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The following information comes from The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), a part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. To ensure that you're viewing the most up-to-date information, we recommend visiting the indigestion entry at the NIDDK website.
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Indigestion, also known as dyspepsia, is a term used to describe one or more symptoms including a feeling of fullness during a meal, uncomfortable fullness after a meal, and burning or pain in the upper abdomen.
Indigestion is common in adults and can occur once in a while or as often as every day.
Indigestion can be caused by a condition in the digestive tract such as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), peptic ulcer disease, cancer, or abnormality of the pancreas or bile ducts. If the condition improves or resolves, the symptoms of indigestion usually improve.
Sometimes a person has indigestion for which a cause cannot be found. This type of indigestion, called functional dyspepsia, is thought to occur in the area where the stomach meets the small intestine. The indigestion may be related to abnormal motility — the squeezing or relaxing action — of the stomach muscle as it receives, digests, and moves food into the small intestine.
Most people with indigestion experience more than one of the following symptoms:
Other, less frequent symptoms that may occur with indigestion are nausea and bloating — an unpleasant tightness in the stomach. Nausea and bloating could be due to causes other than indigestion.
Sometimes the term indigestion is used to describe the symptom of heartburn, but these are two different conditions. Heartburn is a painful, burning feeling in the chest that radiates toward the neck or back. Heartburn is caused by stomach acid rising into the esophagus and may be a symptom of GERD. A person can have symptoms of both indigestion and heartburn.
To diagnose indigestion, the doctor asks about the person's current symptoms and medical history and performs a physical examination. The doctor may order x rays of the stomach and small intestine.
The doctor may perform blood, breath, or stool tests if the type of bacteria that causes peptic ulcer disease is suspected as the cause of indigestion.
The doctor may perform an upper endoscopy. After giving a sedative to help the person become drowsy, the doctor passes an endoscope — a long, thin tube that has a light and small camera on the end — through the mouth and gently guides it down the esophagus into the stomach. The doctor can look at the esophagus and stomach with the endoscope to check for any abnormalities. The doctor may perform biopsies — removing small pieces of tissue for examination with a microscope — to look for possible damage from GERD or an infection.
Because indigestion can be a sign of a more serious condition, people should see a doctor right away if they experience:
Some people may experience relief from symptoms of indigestion by:
The doctor may recommend over-the-counter antacids or medications that reduce acid production or help the stomach move food more quickly into the small intestine. Many of these medications can be purchased without a prescription. Nonprescription medications should only be used at the dose and for the length of time recommended on the label unless advised differently by a doctor. Informing the doctor when starting a new medication is important.
Antacids, such as Alka-Seltzer, Maalox, Mylanta, Rolaids, and Riopan, are usually the first drugs recommended to relieve symptoms of indigestion. Many brands on the market use different combinations of three basic salts — magnesium, calcium, and aluminum — with hydroxide or bicarbonate ions to neutralize the acid in the stomach. Antacids, however, can have side effects. Magnesium salt can lead to diarrhea, and aluminum salt may cause constipation. Aluminum and magnesium salts are often combined in a single product to balance these effects.
Calcium carbonate antacids, such as Tums, Titralac, and Alka-2, can also be a supplemental source of calcium, though they may cause constipation.
H2 receptor antagonists (H2RAs) include ranitidine (Zantac), cimetidine (Tagamet), famotidine (Pepcid), and nizatidine (Axid) and are available both by prescription and over-the-counter. H2RAs treat symptoms of indigestion by reducing stomach acid. They work longer than but not as quickly as antacids. Side effects of H2RAs may include headache, nausea, vomiting, constipation, diarrhea, and unusual bleeding or bruising.
Proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) include omeprazole (Prilosec, Zegerid), lansoprazole (Prevacid), pantoprazole (Protonix), rabeprazole (Aciphex), and esomeprazole (Nexium) and are available by prescription. Prilosec is also available in over-the-counter strength. PPIs, which are stronger than H2RAs, also treat indigestion symptoms by reducing stomach acid. PPIs are most effective in treating symptoms of indigestion in people who also have GERD. Side effects of PPIs may include back pain, aching, cough, headache, dizziness, abdominal pain, gas, nausea, vomiting, constipation, and diarrhea.
Prokinetics such as metoclopramide (Reglan) may be helpful for people who have a problem with the stomach emptying too slowly. Metoclopramide also improves muscle action in the digestive tract. Prokinetics have frequent side effects that limit their usefulness, including fatigue, sleepiness, depression, anxiety, and involuntary muscle spasms or movements.
If testing shows the type of bacteria that causes peptic ulcer disease, the doctor may prescribe antibiotics to treat the condition.
The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases' Division of Digestive Diseases and Nutrition supports basic and clinical research into gastrointestinal motility disorders, including indigestion. Further research is needed in the areas of
Participants in clinical trials can play a more active role in their own health care, gain access to new research treatments before they are widely available, and help others by contributing to medical research. For information about current studies, visit www.ClinicalTrials.gov.
The U.S. Government does not endorse or favor any specific commercial product or company. Trade, proprietary, or company names appearing in this document are used only because they are considered necessary in the context of the information provided. If a product is not mentioned, the omission does not mean or imply that the product is unsatisfactory.
Fact sheets about other conditions are available from the National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse at www.digestive.niddk.nih.gov.
National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse
2 Information Way
Bethesda, MD 20892–3570
The National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse (NDDIC) is a service of the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK). The NIDDK is part of the National Institutes of Health of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Established in 1980, the Clearinghouse provides information about digestive diseases to people with digestive disorders and to their families, health care professionals, and the public. The NDDIC answers inquiries, develops and distributes publications, and works closely with professional and patient organizations and Government agencies to coordinate resources about digestive diseases.
Publications produced by the Clearinghouse are carefully reviewed by both NIDDK scientists and outside experts. This publication was reviewed by David A. Peura, M.D., University of Virginia Health System.
This publication is not copyrighted. The Clearinghouse encourages users of this publication to duplicate and distribute as many copies as desired.
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