion must be addressed to solve or better control the problem.

Treatment includes

  • Eating smaller meals more frequently
  • Controlling anxiety with or without medication and therapy
  • Alternate medications
  • Avoidance of NSAIDs (aspirin, ibuprofen, naproxen sodium)
  • Avoidance of caffeine and alcohol
  • Antacids
  • Proton pump inhibitors to decrease stomach acid
  • H2R antagonists to decrease stomach acid
  • Prokinetics for slow digestion
  • Antibiotics if the cause of indigestion is found to be bacterial

Indigestion Prevention

Prevent indigestion by limiting your intake of processed, fatty and spicy foods, caffeine, carbonated drinks, and alcohol. Make sure you’re eating slowly and chewing your food completely before swallowing it. Also, chew with your mouth closed and don’t eat while talking because it can cause you to swallow air, which leads to indigestion or worsens it. You can also try drinking your beverage after your meal instead of during it. Only take NSAIDs and aspirin or other pain relievers with meals, rather than on an empty stomach.

Exercising regularly is encouraged, as it helps to promote better digestion, but waiting an hour after you eat is recommended. Keep your stress to a minimum by creating a calm environment during your meals. Relaxation techniques like yoga, meditation or deep breathing can help you accomplish this. Getting plenty of sleep and spending time doing the things you love doing are also great ways to help avoid triggering indigestion.

Try eating smaller meals frequently throughout the day, especially if you’re pregnant. Pregnancy tends to welcome indigestion, so it’s important that you’re as comfortable as possible to avoid getting it. Also, refrain from eating late at night.