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.
What Are the Symptoms of Indigestion?
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), other conditions where there is an abnormality in the digestive tract such as an ulcer and emotional problems such as anxiety or depression.
What Causes Indigestion?
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 to rule out a more serious condition. 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. Simply reporting pain in the stomach is not detailed enough for your doctor to help identify and treat your problem.
First, your doctor must rule out any underlying conditions. Your doctor may perform several blood tests and you may have X-rays of the stomach or small intestine. Your doctor may also use an instrument to look closely at the inside of the stomach, a procedure called an upper endoscopy. An endoscope, a flexible tube that contains a light and a camera to produce images from inside the body, is used in this procedure.
How is Indigestion Treated?
Because indigestion is a symptom rather than a disease, treatment usually depends upon the underlying condition causing the indigestion.
Often, episodes of indigestion go away within hours without medical attention. However, if your symptoms become worse, you should consult a doctor. Avoiding foods and situations that cause indigestion are the best ways to treat it. Here are some helpful tips to alleviate indigestion:
How Can I Prevent Indigestion?
The best way to prevent indigestion is to avoid the foods and situations that seem to cause indigestion. Keeping a food diary is helpful in identifying foods that cause indigestion. Here are some other suggestions:
When Should You Call the Doctor?
Because indigestion can be a sign of a more serious health problem, call your doctor if you have any of the following symptoms:
Reviewed by The Cleveland Clinic Department of Gastroenterology.
Edited by Cynthia Haines, MD, WebMD, March 2006.
SOURCES: National Institutes of Health. National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse.