Many of us have had an occasional encounter with feelings of indigestion. While it's a common experience, it can disrupt our comfort, especially when it interrupts a good night's sleep or follows a hearty meal.
Understanding the signs of indigestion is just as crucial as knowing how to prevent it. Nurturing your health is knowing when to listen to your body's signals and responding with care and kindness.
What Is Indigestion?
Indigestion can refer to a wide range of conditions that affect normal digestion or impact the digestive tract. When most people say they have indigestion, they may typically be referring to a type of indigestion known as heartburn.
This type of indigestion occurs when stomach acid won’t settle down. Acid can rise into the oesophagus, causing discomfort. People who experience indigestion can usually attribute it to spicy foods, acidic foods or very large meals that upset their stomach or irritate their stomach lining.
How Common Is Indigestion?
About 25 percent of all people report experiencing indigestion from time to time. It’s a very common condition, and it’s usually easy to manage at home with over-the-counterantacid chews.
It’s usually easy for people to pinpoint what caused their indigestion because it’s almost always the last thing they ate. It’s also easy to avoid foods that cause indigestion, which can prevent it from happening again.
When it comes to the common causes of indigestion, many people experience minor indigestion here and there as a result of their diet. However, prolonged, severe or consistent indigestion may be a sign of more serious gastrointestinal concerns. If you experience this kind of indigestion, it’s important to contact your healthcare provider for medical advice.
To help you get to the bottom of your chronic indigestion, your provider may request an endoscopy, X-ray or blood test to scan for medical conditions. They may also prescribe proton pump inhibitors (PPIs), which work differently from antacids to ease indigestion.
If you experience the following symptoms, you may want to schedule a visit with your healthcare provider:
- Difficulty swallowing
- Severe pain
- Chest pain
- Shortness of breath
- Abdominal pain
- Unexplained weight loss
What Are the Symptoms of Indigestion?
Indigestion can affect us all differently depending on the type of indigestion we’re experiencing. Here are some common symptoms of indigestion, no matter which type we experience.
Discomfort in the Stomach Area
Indigestion can give you a bellyache. The technical term for this discomfort is dyspepsia. It’s often described as an uncomfortable feeling of fullness or tension. It may also feel like a slight burning sensation due to the involvement of stomach acid. If you experience discomfort below your stomach area, it could be related to your small intestine.
When gas or trapped air builds up in the stomach, it needs a place to go, and the only way out is up. That’s what makes us burp.
Belching isn’t always a sign of indigestion, especially if it happens without any of the other symptoms of indigestion. It can be a normal part of the digestive process. Belching should only be a cause for concern if burps feel acidic or seem to singe the throat as they rise.
Discomfort in the Chest Area
Indigestion is often referred to as heartburn because it frequently causes a burning feeling in the upper abdomen. The oesophagus is long, and it sits right behind the breastbone. When stomach acid rises, it may cause discomfort from the centre of the chest that radiates outwards.
Discomfort That Worsens When Lying Down
When we’re sitting up or standing, gravity keeps things vertical and stomach acid has to work harder to rise in the oesophagus. When we’re lying down or leaning over, it’s much easier for stomach acid to rise into our throats. Indigestion is usually worse in a lying or reclined position because stomach acid has a clear and easy path straight to the oesophagus.
Frequent indigestion can cause bloating. Bloating isn’t always a symptom of indigestion, and indigestion doesn’t always lead to bloating. Bloating is simply a sign that the digestive tract may be sluggish, and it could use a little extra help reaching a balanced state.
How Can You Relieve Indigestion?
Indigestion usually goes away on its own, but there are things we can do to help our body through the discomfort while our digestive systems work to sort things out. It’s important for us to listen to our bodies and let them tell us what they need.
Laying down or reclining are the worst things you can do when you have indigestion, as these positions make it easier for stomach acid to rise. Many people find relief from temporary discomfort by sitting straight up with their back against a firm chair. Try adopting a formal posture when experiencing indigestion.
Over-the-counter (OTC) antacid chewables are made of calcium carbonate, a chalky mineral that’s very absorbent. It works to neutralise enzymes in the stomach that create acid, which can prevent acid from rising in the oesophagus.
These chewables typically work within minutes, providing near-instantaneous relief. Antacids are inexpensive and usually very easy to find. People who frequently experience indigestion often carry travel-sized packages of antacids with them.
Drinking Plenty of Water
Water can dilute the concentration of acid in the stomach while helping the digestive system to move along. Refrain from quickly ingesting a whole bottle of water, especially if indigestion is the result of overeating. Instead, try taking frequent small sips of room-temperature water to see how it affects the symptoms of indigestion.
Try Ginger Tea
Many people find that ginger tea or ginger ale helps to ease stomach discomfort or feelings of nausea. Ginger has proven to be an effective natural remedy for nausea from a variety of causes. Some of us may find that it’s especially helpful when experiencing indigestion.
How Can You Soothe Bloating From Indigestion?
Bloating will likely outlast other symptoms of indigestion, as it can take our bodies a while to manage the bloat, even after they’ve successfully gotten our stomach acid under control.
How Can You Prevent Indigestion?
It’s much harder to deal with indigestion after it’s already occurred — oftentimes, the best thing to do is prevent indigestion from occurring in the first place. Those of us who have dealt with indigestion in the past may remember what led up to the discomfort.
Identifying our personal triggers and making positive lifestyle changes can help support our overall wellness and digestive health.
Avoid Trigger Foods
We all have things we love that we know aren’t good for us, and while it’s okay to occasionally enjoy some of these indulgences, it isn’t a good idea to do so if they’re actively harmful to us. If a specific food or type of food seems to contribute to indigestion, it’s best to avoid that food.
Coffee, spicy foods, oily foods and acidic foods are common indigestion triggers. This can include healthy foods that fall within these categories, such as oranges and peppers.
Maintain a Healthy Body Weight
Indigestion is most common in people who are carrying excess body weight. Maintaining a healthy body weight and BMI may reduce the severity and frequency of indigestion. It may be worth speaking to a nutritionist or dietitian about specific wellness goals and foods that are suitable for people prone to indigestion.
Enjoy Smaller Portions
Large meals can often worsen the symptoms of indigestion by testing the capacity of the stomach. If there’s not much room left, stomach acid can easily rise in the oesophagus. Enjoying smaller portions makes it easier for the stomach to digest the food we’ve eaten.
This doesn’t mean that we should allow ourselves to feel hungry or underfed. Hunger is an important cue our bodies send us, and it’s important to honour that cue.
We can always go back for a snack or seconds if we’re still hungry later on. Just give the digestive system an adequate amount of time to process a meal before eating again.
Wait To Lie Down
We all have busy days where we don’t get a chance to eat dinner until much later than we would like. It doesn’t necessarily matter what time the clock says, just as long as we don’t intend to lay down for bed immediately after eating.
It can take the stomach up to 120 minutes to digest food and move it onto the next part of its journey through the digestive system. It’s generally best to wait at least two hours after eating before lying down. After two hours, the stomach should be mostly empty and free from excessive acid.
The Bottom Line
Indigestion affects many people from time to time. It can cause a significant amount of discomfort until the situation resolves on its own. Thankfully, there are plenty of things we can do to combat symptoms of indigestion as we experience them.
It’s even better to actively take steps to avoid indigestion from disrupting our lives. A few wellness-oriented lifestyle changes may be in order for those of us who often find ourselves dealing with indigestion.