Indigestion is a collective term which refers to a number of uncomfortable or even painful symptoms that arise in the abdominal region during or after meals. It may be triggered by overindulgence or the consumption of spicy or fatty foods, or may be a complication of an underlying condition such as stomach ulcers, gallstones, or even psychological issues such as stress. The most common symptoms of indigestion include feelings of fullness, stomach pain, bloating, and belching. Also sometimes present are heartburn, nausea, and vomiting. As indigestion has many possible triggers, its symptoms can normally be treated only after their exact cause has been established.
One of the most common symptoms of indigestion is generalized discomfort in the abdominal area. Specifically, this may mean unpleasant feelings of fullness which can set in after eating or even shortly after beginning a meal. In some cases, this fullness may escalate into feelings of pain in the stomach area, sides, back, or chest. This set of symptoms may be caused by simple overeating, or may be part of an underlying health condition.
Bloating and belching are also fairly common symptoms of indigestion. Often, these symptoms arise when an individual has swallowed large quantities of air as a result of eating quickly, drinking carbonated beverages, or smoking. In this case, belching may help to ease feelings of discomfort by releasing some of the trapped air. For some, however, these symptoms may result from another health condition, and belching may provide no relief from bloating.
Heartburn — the release of stomach acid into the esophagus resulting in a painful, burning sensation in the chest — also commonly accompanies indigestion. In fact, many people mistakenly use the terms heartburn and indigestion interchangeably. Technically, however, heartburn is an independent condition caused by the malfunctioning of the valve that normally separates the stomach from the throat and triggered by a number of situations and health issues. It is only when heartburn arises during or after eating that it can truly be considered a symptom of indigestion.
Nausea and vomiting are less common symptoms of indigestion. As with most indigestion symptoms, these may be caused by overeating or consuming foods that irritate the stomach’s lining. When these symptoms occur regularly, however, they can seriously impair one’s ability to eat, potentially leading to health concerns such as weight loss and malnutrition.
Those burdened by frequent indigestion should evaluate their eating habits, making sure that they eat and drink slowly and limit their portion sizes. They should avoid overly spicy or greasy foods as well as carbonated or caffeine-laden beverages, all of which may trigger abdominal discomfort. If indigestion persists following these changes, they should consult a physician to determine whether their symptoms may actually be part of an underlying health condition.