Indigestion is a term that describes a feeling of fullness or discomfort in the upper abdomen. Signs of indigestion may be vague but can also include belching, heartburn, bloating, and nausea. Also called dyspepsia (and non-acid dyspepsia), it is a common symptom caused by many conditions and is not a disease unto itself. Some investigators suggest heartburn and indigestion are closely related, others separate these two conditions.
Common indigestion symptoms include:
- abdominal pain,
- heartburn or acid indigestion (acid reflux),
- bloating (full feeling),
- excessive gas (belching, burping or flatulence),
- nausea with or without vomiting,
- acidic taste in the mouth,
- gurgling, rumbling, or growling stomach discomfort,
- constipation or diarrhea, and
- decreased appetite
Indigestion is a symptom of many different conditions. It is usually related to a functional problem (difficulty processing food or stomach acids). This dysfunction of the gastrointestinal system can be caused most often by diseases, medications, and lifestyle.
Disease or conditions that may cause indigestion include:
- ulcers (gastric or duodenal ulcer);
- GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease);
- hiatal hernia;
- pregnancy (especially late term);
- inflammation of the pancreas (acute or chronic pancreatitis);
- inflammation of the stomach (acute or chronic gastritis);
- stomach infections and food poisoning;
- irritable bowel syndrome (IBS);
- thyroid disease;
- gastroparesis (a condition where the stomach doesn't empty properly, this often occurs in people with diabetes);
- food allergies or sensitivities (such aslactose intolerance);
- depression; and
- stomach cancer (rare).
Medications that may cause indigestion include:
- aspirin and many other painkillers such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs);
- steroids (such as prednisone, methylprednisolone [Medrol, Medrol Dosepak], and Decadron);
- estrogen and oral contraceptives;
- antibiotics (such as erythromycin and tetracycline);
- thyroid medication;
- blood pressure medication;
- cholesterol medications (statin drugs); and
- pain medications (codeine and other narcotics).
Lifestyle factors that may cause indigestion include:
- eating too much, eating too fast;
- eating fatty, greasy or spicy foods;
- excessive alcohol intake;
- stress, fatigue and anxiety;
- caffeine; and
moderate to intense exercise immediately after eating
When to Seek Medical Care
Indigestion symptoms are signs of other medical conditions or problems.
If indigestion symptoms are mild or resolve in a short time, talk to your doctor about how to treat it.
If you have any of the following symptoms of severe indigestion, if your symptoms last more than a few days, or if they worsen noticeably, seek medical care immediately:
- Vomiting or blood in vomit (blood can be red or dark, like coffee grounds)
- Loss of appetite
- Trouble swallowing
- Black, tarry stools or visible blood in stools
- Severe pain in the upper right abdomen
- Sudden, severe pain in the abdomen, particularly on the right side (the liver, gallbladder, and appendix are located here)
- Yellow coloring of the skin and eyes (jaundice)
- Discomfort unrelated to eating
- Lightheadedness, dizziness, or fainting due to symptoms
Most episodes of indigestion go away within hours without medical attention. If indigestion symptoms worsen, consult a physician.
Indigestion caused by lifestyle habits can often be prevented.
- Do not chew with your mouth open, talk while chewing, or eat quickly. This causes you to swallow air, which can aggravate indigestion.
- Chew food completely and eat slowly.
- Drink fluids after meals, rather than during.
- Avoid late-night eating.
- Avoid spicy, greasy foods.
- Quit smoking.
- Avoid alcoholic beverages.
- Avoid caffeine.
- Wait at least one hour after eating to exercise.
- Always take aspirin and NSAIDs with food.
- If you are lactose intolerant or allergic to a food, avoid the aggravating foods.
- Meditation may help if indigestion is caused by stress or anxiety
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