Most people experience indigestion now and then, and occasional episodes are not cause for concern.
It is most commonly caused by:
- Eating too quickly
- Eating foods that are spicy, fatty, or difficult to digest
- Alcohol or coffee
- Eating while under stress or feeling anxious
- Performing strenuous activity soon after eating (e.g. lifting or bending)
- Lying down too soon after eating
Being overweight or obese increases the likelihood of indigestion by putting physical pressure on the stomach and intestines. The symptoms may be exacerbated by any activity that further increases the pressure on the gastrointestinal tract (e.g. bending over).
In some cases, recurrent episodes of indigestion may indicate the presence of an underlying health problem. For example:
- Indigestion that is accompanied by intermittent gnawing pain in the upper abdominal region may indicate the presence of an ulcer. Typically the pain occurs when the stomach is empty, or during the night. The most common cause of peptic ulcer is infection with the bacterium Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori), which disturbs the mucus that protects the gastric lining from the acidic contents of the stomach, allowing an ulcer to form. The pain of ulcers is exacerbated by the acidic nature of the gastric juices, which further irritate and inflame the damaged tissue.
- Recurrent indigestion symptoms that are accompanied by reflux (the upwards passage of sour-tasting food or acid from the stomach into the throat or mouth), difficulty swallowing, and a sore throat may indicate the presence of gastro-oesophageal disease (GORD, referred to in some countries as GERD).