Symptoms and causes

Symptoms

People with indigestion may have one or more of the following symptoms:

  • Early fullness during a meal. You haven't eaten much of your meal, but you already feel full and may not be able to finish eating.
  • Uncomfortable fullness after a meal. Fullness lasts longer than it should.
  • Discomfort in the upper abdomen. You feel a mild to severe pain in the area between the bottom of your breastbone and your navel.
  • Burning in the upper abdomen. You feel an uncomfortable heat or burning sensation between the bottom of your breastbone and your navel.
  • Bloating in the upper abdomen. You feel an uncomfortable sensation of tightness.
  • Nausea. You feel as though you want to vomit.

Less frequent symptoms include vomiting and belching.

Sometimes people with indigestion also experience heartburn, but heartburn and indigestion are two separate conditions. Heartburn is a pain or burning feeling in the center of your chest that may radiate into your neck or back during or after eating.

When to see a doctor

Mild indigestion is usually nothing to worry about. Consult your doctor if discomfort persists for more than two weeks. Contact your doctor right away if pain is severe or accompanied by:

  • Unintentional weight loss or loss of appetite
  • Repeated vomiting or vomiting with blood
  • Black, tarry stools
  • Trouble swallowing that gets progressively worse
  • Fatigue or weakness, which may indicate anemia

Seek immediate medical attention if you have:

  • Shortness of breath, sweating or chest pain radiating to the jaw, neck or arm
  • Chest pain on exertion or with stress

Causes

Indigestion has many possible causes. Often, indigestion is related to lifestyle and may be triggered by food, drink or medication. Common causes of indigestion include:

  • Overeating or eating too quickly
  • Fatty, greasy or spicy foods
  • Too much caffeine, alcohol, chocolate or carbonated beverages
  • Smoking
  • Anxiety
  • Certain antibiotics, pain relievers and iron supplements

Sometimes indigestion is caused by other digestive conditions, including:

  • Gastritis
  • Peptic ulcers
  • Celiac disease
  • Gallstones
  • Constipation
  • Pancreas inflammation (pancreatitis)
  • Stomach cancer
  • Intestinal blockage
  • Reduced blood flow in the intestine (intestinal ischemia)

Indigestion with no obvious cause is known as functional or nonulcer dyspepsia.

Complications

Although indigestion doesn't usually have serious complications, it can affect your quality of life by making you feel uncomfortable and causing you to eat less. You might miss work or school because of your symptoms. When indigestion is caused by an underlying condition, that condition can also have its own complications.

Aug. 24, 2016
References
  1. Feldman M, et al. Dyspepsia. In: Sleisenger and Fordtran's Gastrointestinal and Liver Disease: Pathophysiology, Diagnosis, Management. 10th ed. Philadelphia, Pa.: Saunders Elsevier; 2016. http://www.clinicalkey.com. Accessed Jan. 6, 2016.
  2. Talley MJ, et al. Functional Dyspepsia. New England Journal of Medicine. 2015;373:1852.
  3. Indigestion. National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse. http://digestive.niddk.nih.gov/ddiseases/pubs/indigestion/index.aspx. Accessed Jan. 28, 2016.
  4. Papadakis MA, et al., eds. Gastrointestinal disorders. In: Current Medical Diagnosis & Treatment 2015. 54th ed. New York, N.Y.: The McGraw-Hill Companies; 2015. http://www.accessmedicine.com. Accessed Jan. 28, 2016.
  5. Dyspepsia. Merck Manual Professional Version. http://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/print/gastrointestinal_disorders/approach_to_the_patient_with_upper_gi_complaints/dyspepsia.html. Accessed Jan. 28, 2016.
  6. Overland MK. Dyspepsia. Medical Clinics of North America. 2014;98:549.
  7. Ottillinger B, et al. STW 5 (Iberogast) — A safe and effective standard in the treatment of functional gastrointestinal disorders. Wiener Medizinische Wochenschrift. 2013;163:65.
  8. Aucoin M, et al. Mindfulness-based therapies in the treatment of functional gastrointestinal disorders: A meta-analysis. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine. 2014;2014:1.
  9. Kim KN, et al. Efficacy of acupuncture treatment for functional dyspepsia: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Complementary Therapies in Medicine. 2015;23:759.