Indigestion can present itself in many ways – from pain and discomfort in your stomach to a burning sensation flowing up your esophagus, excess gas, and many other undesirable symptoms. Unfortunately, it’s something almost everyone experiences at least once in their lifetime. The good news: indigestion symptoms are usually temporary and aren’t a sign of concern. But for some people, it can be chronic or a sign of a more serious health condition.
In this article, we’ll explore the causes of indigestion, from diet to underlying medical conditions. We’ll also discuss effective treatments and natural remedies you can try at home to relieve discomfort and promote healthy digestion. With a little knowledge and proactive self-care, you can get back to feeling your best and enjoying your favorite foods again.
What is Indigestion?
What is best known as having a sore stomach is formally referred to as indigestion or dyspepsia. However, it can be much more than just that. Indigestion is easily mixed up with heartburn and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), especially since they sometimes share the same trigger and treatments, but there are actually some key factors that make these their own, distinct conditions.
That’s also not to forget mentioning that heartburn is typically a symptom of GERD, whereas indigestion is a collection of symptoms, with heartburn being just one of them. Some other common symptoms of indigestion are:
- Belching and burping
- Discomfort or pain in the upper abdomen
- Feeling full quickly, especially while eating
- Growling or gurgling noises in the stomach
- Loss of appetite
Indigestion symptoms can last anywhere from a few minutes to a few hours after eating. This is because it takes your stomach 3-5 hours to digest a meal before passing it to your intestines. During this time, your pancreas and gallbladder play a significant role in the digestion of your food, sending bile and enzymes to your stomach. These organs are located in your upper middle abdomen, known as the epigastric region, which is where indigestion symptoms typically occur. Fortunately, indigestion following a meal is common and will typically resolve on its own.
In cases where indigestion lasts longer than one meal, is chronic or recurring, it’s crucial to get to the root cause of the problem to rule out any potentially dangerous underlying factors causing it, such as a disease.
With that said, it’s important to mention that indigestion can also be a sign of something more serious going on, such as an ulcer and even cancer. So, you’ll want to look out for these symptoms and speak with your doctor as soon as possible:
Common Causes of Indigestion
Indigestion can be caused by many different things, which can make it difficult to find the root cause of. Fortunately, they can also be quite simple. For example, you may be scarfing down your food too quickly or overeating, forcing your digestive system to work much harder to accommodate the overload of food. As a result, your stomach, gallbladder and pancreas will be pumping out all of the digestive juices needed to breakdown the food, which can be irritating to your system. The fix: slow down when you’re eating or portion control.
In most cases, indigestion is triggered by a food, drink or medication which also present an easy solution. The hard part is identifying that that trigger is and some of the more common causes are:
- Carbonated drinks
- Eating too quickly
- Fatty foods
- Greasy Foods
- Some pain relievers, iron supplements and antibiotics
- Spicy foods
Indigestion can also be caused by other health conditions, especially functional or nonulcer dyspepsia which is a condition related to IBS. Some other causes are:
- Celiac disease
- Cholecystitis (inflammation of the gallbladder)
- Inflammation of the stomach (gastritis)
- Intestinal blockage
- Reduced blood flow in the intestine (intestinal ischemia)
- Pancreas inflammation (pancreatitis)
- Peptic ulcers
- Stomach cancer
- Thyroid disease
Certain habits, such as lying down within the two hours following a meal, can also exasperate symptoms of indigestion.
As mentioned previously, indigestion can also be a sign of something more serious going on, such as an ulcer and even cancer. So, it isn’t always a condition in itself and can be a symptom of another underlying health conditions.
Common Forms of Treatment for Indigestion
Experiencing indigestion here and there is quick common and often times, no treatment is needed as the issue typically resolves on its own. However, if you are struggling with the symptoms or simply want to find relief without waiting it out, over-the-counter (OTC) antacid medications, such as Tums, Rolaids, and Pepto-Bismol are popular choices for relief.
These medications work by neutralizing the acid in your stomach, thus preventing irritation to your tissues. However, they are only recommended for occasional indigestion when acid is the cause, and excessive use should be avoided.
If you are experiencing chronic indigestion or if antacids fail to provide relief, it is highly recommended that you speak with your healthcare provider. They will conduct a thorough evaluation that includes reviewing your symptoms, health history, and diet and lifestyle. They may also perform a physical examination to identify any visible signs of illness. This will allow them to create a treatment plan for you moving forward, which may include prescription acid-blocking medications, antibiotics, and tricyclic antidepressants.
Natural Remedies and Tips for Indigestion
As terrible as indigestion can feel, there’s light at the end of the tunnel: it’s treatable! In most cases, you won’t even need to take a trip to the doctor and can treat your symptoms right at home with some handy natural remedies. A few simple changes to your habits and lifestyle can be the fix you need.
Let’s take a look at some of the most effective natural remedies and tips for treating indigestion.
To alleviate indigestion symptoms, you can first try making a few lifestyle changes, such as:
- Eat smaller meals
- Avoid eating late at night to prevent the stomach from expanding and causing upward pressure against the esophageal sphincter.
- Keep a food journal to identify potential triggers so you can avoid them.
- Wear loose-fitting clothing, as tight clothing puts pressure on the stomach and causes food to reflux into the esophagus.
- Wait a few hours after eating before exercising but definitely don’t skip working out altogether.
- Stay upright for about two hours after a meal.
- Elevate your head during sleep to prevent stomach acid from flowing up your esophagus.
- Avoid smoking, alcohol, and carbonated beverages.
- Learn relaxation techniques to manage stress levels.
- Maintain a healthy weight to prevent excess abdominal fat from pushing on your stomach.
- Take small sips of water.
- Take a warm bath to help ease tension, cramping and bloating.
- Apply a warm compress to ease tension, cramping and bloating.
- Do some yoga. Poses, such as the cobra pose, spinal twists, the cat pose, knees-to-chest post and happy baby are great for relieving built up pressure.
- Avoid milk, especially full-fat milk, as it’s high in fat and can worsen your symptoms.
Natural Remedies to Try
- Baking soda: Add 1 teaspoon to 1 cup of water to tackle indigestion caused by acid.
- Ginger: Start cooking with more ginger or enjoy ginger tea, ginger ale (make it flat first) or ginger supplements. This one ingredient has anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and antiulcer effects and is a popular choice for treating indigestion naturally.
- Peppermint: Rub some peppermint essential oil on your stomach, chew on peppermint gum or candy, or drink some peppermint tea to help relieve indigestion symptoms.
- Chamomile: Pour yourself a chamomile tea and enjoy the relieve and relaxation that this natural herb provides. Chamomile helps get rid of stomach acid in your G.I. tract and also has anti-inflammatory properties to help with the pain.
- Apple cider vinegar: While it may seem like the last thing you want when experiencing indigestion, apple cider vinegar can be the perfect solution. Enjoy a pre-made beverage or take a swig with 1 cup of water for fast relief.
- Aloe vera: Mix together an aloe vera drink (or purchase one from the store) to help with a variety of indigestion symptoms, including heartburn, gas, acid and food regurgitation, belching, nausea and more.
- Fennel seed: Add ½ teaspoon of crushed fennel to water, bring it to a boil for 10 minutes and enjoy this natural remedy for indigestion as a tea.
- Lemon: Adding a splash of lemon to your water can help neutralize stomach acid and improve digestion. So, add a teaspoon into your next glass and enjoy some natural relief.
Indigestion can be a frustrating and painful problem, and maybe even an embarrassing one if you just finished a meal in a restaurant or are on a hot date! Whatever it is, indigestion is never a pleasant experience and even though it will typically go away on its own, the wait can be unbearable. The good news: there are plenty of natural remedies, tips and even over-the-counter remedies to give you the quick relief you need, whenever you need it.