Indigestion Causes & Symptoms

Indigestion

Indigestion is a very common condition that most people will experience at some point in their lives. Although it’s not usually serious and can be treated yourself, it can be disruptive to your day to day life. In this article you will find the comprehensive Gaviscon guide to indigestion, including:

  • What is indigestion?
  • Symptoms of indigestion
  • Causes of indigestion
  • Indigestion treatment
  • When to see a doctor

What is indigestion?

Indigestion or ‘dyspepsia’ is a general term for stomach pain or discomfort. The term encompasses a range of digestive symptoms and is a common problem that affects many people, usually after eating or drinking. It is caused by acid breaking down the protective lining of the stomach wall, which leads to irritation and soreness.

Symptoms of indigestion

Indigestion usually occur soon after eating, although there can be delay. Some of the most common symptoms of indigestion might include:[1]

  • A ‘burning‘ feeling in the stomach or upper abdomen
  • Abdominal pain
  • Bloating, or a feeling of being full
  • Needing to burp, belch or pass wind a lot
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Acidic taste in your mouth
  • Heartburn
  • Loss of appetite

Causes of indigestion

Indigestion is the result of the stomach producing excess stomach acid, which then irritates your stomach lining.1 There are many reasons why you might get indigestion, but most are related to eating. Here are some of the most common causes of indigestion:

The way you eat

• Eating large meals can cause your stomach to produce too much acid. Physically 'overfilling' the stomach can create pressure and cause acid to escape
• Eating irregularly or too quickly can mean that acid levels in the stomach don't have time to regulate
• Eating on the run or just before bedtime can make it easier for acid to escape back up into the oesophagus (food pipe)
The types of food you eat
• Fatty foods tend to stay in your stomach for longer because fats are slower to digest
• Foods such as chocolate and mint may have a relaxant effect on the sphincter (ring of muscle) at the entrance to the stomach enabling acid to escape back up
• Spicy foods, onions and tomato products

The types of drink you drink

• Caffeinated drinks and alcohol tend to increase acidity in your stomach
• Very hot drinks and citrus juices may also be triggers

Pregnancy

• Hormonal changes during pregnancy
• The baby physically putting pressure on the woman's digestive tract

Other known triggers

In some cases indigestion might be triggered or made worse by other factors such as:

• Stress, depression, or anxiety
• Fatigue
• Certain medications, such as those for heart problems, asthma and high blood pressure
• Being overweight can increase your likelihood of suffering from indigestion
• Wearing tight clothes which can put pressure on your stomach
• Smoking can encourage acid production and cause the sphincter to relax

Heartburn and indigestion tend to have similar triggers, and often one will be accompanied with the other. As the causes are similar, heartburn and indigestion remedies are often similar too as explored here.

Indigestion treatment

Treatment for indigestion will depend on the cause of the problem and how severe symptoms are. As indigestion is the result of the stomach producing excess stomach acid, neutralising this acid should help to relieve symptoms.

In most cases you should be able to manage your indigestion by making a few simple diet and lifestyle changes. The following self-help tips can help to avoid/manage symptoms on indigestion: [2]

  • Avoid or cut down on spicy, fatty or rich foods
  • Eat a balanced diet and getting regular exercise to maintain a healthy weight
  • Avoid or cut down on caffeinated and alcoholic beverages
  • Drink fluids after meals, rather during them
  • Avoid eating at least three hours before bedtime
  • Getting more rest
  • Stop smoking
  • Try losing weight if you’re overweight
  • Avoid chewing with your mouth open, talking while chewing, or eating too fast (as this can cause you to swallow too much air and bring on indigestion)[3]
  • Prop your head and shoulders up when you go to bed - this should help prevent stomach acid moving up into your oesophagus while you’re sleeping

Over-the-counter medication

If you are suffering from indigestion and are looking for quick relief, there are a number of OTC (Over-the-Counter) medications which can help to alleviate symptoms.

  • Gaviscon Double Action Liquid quickly neutralises excess stomach acid by forming a raft over the stomach contents which help prevents acid coming back up into the oesophagus (food pipe). It is available in tablet and liquid sachet form, and provides relief for heartburn too. They are suitable for use in pregnancy.
  • If you have more severe indigestion, Gaviscon Advance Liquid is an extra strength formula, forming a more resilient raft and provide relief for heartburn and reflux cough too. They are suitable for use in pregnancy but only available from the pharmacy.
  • If you have persistent or recurring indigestion you should book an appointment with your GP who may prescribe you a different type of medication.

When to see a doctor

On occasion, indigestion might be the indication of something more serious. Seek medical advice if you also experience:[4]

  • Chronic indigestion
  • Worsening or severe indigestion
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Vomiting over a longer period of a couple of days
  • Blood in your vomit or stools
  • Pain in your right abdomen
  • Have difficulty swallowing (dysphagia)
  • A lump feeling in your stomach
  • Acid reflux (as this may be an indication of Gastro-oesophageal reflux disease, or GORD)
  • If you are feeling stressed, depressed, or anxious about something, speak to your doctor about coping techniques, or suitable treatment available (as stress and anxiety can contribute to indigestion)
  • Indigestion will often be accompanied by heartburn, which may manifest itself as feeling like chest pain, but if the indigestion is accompanied by shortness of breath, sweating or pain in the jaw, neck or arm, seek medical help immediately.

If you are seeing your doctor about your indigestion, be as specific as you can as to where you are feeling the pain or bloating. Indigestion is such a broad term, that the more specific you are, the quicker and more accurately your doctor will likely be able to help and diagnose the condition that is causing it.

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[1] http://www.nhs.uk/conditions/Indigestion/Pages/Introduction.aspx

[2] http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/Indigestion/Pages/Introduction.aspx#Treatment

[3] http://www.webmd.com/heartburn-gerd/indigestion-overview#2

[4] http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/Indigestion/Pages/Introduction.aspx#