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Indigestion

  • Definition
    • Indigestion (dyspepsia) is a mild discomfort in the upper belly or abdomen. It occurs during or right after eating. It may feel like:

      • Heat, burning, or pain in the area between the navel and the lower part of the breastbone
      • Unpleasant fullness that comes on soon after a meal begins or when the meal is over

      Bloating and nausea are less common symptoms.

      Indigestion is NOT the same as heartburn.

  • Alternative Names
    • Dyspepsia; Uncomfortable fullness after meals

  • Causes
    • Most of the time indigestion is not a sign of a serious health problem unless it occurs with other symptoms. These may include:

      • Bleeding
      • Weight loss
      • Trouble swallowing.

      Rarely, the discomfort of a heart attack is mistaken for indigestion.

      Indigestion may be triggered by:

      • Drinking too much alcohol
      • Eating spicy, fatty, or greasy foods
      • Eating too much (overeating)
      • Eating too fast
      • Stress or being nervous
      • Eating high-fiber foods
      • Smoking tobacco
      • Drinking too much caffeine

      Other causes of indigestion are:

      • Gallstones
      • Gastritis (when the lining of the stomach becomes inflamed or swollen)
      • Swelling of the pancreas (pancreatitis)
      • Ulcers (stomach or intestinal ulcer)
      • Use of certain medicines such as antibiotics, aspirin, and over-the-counter pain medicines (NSAIDs)
  • Home Care
    • Changing the way you eat may help your symptoms. Steps you can take include:

      • Allow enough time for meals.
      • Chew food carefully and completely.
      • Avoid arguments during meals.
      • Avoid excitement or exercise right after a meal.
      • Relax and get rest if indigestion is caused by stress.

      Avoid aspirin and other NSAIDs. If you must take them, do so on a full stomach.

      Antacids may relieve indigestion.

      Medicines you can buy without a prescription, such as ranitidine (Zantac) and omeprazole (Prilosec OTC) can relieve symptoms. Your health care provider may also prescribe these medicines in higher doses or for longer periods of time.

  • When to Contact a Medical Professional
    • Get medical help right away if your symptoms include jaw pain, chest pain, back pain, heavy sweating, anxiety, or a feeling of impending doom. These are possible heart attack symptoms.

      Call your health care provider if:

      • Your indigestion symptoms change noticeably.
      • Your symptoms last longer than a few days.
      • You have unexplained weight loss.
      • You have sudden, severe abdominal pain.
      • You have trouble swallowing.
      • You have yellow coloring of the skin and eyes (jaundice).
      • You vomit blood or pass blood in the stool.
  • What to Expect at Your Office Visit
    • Your provider will do a physical exam on the stomach area and digestive tract. You will be asked questions about your symptoms.

      You may have some tests, including:

      • Ultrasound test of the abdomen
      • Blood tests
      • Upper endoscopy
  • References
    • Mayer EA. Functional gastrointestinal disorders: irritable bowel syndrome, dyspepsia, and functional chest pain of presumed esophageal origin. In: Goldman L, Schafer Al, eds. Goldman's Cecil Medicine. 24th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2011:chap 139.