Reviewed by Dr Claudia Pastides, 24th April 2019
Most people will experience indigestion at some point, as it is usually mild and an occasional occurrence. It causes discomfort behind the ribs and in the stomach, and often occurs together with heartburn. Although indigestion is rarely a severe problem, persistent indigestion could be a sign of an underlying problem so speak to a doctor if you have concerns.
Indigestion is related to eating, and in addition to an uncomfortable feeling in the stomach it can also cause a burning sensation in the chest (heartburn) and acid at the back of the throat (acid reflux). Symptoms usually start soon after eating and drinking, especially after a large meal. Other symptoms that you may feel are:
- Feeling bloated and full
- Feeling sick
- Bringing up food
You may feel as though you need to burp to relieve the bloating, and sometimes you may bring up stomach acid or food into the throat.
Causes of indigestion
Indigestion is caused by stomach acid – it can sometimes irritate your stomach lining or oesophagus. Acid reflux can occur after eating a big meal and stretching the stomach, which causes the acid to move up into the oesophagus. It can also be due to a hiatus hernia, which is a common problem where the top part of your stomach is pulled through the muscle that separates the chest from the abdomen (the diaphragm). This muscle normally helps keep the acid inside the stomach, but when the stomach is pulled upwards, through it, it can no-longer close the stomach and the acid therefore travels more freely up the food pipe. That’s the medical reason, but there are also a number of lifestyle factors and other triggers which can contribute to indigestion and heartburn:
- Pregnancy – many women experience indigestion during pregnancy due to hormonal changes and the womb pressing on the stomach
- Obesity – the extra weight puts pressure on the stomach causing acid reflux
- Medication – some drugs, such as ibuprofen or some antidepressants, are known to cause indigestion
- Alcohol consumption – alcohol makes the stomach produce more acid which can irritate the lining
- Stress – anxiety and stress can contribute to indigestion
- Spicy foods
- Fatty foods
- Acidic foods, e.g. fruit
How can I treat indigestion?
You could ease your indigestion symptoms by making some lifestyle changes to prevent it altogether. Losing weight and cutting down on drinking can help, and if you experience indigestion at night try not to go to bed with a full stomach. You can avoid those foods which make the symptoms worse such as spicy, fatty foods and caffeinated drinks.
Most people can manage their indigestion by making these diet and lifestyle changes and with medication such as antacids. If you’re struggling to cope with your indigestion then you can discuss your symptoms with a GP.
The information provided is for educational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Seek the advice of a doctor with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never delay seeking or disregard professional medical advice because of something you have read here.