What Causes Indigestion?

Conditions list medically reviewed by George Krucik, MD, MBA

Indigestion (dyspepsia) happens to almost everyone. Eating habits or a chronic digestive problem can trigger indigestion. Indigestion can cause stomach pain or bloating, or heartburn, nausea, and vomiting. Other common symptoms of include: feeling... Read More

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, or heartburn, nausea, and vomiting. 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:

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:

Eating habits and lifestyle choices can cause. Symptoms of indigestion can also be caused by:

Sometimes, there’s no known cause of indigestion (functional dyspepsia). Functional dyspepsia may be caused by abnormal muscle motility (squeezing action) in the area where the stomach muscles digest and move food into the small intestine.

Diagnosing indigestion

Your doctor will likely start by asking questions about your medical history and eating habits. You’ll also undergo a physical examination. And your doctor may order X-ray images of your abdomen to see if there are any abnormalities in your digestive tract.

Your doctor may also collect samples of your blood, breath, and stool to check for a type of bacteria that causes peptic ulcers.

Your doctor can use an endoscopic 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. Then you doctor can 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
  • ulcers
  • inflammatory diseases
  • infection cancer

Treatment options for indigestion

Medications

Several medications can treat indigestion, but 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 Zantac and Pepcid reduce stomach acid. Side effects are uncommon, but can include:

  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • diarrhea
  • rash or itching
  • constipation
  • headache
  • bleeding or bruising

Prokinetics, like prescription medications Reglan and Motilium, improve the muscle action (motility) of the digestive tract. These medications may cause the following:

  • depression
  • anxiety
  • involuntary movements or spasms
  • fatigue

Proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) like Prilosec reduce stomach acid, but are stronger than H2RAs. Side effects include:

  • nausea and vomiting
  • constipation
  • diarrhea
  • cough
  • headache
  • backache
  • dizziness
  • 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.
  • Lose excess body weight.
  • Reduce the amount of coffee, soft drinks, and alcohol you consume.
  • Get plenty of rest.
  • Stop taking medicines that irritate the stomach lining, such as NSAIDs
  • Reduce stress through yoga or relaxation therapy.

Outlook

Poor digestion is a common problem, but you shouldn’t ignore indigestion that’s chronic, severe, or doesn’t respond to over-the-counter medication. If left untreated, the symptoms of indigestion may interfere with your quality of life.

If you’re can’t manage indigestion at home, speak with your doctor to fine the underlying cause of poor digestion.

Medically reviewed by Michele Cho-Dorado, MD on December 11, 2017Written by Sandy Calhoun Rice and Valenica Higuera


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This feature is for informational purposes only and should not be used to diagnose. Please consult a healthcare professional if you have health concerns.

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