Diagnosis of Indigestion

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.

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.