Indigestion may seem like a straightforward thing, but it’s actually a bit vague.
Rather than being a specific condition, dyspepsia, as it’s also called, is a whole set of symptoms.
So each person may experience indigestion differently and for varying amounts of time.
Identifying the cause or trigger behind your symptoms can help you determine the best lifestyle changes and any medications to effectively treat or prevent your indigestion.
In this article, I’ll describe possible symptoms and causes of indigestion.
I’ll also cover some of the most common treatment options and which home remedies effectively remedy or head off indigestion.
Finally, I’ll explain when you should see a doctor for expert care.
What Is Indigestion?
Indigestion is not one thing. Instead, the term describes a whole group of gastrointestinal symptoms.
If you have indigestion, you may experience only one or several of these symptoms.
Indigestion can also be a symptom of different digestive diseases.
Symptoms of Indigestion
Although the symptoms of indigestion vary from person to person, the most common symptoms include:
- Abdominal pain
- Burning or discomfort in the upper abdomen
- Feeling overly full or bloated during or after a meal
- Growling or gurgling in your stomach
Many people confuse indigestion with heartburn.
The two are not the same, however, it’s possible to experience both at the same time.
Causes of Indigestion
Indigestion can be caused by both lifestyle triggers and health conditions.
You are more at risk for developing indigestion if you:
- Drink a lot of alcoholic, caffeinated, or carbonated drinks
- Eat quickly
- Eat spicy, fatty, or greasy foods
- Eat acidic foods, such as tomatoes or citrus
- Experience stress
You are also at greater risk if you have any of the following conditions:
- Anxiety or depression
- Acid reflux (GER and GERD)
- Peptic ulcers
- Inflammation of the stomach (gastritis)
- Celiac disease
- Pancreas inflammation (pancreatitis)
- Stomach cancer
- Hiatal hernia
- Intestinal blockage
- Reduced blood flow in the intestine (intestinal ischemia)
- Thyroid disease
- Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) infection
- Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
- Lactose intolerance
Pregnancy and Indigestion
Heartburn, often associated with feeling a burning sensation in the chest, is common throughout pregnancy and especially during the third trimester.
Symptoms may be caused by hormonal changes or by the growing baby pressing against the stomach.
Diet and lifestyle changes—such as eating smaller, more frequent meals and avoiding greasy or spicy foods—may help to provide relief.
Over-the-counter (OTC) antacids may also help to relieve symptoms, but it’s important to speak with your doctor or OBGYN first to ensure that they are safe to use.
Duration of Indigestion
Most mild cases of indigestion do not require medical attention or even medication.
In these instances, symptoms last only a few hours, and while they may recur for a few days, the symptoms either go away on their own or after making dietary or lifestyle changes.
However, recurring or chronic indigestion can also occur.
If you’re unsure about the cause of your indigestion or if your symptoms last for more than two weeks, see your doctor.
Treatment for Indigestion
Medications and home remedies (including lifestyle changes) can help treat indigestion.
It may take a little trial and error to figure out what works best for you.
If you still experience symptoms of indigestion after two weeks, see your doctor, who may recommend prescription medication.
Antacids are typically the first-line recommendation for most cases of indigestion.
They work by neutralizing acids in your stomach.
Examples of OTC antacids that treat indigestion include:
- Calcium carbonate (TUMS)
- Loperamide (Imodium)
- Simethicone (Mylanta)
- Sodium bicarbonate (Alka-Seltzer)
Depending on the cause of your indigestion, your doctor may recommend a prescription medication instead of an OTC antacid.
Common prescriptions for indigestion include:
- Antibiotics: to fight an H. pylori bacterial infection.
- H-2 blockers: to reduce how much acid your stomach produces.
- Proton pump inhibitors (PPIs): often prescribed for those who also experience heartburn, PPIs also decrease stomach acid production.
- Prokinetics: to help your stomach empty faster.
Home remedies for indigestion
In many cases, your doctor may recommend making a few lifestyle changes to help alleviate your symptoms or prevent indigestion in the future.
The changes and home remedies below may help:
- Stop smoking: Evidence shows that nicotine relaxes the lower esophageal sphincter, the valve that helps keep acid in the stomach so it doesn’t travel back up the esophagus and cause symptoms of indigestion and heartburn.
- Don’t eat or drink close to bedtime: To give your body time to digest, aim to finish your meal at least three hours before laying down in bed.
- Avoid trigger foods: Certain foods appear to be more likely to lead to indigestion. The most common culprits include large amounts of spicy foods, acidic foods (citrus, tomatoes), alcohol, caffeine, and greasy and fatty foods. Consider keeping a food journal of your meals and symptoms to help you identify your triggers so you can avoid them.
- Mix baking soda with water: Some OTC antacids contain baking soda (also known as sodium bicarbonate). Baking soda helps neutralize stomach acid and temporarily relieve some symptoms of indigestion and acid reflux. For a home remedy, add ½ teaspoon baking soda to 4-8 ounces of water and drink the solution every two hours or as directed by your healthcare provider. However, be careful not to use too much baking soda and to follow your doctor’s advice, as there are reports of toxicity.
- Maintain a healthy weight: Carrying excess pounds may increase pressure on your stomach. This may cause acid to back up in your esophagus.
- Avoid certain pain relievers: Some pain medications—including aspirin, naproxen sodium, and ibuprofen—can irritate the stomach and make symptoms worse.
When to See a Doctor
Many cases of mild indigestion can be managed at home. But if any of your symptoms of indigestion last longer than two weeks, see your doctor.
And if you experience any of the below symptoms, contact your 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
- Chest pain on exertion or with stress, or pain that radiates to the neck, jaw, or arm
- Yellowing of the skin or eyes
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Hemorrhagic Encephalopathy From Acute Baking Soda Ingestion. (2016).
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Long-Term Benefits of Smoking Cessation on Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease and Health-Related Quality of Life. (2016).
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