Conditions & Treatments

Indigestion

Indigestion, also known as dyspepsia, is a painful or burning feeling in the upper abdomen and is usually accompanied by nausea, bloating or gas, a feeling of fullness, and, sometimes, vomiting.

Indigestion

Illustration of the anatomy of the digestive system, adult
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What is indigestion?

Indigestion, also known as dyspepsia, is a painful or burning feeling in the upper abdomen and is usually accompanied by nausea, bloating or gas, a feeling of fullness, and, sometimes, vomiting. While indigestion may be the result of a disease or an ulcer in the digestive tract, most often it is the result of eating too much, eating too quickly, eating high-fat foods, or eating during stressful situations.

What causes indigestion?

Some causes of indigestion may include the following:

  • Stomach or duodenal ulcers

  • Stomach irritation (gastritis)

  • Regurgitation or reflux of acid from the stomach into the esophagus 

  • Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) infection 

  • Inflammation of the gallbladder (cholecystitis)

  • Lactose intolerance (inability to digest lactose, a sugar found in milk and other dairy products)

  • Irritable bowel syndrome and other disorders affecting intestinal motility

  • Swallowing air (aerophagia)

  • Anxiety or depression

  • Medications that irritate the stomach lining

  • Smoking

  • Drinking too much alcohol

What are symptoms of indigestion?

The following are the most common symptoms of indigestion. However, each individual may experience symptoms differently. Symptoms may include:

  • Pain and discomfort in the upper abdomen

  • Belching and loud intestinal sounds (borborygmi)

  • Nausea

  • Constipation

  • Poor appetite

  • Diarrhea

  • Flatulence

The symptoms of indigestion may resemble other medical conditions or problems. Always consult your health care provider for a diagnosis.

If the indigestion is accompanied by vomiting, weight loss or appetite loss, black tarry stools, blood in the vomit, severe pain in the upper right abdomen, shortness of breath, sweating, radiating pain to the jaw, neck, or arm, or difficult, painful swallowing, it may be an indication of a more serious problem. Contact your health care provider immediately.

How is indigestion diagnosed?

Often the diagnosis is made based on physical examination. However, because indigestion can be a sign of more serious medical problems, often laboratory examinations and X-rays of the stomach and small intestine are performed to rule out other problems. Sometimes, endoscopy is also performed.

Treatment for indigestion

Specific treatment for indigestion will be determined by your doctor based on:

  • Your age, overall health, and medical history

  • Extent of the condition

  • Your tolerance of specific medicines, procedures, or therapies

  • Expectations for the course of the condition

  • Your opinion or preference

  • Medications such as antacids, H2 receptor antagonists, proton pump inhibitors, antibiotics, and prokinetics

Avoiding foods, medications, and situations that can cause indigestion is one of the most successful ways to treat the problem. Smokers are advised to quit smoking or at least to avoid smoking before meals. Also, exercising after a meal can be a cause of indigestion, so scheduling exercise before a meal, or waiting at least an hour after eating, can also help prevent indigestion.

If indigestion is caused by motility or movement problems in the digestive system that prevent the stomach from emptying properly, medications to treat this may be prescribed.

Treatment Programs


Massachusetts General Hospital understands that a variety of factors influence patients' health care decisions. That's just one reason why we're dedicated to ensuring patients understand their diagnosis and treatment options. Because a single option might not serve all patients, we offer a wide range of coordinated treatments and related services across the hospital. Patients should consult with their primary care doctor or other qualified health care provider for medical advice and diagnosis information.

Select a treatment program for more information:



Digestive Healthcare Center

  • Barrett’s Esophagus Treatment Center
    The multidisciplinary Barrett’s Esophagus Treatment Center at Massachusetts General Hospital provides comprehensive care, from endoscopic diagnosis to minimally invasive treatment, for Barrett’s esophagus.
  • Weight Center
    The Massachusetts General Hospital Weight Center is a fully integrated center within the Digestive Healthcare Center that supports the spectrum of needs for people of all ages seeking help with obesity and weight loss.
  • Swallowing and Heartburn Center
    The Swallowing and Heartburn Center at the Massachusetts General Hospital Digestive Healthcare Center provides both primary treatment and second opinion evaluations for throat, esophagus and stomach disorders.
Imaging

  • Pediatric Imaging
    The Pediatric Imaging Program at Massachusetts General Hospital Imaging specializes in ensuring the safety and comfort of child patients while providing the latest technology and the expertise of specialized pediatric radiologists.
Benson Henry Institute for Mind Body Medicine

  • Consultation
    Come in for a consultation, leave with a comprehensive mind body treatment plan that addresses your stress-related medical condition.
  • Relaxation Response Resiliency Program (3RP)
    Designed to give patients a variety of mind body skills and interventions to decrease medical symptoms and build resilience.
Gastroenterology

  • Swallowing and Heartburn Program
    The Swallowing and Heartburn Program at the Gastroenterology Division of Massachusetts General Hospital provides both primary treatment and second opinion evaluations for disorders of the esophagus and stomach.
General and Gastrointestinal Surgery

  • Bariatric and Metabolic Surgery Program
    The Bariatric and Metabolic Surgery Program at Massachusetts General Hospital offers a full spectrum of safe and effective surgical procedures for obesity, weight disorders and metabolic disease.

The following related clinical trials and research studies are currently seeking participants at Massachusetts General Hospital. Search for clinical trials and studies in another area of interest.

Innovative care at the Digestive Healthcare Center

Learn more about the latest treatment options for this condition at the Digestive Healthcare Center