Indigestion — also called dyspepsia or an upset stomach — is a general term that describes discomfort in your upper abdomen. Indigestion is not a disease, but rather some symptoms you experience, including abdominal pain and a feeling of fullness soon after you start eating. Although indigestion is common, each person may experience indigestion in a slightly different way. Symptoms of indigestion may be felt occasionally or as often as daily.
Indigestion can be a symptom of another digestive disease. Indigestion that isn’t caused by an underlying disease may be eased with lifestyle changes and medication.
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 due to a buildup of gas.
- 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
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
- Certain antibiotics, pain relievers and iron supplements
Sometimes indigestion is caused by other digestive conditions, including:
- Inflammation of the stomach (gastritis)
- Peptic ulcers
- Celiac disease
- 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.
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.