Skip to main contentSkip to accessibility services
4 min read
No Ads

Dyspepsia (Indigestion): How to Treat It

Learn about the signs, symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment options for this common stomach issue.
Tooltip Icon.
Written by
Shria Kumar, MD.
Last updated December 23, 2020

Dyspepsia questionnaire

Use our free symptom checker to find out if you have dyspepsia.

Dyspepsia questionnaire

Use our free symptom checker to find out if you have dyspepsia.

Dyspepsia symptom checker

What is dyspepsia (indigestion)?

Dyspepsia is discomfort or pain in the upper abdomen, usually just after you eat. It’s sometimes referred to as indigestion.

There’s no apparent physical cause for indigestion. It's not caused by an ulcer, there aren’t high levels of stomach acid. A doctor can diagnose it only after making sure the pain isn’t being caused by something else, such as too much stomach acid or a mass.

Indigestion is one of the most common gastrointestinal (digestive tract) problems in the U.S. It is typically treated with over-the-counter medications.

What are symptoms of indigestion?

Dr. Rx

The week before you see your doctor, keep a diary of your food intake, medication timing, stress levels, and symptoms. Bring it to your appointment. —Dr. Shria Kumar

The main symptom of indigestion is pain in the upper abdomen or other discomfort, such as feeling too full after eating. You also might feel nauseous or bloated (like your stomach is full of gas).

Most people say symptoms are worse after eating.

Main symptoms

Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) can have some overlap with dyspeptic symptoms. Unlike indigestion, the main symptoms of GERD are reflux related, such as heartburn and chest pain after eating or while lying down.

What causes indigestion?

Dyspepsia doesn’t have anything to do with acids or how your stomach functions. In fact, everything works well, but patients still have symptoms. 

There are many different reasons why this happens in some people, and they can each play a small part (which also tells us why people experience it differently).

In general, indigestion is thought to be due to a mix of genetics, stress, and environmental factors.

Dyspepsia questionnaire

Use our free symptom checker to find out if you have dyspepsia.

Dyspepsia symptom checker

What makes you more likely to have dyspepsia?

Pro Tip

Many medications that look to mediate the brain-gut axis are helpful in dyspepsia. Your doctor may recommend these. —Dr. Kumar

Some of the factors that make you more likely to be diagnosed with indigestion.

  • Women are more likely than men to have indigestion.
  • Smoking.
  • Obesity.
  • Having irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
  • Taking nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen, even just now and then.
  • Taking antibiotics.
  • A recent stomach bug.
  • There can also be a particularly strong mind-body connection, which means that emotional issues such as stress, anxiety, and depression can make you more likely to have indigestion.

Next steps

If you have indigestion symptoms, definitely talk to your doctor. There isn’t a test that proves you have indigestion, so the diagnosis is mostly based on what you tell your doctor. Typically if you have consistent symptoms for weeks or months, you’ll be diagnosed with indigestion.

Since symptoms may be vague and overlap with other medical conditions, your doctor will first need to make sure it’s not something more serious. They will ask detailed questions about how you feel and may order blood tests or imaging tests to make sure there isn’t something else causing your stomach pain.

You might be referred to a gastroenterologist (a doctor who specializes in the digestive system), who can do additional tests. If these tests don’t show anything, and your symptoms are keeping you from finishing a meal at least 3 days per week, you may have indigestion.

However, call your doctor right away if you are over 55 and:

  • Stomach pain comes on suddenly and abruptly
  • You have bloody or black, tarry stool
  • You can’t swallow or swallowing hurts
  • You experience frequent vomiting
  • You have unexplained weight loss
  • There is a family history of cancer

Can children get dyspepsia?

Yes, and symptoms in children are often stress-related, but the symptoms are similar. Talk with your child’s pediatrician to make sure it isn’t something else.

Dyspepsia questionnaire

Use our free symptom checker to find out if you have dyspepsia.

Dyspepsia symptom checker

How do you cure dyspepsia?

Pro Tip

Symptom control and identification of triggers are the mainstays of dyspepsia treatment—and really improve quality of life. —Dr. Kumar

Treatment depends on specific symptoms.

  • For bloating, you can take anti-bloating medications.
  • For gas, you can take anti-gas medications.
  • For pain you can take antacids.
  • Combining medication with stress management techniques such as yoga can also help.

If these treatments don’t help, doctors sometimes try prescribing antidepressants. Even if the patient is not diagnosed with depression, these medications have been shown to improve stomach symptoms in some patients with indigestion.

Your doctor may also have you make changes to your day-to-day diet to see if particular foods or eating patterns trigger symptoms. If any do, avoiding them would be important.

Possible triggers include:

  • Dairy
  • Alcohol
  • Red meat
  • Carbonated drinks, citrus fruits or juices
  • Spicy or fatty foods

Preventative tips

It’s difficult to “prevent” indigestion but an overall healthy lifestyle is helpful.

  • Eat nutritious meals.
  • Exercise regularly.
  • Develop and keep up good mental health routines, such as meditation.
  • Learn to manage stress.
  • Rely on family and friends for social support.
Share your story
Dr. Kumar is a gastroenterologist, who completed her fellowship at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. She received her undergraduate degrees in Religious Studies and Chemistry from New York University (2010) and graduated from the Albert Einstein College of Medicine (2014), where she was inducted into the Alpha Omega Alpha Honor Medical Society. She is completing her t...
Read full bio

Was this article helpful?

Tooltip Icon.