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Indigestion 

Introduction
Indigestion is a common condition and affects people of all ages.  Indigestion can occur for many reasons.  Cigarette smoking and the consumption of certain foods, medications, and alcohol can contribute to indigestion.  Indigestion can be a symptom of stress.  Some cases of indigestion resolve without treatment.  Indigestion may be relieved with medications, lifestyle changes, and by treating any underlying medical conditions.

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Anatomy
Whenever you eat and drink, food travels through your digestive system for processing.  Your body absorbs nutrients and removes waste products via your digestive system.  When you eat, your tongue moves chewed food to the back of your throat.  When you swallow, the food moves into the opening of the esophagus.  Your esophagus is a tube that moves food from your throat to your stomach.
 
Your stomach produces acids to break down food for digestion.  Your stomach processes the food you eat into a liquid form.  The processed liquid travels from your stomach to your small intestine.  The liquid solidifies as it moves through the large intestine, forming a stool.  The stool is eliminated from your body when you have a bowel movement.

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Causes
Indigestion is a common problem.  It occurs for many reasons.  Eating too fast, eating too much, or eating certain foods can cause indigestion.  Spicy foods, high-fat or high-fiber foods, caffeine, and carbonated beverages can lead to indigestion.  Alcohol consumption and cigarette smoking can also cause indigestion.  Indigestion can also be caused by bacteria called H. pylori which can cause stomach ulcers as well.
 
Emotional trauma, anxiety, and depression can contribute to indigestion.  It can also be caused by some medications including antibiotics, steroids, thyroid medications, aspirin, and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs).  In some cases, indigestion is a symptom of an underlying medical condition including symptomatic ulcers, nonulcer dyspepsia, stomach infection, GERD, irritable bowel disease, inflammatory bowel disease, pregnancy, thyroid disease, and inflammation of the stomach, gallbladder, or pancreas.

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Symptoms
Indigestion is the sensation of upper abdominal discomfort.  You may experience pain or a burning feeling in your stomach or upper abdomen.  You may feel full or bloated.  Indigestion can cause belching, gas, vomiting, nausea, and stomach growling. 

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Diagnosis
Your doctor can start to diagnose indigestion after reviewing your medical history and conducting a physical examination.  You should tell your doctor about your symptoms and risk factors.  Your doctor may order blood tests and imaging tests to help confirm the diagnosis and rule out other conditions with similar symptoms.  Imaging tests may include X-rays, an abdominal ultrasound, a barium swallow, and an upper gastrointestinal (GI) endoscopy.
 
X-rays may be taken of your stomach or small intestine.  X-rays are painless procedures that simply require that you remain motionless while a picture is taken.  An abdominal ultrasound is used to monitor blood flow and provide images of your internal organs.  An ultrasound image is received from a device that is gently placed and moved over your skin.
 
An Upper Gastrointestinal (GI) Series or Barium Swallow provides a set of X-rays showing the esophagus, stomach, and small intestine.  Before the X-rays are taken, barium, a chalky substance, is swallowed.  The barium provides an image of the upper gastrointestinal structures on the X-ray images.  A barium swallow is commonly used to determine the cause of abdominal pain, swallowing problems, blood stained vomit, and/or unexplained weight loss.  A barium swallow is an outpatient procedure that does not require sedation or anesthesia.
 
An Upper Gastrointestinal (GI) Endoscopy is a procedure that uses an endoscope to view the esophagus, stomach, and upper duodenum, the first part of the small intestine.  This test is also called an Esophagogastroduodenoscopy (EGD) or a Gastroscopy.  An endoscope is a long thin tube with a light and a viewing instrument that sends images to monitor.  The endoscope allows a doctor to examine the inside of the upper gastrointestinal tract for bleeding, tumors, ulcers, and other abnormal conditions.  A tissue sample or biopsy can be taken with the endoscope.  It is also used to treat bleeding.  An upper GI endoscopy is an outpatient procedure.  You will receive a medication to relax you prior to the test.

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Treatment
Some cases of indigestion may go away without formal treatment.  Other cases of indigestion may be relieved with medications.  If indigestion is the symptom of an underlying medical condition, the medical condition should be treated.
 
Surgery may be necessary to treat some types of advanced conditions including GERD, ulcers, inflammatory bowel disease, and pancreatic or gallbladder conditions.  Laparoscopic surgeries are used when possible.  Laparoscopic surgery methods are minimally invasive procedures that are associated with a quicker recovery time.

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Prevention
It is important to have the medical conditions that cause your indigestion treated.  Avoiding the triggers that cause it for you may prevent indigestion.  Talk to your doctor about your medications that cause indigestion.  Your doctor may be able to substitute another medication that does not. 
 
You may need to forgo certain foods, alcohol, or smoking.  It can be helpful to change the way you eat, such as eating slower and eating small meals.  It can also be helpful to avoid lying down or exercising right after a meal. 

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Am I at Risk
Indigestion is very common and experienced by people of ages.  Cigarette smoking and consuming certain foods, medications, and alcohol can increase your risk of having indigestion.  Stress and certain medical conditions can also increase your risk.

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Complications
Because indigestion can be a symptom of a more serious medical condition, you should call your doctor if you experience blood in your vomit or stools, black tarry stools, weight loss, loss of appetite, and severe abdominal pain or discomfort. 
 
Symptoms of indigestion may be similar to those caused by a heart attack.  You should call Emergency Medical Services in your area, usually 911, immediately if you suspect you are having a heart attack.  Symptoms of a heart attack may include symptoms of indigestion plus shortness of breath, sweating, or pain that spreads to your jaw, neck, or arm.

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This information is intended for educational and informational purposes only. It should not be used in place of an individual consultation or examination or replace the advice of your health care professional and should not be relied upon to determine diagnosis or course of treatment.

The iHealthSpot patient education library was written collaboratively by the iHealthSpot editorial team which includes Senior Medical Authors Dr. Mary Car-Blanchard, OTD/OTR/L and Valerie K. Clark, and the following editorial advisors: Steve Meadows, MD, Ernie F. Soto, DDS, Ronald J. Glatzer, MD, Jonathan Rosenberg, MD, Christopher M. Nolte, MD, David Applebaum, MD, Jonathan M. Tarrash, MD, and Paula Soto, RN/BSN. This content complies with the HONcode standard for trustworthy health information. The library commenced development on September 1, 2005 with the latest update/addition on April 13th, 2016. For information on iHealthSpot’s other services including medical website design, visit www.iHealthSpot.com.