Indigestion can be experienced in different ways, causing a wide array of disruptive gastrointestinal symptoms.
Thankfully, there are many treatment options for indigestion. Treatment of indigestion depends on the cause, but may entail over-the-counter (OTC) medications, prescription medications, or at-home lifestyle changes.
In this article, I’ll describe what indigestion is, and the different treatment options available.
I’ll also cover what you should avoid if you experience symptoms, and which home remedies can be effective at treating or preventing indigestion.
Finally, I’ll explain when you should see a healthcare provider for more personalized care.
What is Indigestion?
Indigestion is a general term that describes a group of gastrointestinal symptoms that typically occur after eating or drinking.
Common symptoms of indigestion include:
- Feeling full soon after you start eating a meal
- Uncomfortable fullness after a meal
- Pain, a burning feeling, or discomfort in the upper abdomen
- Burping up food or liquid
- Growling or gurgling in your stomach
- Chronic cough or hoarseness
- A sour taste in your mouth
- Stomach pain when lying down at night or waking in the morning
Anyone can get indigestion and there are many causes. For some, indigestion is triggered by lifestyle behaviors or diet.
You are more at risk for developing indigestion if you:
- Drink alcohol
- Drink caffeinated or carbonated beverages
- Eat quickly
- Eat spicy, fatty, or greasy foods
- Eat acidic foods, such as tomatoes or citrus
- Experience stress
Indigestion is not a disease. Most cases are mild, and go away on their own. But indigestion may also be a sign of another, underlying condition.
- Anxiety or depression
- Acid reflux (GER and GERD)
- Peptic ulcers
- Inflammation of the stomach (gastritis)
- Celiac disease
- Pancreas inflammation (pancreatitis)
- Stomach cancer
- Intestinal blockage
- Reduced blood flow in the intestine (intestinal ischemia)
- Thyroid disease
- Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) infection
- Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
- Lactose intolerance
- Gastroparesis (delayed gastric emptying)
- Hiatal hernia
If you’re unsure about the cause of your indigestion, or if you have chronic or recurring symptoms, reach out to your doctor or healthcare provider for an evaluation.
If you experience any severe symptoms like black stool, painful swallowing, shortness of breath, or bloody vomit, reach out to your provider immediately.
Medication for Indigestion
Depending on the cause of your indigestion, your provider may recommend either over-the-counter (OTC) or prescription medications to help treat indigestion symptoms.
Examples of medications your doctor may recommend are:
- Antacids: For most types of indigestion, these are the first-line recommendation. Antacids work by neutralizing acids in your stomach. Common antacids include calcium carbonate (Tums), loperamide (Imodium), simethicone (Mylanta), and sodium bicarbonate (Alka-Seltzer).
- Antibiotics: If the cause of your indigestion is an infection of the bacteria H. pylori, your provider may recommend a course of at least two antibiotics, such as amoxicillin (Amoxil), clarithromycin (Biaxin), metronidazole (Flagyl), tetracycline (Sumycin), ortinidazole (Tindamax). This type of infection requires a lab test to diagnose correctly.
- H2 receptor blockers: These medicines reduce the amount of acid your stomach produces, which can help to alleviate symptoms of indigestion. H2 blockers don’t work as quickly to reduce heartburn as antacids, but the effect can last longer. Examples of these medications include famotidine (Pepcid AC), nizatidine (Axid AR), and ranitidine (Zantac 75).
- Proton pump inhibitors (PPIs): PPIs are especially effective at reducing stomach acid to treat symptoms of indigestion and heartburn. Your doctor may recommend PPIs if antacids or H2 blockers have failed to resolve your symptoms. Recently, some PPIs have become available OTC, including esomeprazole (Nexium) and omeprazole (Prilosec). Other PPIs, like rabeprazole (AcipHex), are only available with a prescription.
- Prokinetics: If your provider identifies that delayed stomach emptying is the cause of your symptoms, they may prescribe prokinetics, medications to help your stomach empty faster by stimulating the muscles in your stomach. Examples of prokinetics include bethanechol (Urecholine) and metoclopramide (Reglan).
Home Remedies for Indigestion
In many cases, your provider may recommend lifestyle changes to help alleviate your symptoms or prevent future bouts of indigestion—these changes may be avoiding certain substances or habits, or adding other foods, beverages, and habits into your daily life.
What to Avoid
Quitting smoking is an umbrella health recommendation for preventing many conditions and diseases, including hypertension, cancer, and even premature death. But evidence shows that it may be helpful in preventing indigestion, too.
Nicotine may relax the lower esophageal sphincter—the bottom end of your esophagus, which meets your stomach. This relaxation can cause symptoms of indigestion and heartburn.
Wearing tight clothing that puts pressure on your belly can make symptoms of indigestion caused by acid reflux worse.
Similarly, exercises that put pressure on your stomach, like sit-ups, leg lifts, and crunches, can also exacerbate symptoms.
If acid reflux is the cause of your indigestion, try wearing loose, non-restrictive clothing to ease your symptoms.
Laying Down Right After Meals
To give your body time to digest, aim to finish your meal at least three hours before laying down in bed.
One study found that regular consumption of spicy foods can trigger symptoms of indigestion, especially in people with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
If you think spicy foods may exacerbate your symptoms, try eliminating them from your diet to see if your symptoms improve.
Citrus is another possible trigger for symptoms of indigestion.
Researchers believe that citrus juice, including the juice of oranges, lemons, and grapefruit, irritates the lining of the esophagus.
One study found that orange or grapefruit juice worsened the acid reflux symptoms of 72% of GERD patients.
Research is mixed on whether mint worsens symptoms of indigestion.
However, one study found that consuming large amounts of spearmint can worsen symptoms of acid reflux.
Several studies show that drinking alcohol, even in moderate amounts, can worsen symptoms of indigestion by increasing stomach acid, relaxing the lower esophageal sphincter, and impairing the ability of the esophagus to clear itself of acid.
Other Foods to Avoid
Additional foods that may trigger your indigestion symptoms are carbonated drinks, coffee and other caffeinated beverages, tomatoes, chocolate, and fatty or greasy foods.
Drinking liquids at the same time as meals can also make symptoms worse if you suffer from acid reflux.
What to Do
Mix Baking Soda and Water
Some OTC antacids, like Alka-Seltzer, contain baking soda (also known as sodium bicarbonate).
Baking soda works to neutralize stomach acid and temporarily relieve some symptoms of indigestion and acid reflux. Just add ½ teaspoon to four ounces of water and drink the solution.
But be careful not to use too much. One study found that adults should have no more than seven ½ teaspoons of baking soda in one day, and no more than three ½ teaspoons if over the age of 60.
Sip Apple Cider Vinegar
Apple cider vinegar has recently become a popular at-home remedy for many ailments.
Because of its high acetic acid content, it may help to aid digestion and break down food.
Unfortunately, there is little to no evidence that it is a safe and effective treatment for indigestion or heartburn.
To be safe, talk with your doctor or healthcare provider before using.
Ginger has long been used as a home remedy to soothe stomach ailments, including indigestion.
Research has found that ginger increases the rate of gastric emptying in patients with indigestion.
Just be sure to limit your consumption to three to four grams per day to avoid gas, heartburn, and throat burn.
Take Licorice Supplements
A randomized double-blind, placebo-controlled study found that licorice supplements are safe and effective at managing symptoms of indigestion.
Eat Healthy Fats
Fatty and greasy foods are linked to worsening indigestion symptoms (including symptoms of acid reflux).
However, evidence suggests that replacing saturated fats with unsaturated fats —like those from plants, fish, and some nuts and seeds—may help to relieve the symptoms of acid reflux.
Maintain a Healthy Weight
Carrying excess pounds can put pressure on your stomach, causing acid to back up into your esophagus.
Experts recommend maintaining a healthy weight, which can help manage symptoms of indigestion.
When to See a Doctor
Many cases of mild indigestion can be managed at home. But if you experience any of the below symptoms, reach out to your doctor or healthcare provider immediately:
- Unintentional weight loss or loss of appetite
- Bloody vomit
- Frequent vomiting
- Black, tarry stool
- Severe, constant stomach pain
- Difficulty swallowing that gets progressively worse
- Fatigue or weakness
- Shortness of breath, sweating, or chest pain that radiates to the neck, jaw, or arm
- Chest pain on exertion or with stress
- Yellowing of the skin or eyes
Additionally, if any of your symptoms of indigestion last longer than two weeks, reach out to your provider.
How K Health Can Help
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Frequently Asked Questions
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A prospective study on symptom generation according to spicy food intake and TRPV1 genotypes in functional dyspepsia patients. (2016). https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27094759/
Baking Soda Can Settle the Stomach but Upset the Heart: Case Files of the Medical Toxicology Fellowship at the University of California, San Francisco. (2013). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3770998/
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