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Indigestion

Indigestion is often a sign of an underlying problem, such as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), ulcers, or gallbladder disease, rather than a condition of its own.

Also called dyspepsia, it is defined as a persistent or recurrent pain or discomfort in the upper abdomen.

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What Are the Symptoms of Indigestion?

The symptoms of indigestion include:

  • Burning in the stomach or upper abdomen
  • Abdominal pain
  • Bloating (full feeling)
  • Belching and gas
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Acidic taste
  • Growling stomach

These symptoms may increase in times of stress.

People often have heartburn (a burning sensation deep in the chest) along with indigestion. But heartburn itself is a different symptom that may indicate another problem.

Who Is at Risk for Indigestion?

People of all ages and of both sexes are affected by indigestion. It's extremely common. An individual's risk increases with:

  • Excess alcohol consumption
  • Use of drugs that may irritate the stomach, such as aspirin and other pain relievers
  • Conditions where there is an abnormality in the digestive tract, such as an ulcer
  • Emotional problems, such as anxiety or depression

 

What Causes Indigestion?

Indigestion has many causes, including:

Diseases:

Medications:

  • Aspirin and other painkillers, such as NSAIDs like ibuprofen (Motrin, Advil), and naproxen (Naprosyn)
  • Estrogen and oral contraceptives
  • Steroid medications
  • Certain antibiotics
  • Thyroid medicines

Lifestyle:

  • Eating too much, eating too fast, eating high-fat foods, or eating during stressful situations
  • Drinking too much alcohol
  • Cigarette smoking
  • Stress and fatigue

Indigestion is not caused by excess stomach acid.

Swallowing excessive air when eating may increase the symptoms of belching and bloating, which are often associated with indigestion.

Sometimes people have persistent indigestion that is not related to any of these factors. This type of indigestion is called functional, or non-ulcer dyspepsia.

How Is Indigestion Diagnosed?

If you are experiencing symptoms of indigestion, make an appointment to see your doctor. Because indigestion is such a broad term, it is helpful to provide your doctor with a precise description of the discomfort you are experiencing. In describing the symptoms, try to define where in the abdomen the discomfort usually occurs. 

Your doctor will rule out any underlying conditions that may be causing your symptoms. Your doctor may perform several blood tests and you may have X-rays of the stomach or small intestine. Your doctor may also suggest you have an upper endoscopy to look closely at the inside of the stomach. During the procedure, an endoscope -- a flexible tube that contains a light and a camera to produce images from inside the body -- is used to look inside your stomach.

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