Indigestion (Dyspepsia)

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Definition and Facts

What is indigestion?

Indigestion, also called dyspepsia or upset stomach, is a general term that describes a group of gastrointestinal symptoms that occur together. These symptoms most often include

  • pain, a burning feeling, or discomfort in your upper abdomen
  • feeling full too soon while eating a meal
  • feeling uncomfortably full after eating a meal

Indigestion may be

  • occasional—happening once in a while
  • chronic—happening regularly for a few weeks or months
  • functional—having chronic symptoms without a specific cause

Indigestion is not a disease. However, indigestion may be a sign of certain digestive tract diseases or conditions. Indigestion is not always related to eating.

Sometimes digestive tract diseases such as peptic ulcer disease, gastritis, and stomach cancer cause chronic indigestion. However, most often doctors do not know what causes chronic indigestion. Chronic indigestion without a health problem or digestive tract disease that could explain symptoms is called functional dyspepsia.

How common is indigestion?

Indigestion is a common condition, affecting about 1 in 4 people in the United States each year.1

Of those people with indigestion who see a doctor, almost 3 in 4 are diagnosed with functional dyspepsia.2

Who is more likely to get indigestion?

You are more likely to get indigestion if you

  • drink
    • too many alcoholic beverages
    • too much coffee or too many drinks containing caffeine
  • eat
    • too fast or too much during a meal
    • spicy, fatty, or greasy foods
    • foods that contain a lot of acid, such as tomatoes, tomato products, and oranges
  • feel stressed
  • have certain health problems or digestive tract diseases
  • smoke
  • take certain medicines

What are the complications of indigestion?

In most cases, indigestion does not have complications, although it may affect your quality of life.

References

Symptoms and Causes

What are the symptoms of indigestion?

When you have indigestion, you may have one or more of the following symptoms:

  • pain, a burning feeling, or discomfort in your upper abdomen
  • feeling full too soon while eating a meal
  • feeling uncomfortably full after eating a meal
  • bloating
  • burping

Other symptoms may include

  • burping up food or liquid
  • loud growling or gurgling in your stomach
  • nausea
  • gas

Sometimes when you have indigestion, you may also have heartburn. However, heartburn and indigestion are two separate conditions.

Photo of a person holding two hands against the stomach.
When you have indigestion, you may have pain, a burning feeling, or discomfort in your upper abdomen.

Seek care right away

If you have indigestion and any of the following symptoms, you may have a more serious condition and should see a doctor right away:

  • black, tarlike stools
  • bloody vomit
  • difficulty swallowing or painful swallowing
  • frequent vomiting
  • losing weight without trying
  • pain in your chest, jaw, neck, or arm
  • severe and constant pain in your abdomen
  • shortness of breath
  • sweating
  • yellowing of your eyes or skin

You should also see a doctor if your indigestion lasts longer than 2 weeks.

What causes indigestion?

Some of the causes of indigestion include

  • drinking
    • too many alcoholic beverages
    • too much coffee or too many drinks containing caffeine
    • too many carbonated, or fizzy, drinks
  • eating
    • too fast or too much during a meal
    • spicy, fatty, or greasy foods
    • foods that contain a lot of acid, such as tomatoes, tomato products, and oranges
  • feeling stressed
  • smoking

Some medicines can cause indigestion, such as

Health problems and digestive tract diseases and conditions can cause indigestion, including

Researchers do not know what causes functional dyspepsia. Some research3 suggests that the following factors may play a role in functional dyspepsia:

  • eating
  • gastroparesis
  • problems in the first part of your small intestine, including inflammation and being overly sensitive to stomach acids
  • infection by microorganisms such as H. pylori, Salmonella, Escherichia coli (E. coli), Campylobacter, giardia, or norovirus
  • psychological problems, especially anxiety
  • genes—a trait passed from parent to child

References

Diagnosis

How do doctors diagnose indigestion?

Your doctor diagnoses indigestion based on your medical history, a physical exam, upper gastrointestinal (GI) endoscopy, and other tests.

Medical history

Your doctor will review your symptoms and medical history. He or she will ask you about your eating and drinking habits, your use of over-the-counter and prescription medicines, and whether you smoke.

Photo of a man sitting on an examining table talking to a male doctor sitting in a chair.
Your doctor will review your symptoms and medical history.

Physical exam

During a physical exam, your doctor may

  • check for bloating
  • listen to sounds in your abdomen using a stethoscope
  • tap on your abdomen to check for tenderness, pain, and lumps
  • look for yellowing of your eyes or skin

Upper GI endoscopy

Your doctor may perform an upper GI endoscopy to diagnose diseases and conditions that may be causing your indigestion, such as

A doctor may recommend an upper GI endoscopy for people with indigestion who are older than 55 or for people with indigestion of any age who have

During an upper GI endoscopy, your doctor can use tiny tools passed through the endoscope to take small pieces of tissue from the lining of your stomach and duodenum. This procedure is called an upper GI biopsy. A doctor will examine the tissue samples to look for digestive tract diseases and conditions, including Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) infection.

Other tests

Imaging tests. Your doctor may use imaging tests such as x-rays, computed tomography (CT) scans, or ultrasound to look for diseases and conditions in your digestive tract that may be causing your indigestion.

H. pylori testing. Your doctor can detect an H. pylori infection by using blood, stool, or breath tests or by performing an upper GI biopsy.

Blood test. A health care professional may take a blood sample from you and send the sample to a lab to test for signs of H. pylori infection.

Stool test. Your doctor may use stool tests to look for signs of H. pylori infection. Your doctor may also use a stool test to see if treatment has worked to get rid of H. pylori.

Urea breath test. Your doctor may use a urea breath test to check for H. pylori infection. You will swallow a capsule, liquid, or pudding that contains urea—a waste product the body produces as it breaks down protein. The urea is “labeled” with a special carbon atom. If H. pylori are present, the bacteria will convert the urea into carbon dioxide. After a few minutes, you will breathe into a container, exhaling carbon dioxide. A health care professional will test your exhaled breath for labeled carbon dioxide. If the test detects the labeled carbon atoms, the health care professional will confirm an H. pylori infection in your digestive tract. A doctor can also use this test to see if treatment has worked to get rid of H. pylori.

Treatment

How do doctors treat indigestion?

Treatment for indigestion depends on the cause and may include

  • over-the-counter and prescription medicines
  • changing what you eat and drink
  • psychological therapies

Over-the-counter and prescription medicines

You can buy many medicines to treat indigestion without a prescription, such as antacids, H2 blockers, or proton pump inhibitors. However, if your indigestion lasts longer than 2 weeks, you should see your doctor. Your doctor may prescribe acid-suppressing medicines that are stronger than the ones you can buy, antibiotics, prokinetics, or psychological medicines.

Antacids. Doctors often first recommend antacids—over-the-counter medicines that neutralize acids in your stomach. Antacids include

Photo of antacid tablets and spoon with antacid liquid.
Doctors often first recommend antacids for indigestion

Antibiotics. To treat a Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) infection, your doctor will prescribe antibiotics—medicines that kill bacteria. He or she will prescribe at least two of the following:

H2 blockers. H2 blockers are medicines that decrease the amount of acid your stomach produces. H2 blockers provide short-term or on-demand relief for many people with indigestion. You can buy an H2 blocker or your doctor can prescribe one. H2 blockers include

Proton pump inhibitors (PPIs). PPIs are most effective in treating indigestion if you also have heartburn. You can buy some PPIs or your doctor can prescribe one. PPIs include

Prokinetics. Prokinetics help your stomach empty faster. Prescription prokinetics include

Changes in what you eat and drink

Your doctor may recommend that you avoid certain foods and drinks that may cause indigestion or make your symptoms worse, such as

  • alcoholic beverages
  • carbonated, or fizzy, drinks
  • foods or drinks that contain caffeine
  • foods that contain a lot of acid, such as tomatoes, tomato products, and oranges
  • spicy, fatty, or greasy foods

Psychological therapies

Your doctor may recommend a type of psychological therapy called “talk therapy” to help treat anxiety and depression that may be causing your indigestion. If stress is causing your indigestion, your doctor may recommend ways to help you reduce your stress, such as meditation, relaxation exercises, or counseling. Talk therapy can also help you learn how to reduce your stress.

What can I do to help prevent indigestion?

In addition to making changes in what you eat and drink, you can help prevent indigestion by making lifestyle changes such as

  • avoiding exercise right after eating
  • chewing food carefully and completely
  • losing weight
  • not eating late-night snacks
  • not taking a lot of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs
  • quitting smoking
  • trying to reduce stress in your life
  • waiting 2 to 3 hours after eating before you lie down

Eating, Diet, and Nutrition

How can my diet help prevent indigestion?

You can help prevent indigestion by changing what you eat and drink. You may need to avoid foods and drinks that cause indigestion.

What foods and drinks should I avoid if I have indigestion?

If you have indigestion, avoid foods and drinks that may make your symptoms worse, such as

  • alcoholic beverages
  • carbonated, or fizzy, drinks
  • foods and drinks that contain caffeine
  • foods that contain a lot of acid, such as tomatoes, tomato products, and oranges
  • spicy, fatty, or greasy foods

What can I eat if I have indigestion?

You should eat a healthy, well-balanced diet. A healthy diet can improve your overall health, help manage certain diseases and conditions, and reduce the chance of disease.

Clinical Trials

The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK) and other components of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) conduct and support research into many diseases and conditions.

What are clinical trials and are they right for you?

Clinical trials are part of clinical research and at the heart of all medical advances. Clinical trials look at new ways to prevent, detect, or treat disease. Researchers also use clinical trials to look at other aspects of care, such as improving the quality of life for people with chronic illnesses. Find out if clinical trials are right for you.

What clinical trials are open?

Clinical trials that are currently open and are recruiting can be viewed at www.ClinicalTrials.gov.

November 2016
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This content is provided as a service of the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), part of the National Institutes of Health. The NIDDK translates and disseminates research findings through its clearinghouses and education programs to increase knowledge and understanding about health and disease among patients, health professionals, and the public. Content produced by the NIDDK is carefully reviewed by NIDDK scientists and other experts.