Indigestion is a common problem characterized by discomfort and a feeling of fullness after a meal. In medical terms, it is also known as dyspepsia. Indigestion can occur due to irregular dietary intake, lifestyle factors, or underlying conditions. It is not a disease itself but rather a symptom of many medical conditions. The duration and severity of this condition may vary from person to person. It can be treated by adopting dietary modification, a few lifestyle changes, and medications.
Indigestion can occur due to a variety of possible causes. The dietary intake of a person and lifestyle factors can cause upper gastrointestinal discomfort. Some of these factors include eating greasy or spicy foods, eating quickly, overeating at once, consuming caffeine or alcohol, drinking carbonated drinks, smoking, having stress or anxiety, and using certain medications or supplements. Some antibiotics can disrupt your normal gut flora, thus leading to indigestion.
Indigestion can also be caused by certain medical conditions. Examples include gastritis, gastroesophageal reflux disease, peptic ulcer, pancreatitis, gall stones, constipation, lactose intolerance, celiac disease, irritable bowel syndrome, stomach cancer, blockage or obstruction, intestinal ischemia, diabetes, and thyroid issues. You may experience indigestion without any apparent cause at times. It is known as functional dyspepsia.
The risk factors for this condition are associated with your present medical conditions, dietary intake, and lifestyle options. A diet that includes fatty, greasy, or oily foods can cause a higher risk of indigestion. Although fiber is good, over-intake of fibrous foods may also stress your digestive tract. Consumption of alcohol, caffeine, and carbonated drinks can also cause an upset stomach. Smoking and drug abuse are also considered risk factors for indigestion. People with obesity, constipation, diabetes, thyroid issues, or other related medical conditions are also at risk. Frequent use of NSAIDs or antibiotics can affect your digestive tract as well.
Indigestion can occur at any age, depending on its cause. However, it was found to be more prevalent among adults over 30. The risk of indigestion may increase with aging. Indigestion has also been noticed to be more predominant among females than males.
Signs and symptoms of indigestion may vary in severity for different people. Some people may only experience mild discomfort after eating, while others feel pain for longer. Discomfort or pain can be felt during or after a meal, especially if you eat greasy or spicy food. You may also feel fullness soon after beginning a meal, even if you have eaten only a few bites. Fullness may last for some time after finishing a meal as well. Some people complain of a burning sensation in the upper abdominal region. Nausea, vomiting, and bloating can also be present. Other symptoms such as diarrhea, constipation, intestinal bleeding, etc., can also be present if you have an underlying disease.
In many cases, history and physical examination are sufficient to diagnose indigestion. Mild to moderate cases can be diagnosed based on medical history, dietary intake, and symptoms. In case of persistent or severe symptoms, your doctor may advise some laboratory tests based on your symptoms. These can include blood tests, breath testing, stool culture, and tests for metabolic diseases. In severe cases, an Upper Gastrointestinal endoscopy is required to visualize the upper digestive tract using a small camera. Imaging tests such as abdominal ultrasound, x-ray, or CT scan may also be performed in specific cases.
Indigestion itself is a symptom of many diseases and conditions. Whether it is caused by dietary habits, lifestyle factors, or a medical condition needs to be identified using history and diagnostic tests. Simple indigestion due to overeating or heavy foods should be differentiated from other medical reasons such as peptic ulcer, gastritis, celiac disease, GERD, pancreatitis, etc.
Some dietary changes and lifestyle modifications treat most cases of indigestion. It is recommended to eat in smaller portions 5 to 6 times a day, rather than eating 2 or 3 big meals. Foods that trigger indigestion, such as oily or spicy items, should be avoided. Eat in smaller bites and chew properly to facilitate digestion. Consumption of alcohol, caffeine, and carbonated drinks is avoided or limited until symptoms are better. It is also important to manage your stress or anxiety levels, which also affect your digestive tract. Medications such as NSAIDs should be avoided, and alternative medicines are preferred.
Proton pump inhibitors such as omeprazole, esomeprazole, etc., can help in digestion by limiting the production of stomach acid. H-2 receptor blockers can also be prescribed for the same reason. Antibiotics are prescribed in case of infections. Prokinetics can also help in improving the muscular movement of the digestive tract.
Mild to moderate cases of indigestion may resolve on their own or improve with medications. Persistent or chronic indigestion can be improved with changes in diet and eating habits. Prognosis also depends on the underlying cause of indigestion.
Indigestion can be prevented if you eat a balanced diet in a proper way. Develop the habit of eating in smaller quantities rather than gulping food down. Drink plenty of water as it also helps in proper digestion. Exercise regularly and avoid adopting a sedentary lifestyle. Smoking, alcohol intake, and drug abuse should be avoided. Perform meditation or breathing exercises regularly if you have constant stress or anxiety.
Our clinical experts continually monitor the health and medical content posted on CURA4U, and we update our blogs and articles when new information becomes available. Last reviewed by Dr.Saad Zia on May 22, 2023.
Indigestion (Dyspepsia) - NIDDK (nih.gov)
Indigestion - Symptoms and causes - Mayo Clinic