Indigestion refers to discomfort in your upper abdomen, and is used to describe certain symptoms, like belly pain or a feeling of fullness, rather than a specific disease. Digestion may also be called dyspepsia or an upset stomach.



indigestion, upset stomach, tummy ache, stomach painIndigestion has many possible causes, many of which are related to lifestyle and may be triggered by food, drink, or certain medications. Common causes of indigestion include:

  • Overeating or eating too quickly
  • Fatty, greasy, or spicy foods
  • Too much caffeine, alcohol, chocolate, or carbonated drinks
  • Smoking
  • Anxiety
  • Certain antibiotics, pain relievers, and iron supplements

A condition known as functional or non-ulcer dyspepsia, which is related to irritable bowel syndrome, is a very common cause of indigestion – along with these GI conditions:


  • Fatty and fried foods
    • Because these foods linger longer in the stomach, it’s more likely that acid leaks back up into the esophagus.
  • Spicy foods, citrus, tomato sauces, and vinegar
    • These foods can trigger heartburn and intensify symptoms.
  • Chocolate
  • Caffeine
  • Onions
  • Peppermint
  • Carbonated drinks
  • Alcohol


  • Non-citrus fruits
    While citrus fruits are acidic, non-citrus fruits like bananas, melons, and apples, can help relieve symptoms.
  • Vegetables
    Add raw vegetables to your diet to increase fiber intake and help manage indigestion. 
  • Lean meats
    Lean meats that are grilled, poached, broiled, or baked are best. Try using fresh herbs instead of spices to boost flavor.
  • Oatmeal, whole-grain bread, rice, and couscous
    These tasty options are all good sources of healthy complex carbs and fiber.
  • Unsaturated fats from plants and fish
    Replace saturated fats and trans fats with natural oils, avocados, nuts and seeds, soybeans, and fatty fish like salmon and trout.


While indigestion doesn't typically have serious complications, unpleasant symptoms can affect your everyday life. In some cases, patients miss work or school or can’t perform everyday activities because of symptoms.


  • Sensation of fullness during a meal
    • When they haven't eaten much of a meal, patients may already feel full and may not be able to finish eating.
  • Uncomfortable fullness after a meal
    • Some patients experience a feeling of fullness that lasts longer than it should.
  • Discomfort in the upper abdomen
    • Some sufferers feel a mild to severe pain in the area between the bottom of the breastbone and the belly button.
  • Burning in the upper abdomen
    • Some people feel an uncomfortable heat or burning sensation between the bottom of their breastbone and their belly button.
  • Bloating in the upper abdomen
    • An uncomfortable sensation of tightness in the upper abdomen is another common symptom.
  • Nausea
    • Indigestion leaves some feeling as if they are going to vomit.

Less frequent symptoms include vomiting, belching, and heartburn. Heartburn is described as a painful, burning sensation in the center of your chest that may radiate into the neck or back during or after eating.


Mild indigestion is usually nothing to worry about and does not require medical attention. Consult your healthcare provider, though, if discomfort lasts for more than two weeks.

Contact your GI specialist in Charleston, SC 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 intensifies
  • Fatigue or weakness, or other signs of anemia

Seek medical care immediately if you have:

  • Shortness of breath, sweating, or chest pain radiating to the jaw, neck, or arm.
  • Chest pain when you're active or stressed.


  • Laboratory tests
  • Breath and stool tests
  • Endoscopy
  • Imaging tests (X-ray or CT scan)


Lifestyle changes like these may help ease indigestion:

  • Avoiding “trigger” foods that cause symptoms.
  • Eating five or six small meals a day instead of three large meals.
  • Reducing or eliminating the use of alcohol and caffeine.
  • Avoiding certain pain relievers, such as aspirin, ibuprofen, and naproxen sodium.
  • Finding alternatives for medicines that trigger indigestion.
  • Controlling stress and anxiety.

If lifestyle changes don’t relieve indigestion symptoms, medication may help. Your GI doctor will likely suggest nonprescription antacids first, followed by one of these recommendations:

  • Proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) to reduce stomach acid
  • H-2-receptor blockers to reduce stomach acid
  • Prokinetics to promote efficient stomach emptying
  • Antibiotics to help if H. pylori bacteria are causing your indigestion
  • Antidepressants or anti-anxiety medicines to decrease the general sensation of pain


  • Eating smaller, more-frequent meals.
    • Be sure to chew your food slowly and thoroughly.
  • Avoiding certain foods known to trigger symptoms.
    • Skip fatty and spicy foods, highly processed foods, carbonated beverages, caffeine, and alcohol.
  • Maintaining a healthy weight.
    • Excess pounds put pressure on your abdomen, pushing up your stomach and causing acid to back up into your esophagus.
  • Exercising regularly.
    • Exercise helps maintain a healthy weight and promotes better digestion.
  • Managing stress.
    • Create a calm environment at mealtime and regularly practice relaxation activities, such as yoga. Get plenty of sleep as well to keep stress levels low.
  • Changing your medicines.
    • Your Charleston GI doctor may recommend that you stop or limit the use of pain relievers or other medicines that may irritate the stomach lining. If that's not an option, be sure to take these medicines with food.



What do you do if you can't burp?

Breathing while sitting straight up can help increase the chances of a burp.

Get air into your throat by sucking in air through your mouth until you feel an air bubble in your throat, and then block the front of your mouth with your tongue so you can release the air slowly. This should trigger a burp. Other tips to help burp during indigestion: 

  • Take antacids.
  • Move air out of your body by moving your body.
  • Build up gas pressure in your stomach by quickly drinking a carbonated beverage, like sparkling water or soda.
  • Build up gas pressure in your stomach by eating foods like apples, pears, carrots, chewing gum, and hard candies.
  • Change the way you breathe, trying a technique like the one detailed above.

What does indigestion feel like?

Indigestion may include various symptoms, but it always involves abdominal pain or discomfort. Most of the digestive organs are found in the abdomen, so if they’re having difficulties performing normal functions, that’s where you’ll feel it. Indigestion symptoms always occur during digestion, after eating.

Experts generally agree that the symptoms of indigestion include:

  • Epigastric pain in the central, upper abdominal region
  • Burning sensation due to stomach acids and enzymes in the GI tract
  • Feeling full soon after eating, or long after

Those who experience indigestion often report other accompanying symptoms, like these:

  • Bloating
  • Gas
  • Nausea
  • Burping
  • Regurgitation
  • Acid reflux
  • Heartburn

It’s important to remember that a heart attack may be disguised as indigestion. Seek medical attention immediately if your indigestion is accompanied by sweating, shortness of breath, or a tight, clenching feeling in your upper abdominal area.

What does severe indigestion feel like?

Severe indigestion causes mild to severe pain in the area between the bottom of your breastbone and your belly button. You may also feel an uncomfortable burning sensation between the bottom of your breastbone and your belly button. Bloating in the upper abdomen is another common symptom of severe indigestion.

How long does indigestion last?

Symptoms may last just a few minutes to a few hours after eating.

It takes about three to five hours for your stomach to digest a meal before passing it on to your intestines. During that time, your pancreas and gallbladder send bile and enzymes to your stomach to help with digestion. These are the organs in your epigastric region (upper middle abdomen), where indigestion symptoms occur.

What causes indigestion?

Occasional indigestion may occur after a particularly large or rich meal because the GI tract is working harder than usual.

But finding the cause of indigestion that persists past one meal, or that comes and goes chronically, may not be as easy. Sometimes there’s an organic cause, like a medical condition. Other times, there’s no obvious cause at all – called functional dyspepsia

But in general, causes of indigestion fall into three categories:

  • Eating habits
  • Digestive system function
  • Perception of pain and discomfort

What medical treatment is available for chronic indigestion?

Your GI specialist will first perform a physical exam to look for any obvious signs of disease. Depending on their findings, they may want to run additional tests to confirm or rule out a specific condition. Your gastroenterologist may also start by prescribing acid-blocking medications to see if they provide relief.

Prescription acid blockers include:

  • Histamine receptor antagonists (H2 blockers). These medications reduce stomach acid by blocking the chemicals that tell your body to produce it (histamines). You can take them more frequently than antacids, but they don’t always work long-term. Your body may adapt to them, making them less effective.
  • Proton pump inhibitors (PPIs). These are stronger acid blockers that also promote the healing of the tissues. Your provider may prescribe these if your symptoms are relatively severe, or you have signs of ulcers or other tissue damage in your GI tract. They’re very effective against acid, and you can take them long-term.
  • Prokinetic agents — medications that speed up your digestive system if it’s sluggish.
  • Antibiotics — if you have bacterial overgrowth in your stomach or small intestine.

Does drinking water help indigestion?

Small sips of water when you’re experiencing indigestion may provide some relief, helping to wash the acid back down into your stomach.

If your stomach seems slow to digest and release your food, a little water may also help move things along while diluting the acid. Be sure not to drink so much that it expands your stomach and causes more discomfort.

How do I relieve indigestion at home?

Many people find indigestion relief from over-the-counter (OTC) antacids, like Tums®, Rolaids® and Pepto-Bismol®, that neutralize stomach acid so it doesn’t cause irritation. Antacids work well for occasional indigestion when acid is the cause, but they shouldn’t be taken too often. If you have chronic indigestion, or if antacids don’t help, contact your GI physician in Charleston, SC.

How do I relieve non-acid related indigestion?

If you have functional dyspepsia and aren’t sure what’s causing your symptoms, it can take some trial and error to discover an effective treatment. Since functional disorders are based in your nervous system, typical medications may not work. But medications that target your nerves, combined with mind-body therapies, have a better chance of success.

What can I drink for indigestion?

Drinking water, low-fat milk, and herbal teas may help manage indigestion. Avoid alcohol, caffeinated drinks, and sodas.

What is the best natural drink for indigestion?

Ginger tea is a great natural drink for relieving indigestion. Known as a carminative, ginger has been proven to lower the pressure on the esophageal sphincter and help alleviate reflux and dyspepsia. Ginger is a natural anti-inflammatory, praised for its GI tract-soothing properties.

Can apple cider vinegar cure indigestion?

Apple cider vinegar might improve acid reflux in people not taking medications and with minimal risk. There's very limited research into the use of apple cider vinegar to treat indigestion, with no solid evidence to back up the claim. 


To learn more about treatment for GI tract issues in Charleston, SC, get in touch today! Here at Charleston GI, we remain committed to a higher standard of caring – and we provide a range of medical treatments to help you feel your best.

If you are experiencing painful GI tract symptoms, schedule your appointment today! No referral needed.