No one is immune to indigestion. Characterised by that bloated, gassy, uncomfortable feeling that often hits after a big meal, indigestion doesn’t discriminate and can strike your stomach for a number of reasons.
“Indigestion is a very common umbrella term for an upset tummy,” Niket Sonpal, a board-certified gastroenterologist in New York City, tells Allure.
“The underlying reasons for it can be a number of conditions – starting with conditions such as peptic ulcer disease or gastritis, or behavioral triggers like acute alcohol drinking or eating too much too quickly.”
We spoke with experts about what might be behind your stomach discomfort, how to treat it, and when it’s time to seek medical attention.
What are the symptoms of indigestion?
According to Mayo Clinic, common symptoms of indigestion include:
- uncomfortable fullness
- pain in your upper abdomen
- a burning sensation in the chest (heartburn)
Symptoms of indigestion aren’t one-size-fits-all, Sonpal adds: When you and bae go out for a luxurious dinner, you might go home gassy, while they might be battling heartburn.
What’s behind these painful physical feelings?
One of the most common culprits of indigestion is the food you eat. “Fatty or greasy foods; coffee and carbonated beverages; spicy or acidic foods, such as tomato sauces or salsas; alcohol, particularly red wine; and taking non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can be huge culprits,” Sophie Balzora, a board-certified gastroenterologist and assistant professor of medicine at NYU Langone Health, tells Allure.
Your mealtime behaviors can also cause indigestion. “It could be that you’re eating too fast, too much, drinking from a straw, or talking too much while you’re eating,” explains Keri Gans, a nutritionist in New York City. “All of these eating habits can lead you to take in a lot of air as you’re eating, which causes gas to build up in your stomach.” Mindlessly munching – for example, spending your mealtime more focused on Twitter or the TV than your plate – and eating too close to bedtime also make the list.
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Indigestion can also be caused by underlying medical conditions such as ulcers, celiac disease, gallstones, intestinal blockage, or stomach cancer, according to Mayo Clinic. There are also some cases of indigestion that have no obvious cause at all. This may be called functional or nonulcer dyspepsia, while “some doctors call this a ‘depressed gut,'” explains Sonpal. “It can actually be anxiety-related.”
In fact, diagnosis of anxiety-induced upset stomach “is actually becoming more common as doctors develop a greater understanding of the huge impact mental health has on the body,” Sonpal says.
So, how can I prevent indigestion before it strikes?
One of the simplest ways to handle indigestion is the same solution to just about any problem: Prevent it from happening in the first place. A few little life adjustments can go a long way, especially the following expert-recommended fixes.
Pay attention when foods provoke your body: “The first thing is to know your triggers and try to avoid them to begin with,” Gans advises. In other words, if you know wolfing down a cheeseburger makes you feel physical pain, maybe go for something a little lighter: “The first line of defense is not to worry about the remedy but figure out how to avoid it altogether.”
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Start logging what you eat and drink, and how these items make you feel: A food journal can help you keep track of what items or behaviors seem to give your body the most grief. “When people claim that there’s something going on and they think it’s food-related, I always say start writing down what you’re eating and what you’re feeling,” Gans says. Be detailed about how you feel after every meal – “Nothing that you jot down is too silly,” Gans adds – and then, after a week or so, start looking for patterns. “It might become obvious, like, ‘Oh, every time I went out and had too many glasses of wine or spent the whole meal talking with friends, I felt bad,'” Gans notes. Sonpal points out that alcohol, in particular, can cause the lining of the stomach to become inflamed.
Eat slowly and chew your food carefully: Slow and steady wins the race – or, at the very least, helps minimise the air you take in while eating, says Sonpal, thereby reduces bloating. And if you’re susceptible to indigestion, Gans also recommends eating smaller, more frequent meals throughout the day rather than focusing on a few big ones.
Take care of your body and mind: Finally, while research on the mind-gut connection is still emerging, we do know that “when we get anxious, we get stomachaches,” says Sonpal. If indigestion is caused by a case of functional dyspepsia, anxiety treatments like “yoga, mindfulness, and exercise have been shown to help.”
How can I relieve indigestion once it hits?
Fortunately, there are a few easy things you can do to ease symptoms.
Brew a cup of peppermint or ginger tea: “What peppermint does is it breaks up the gas bubbles and relaxes the small intestine,” Sonpal explains.
Ginger, meanwhile, can help to reduce bloating, pain, and nausea. While there haven’t been a lot of studies done on this yet, Sonpal observes that turmeric also seems to have potential as a stomach soother. “I’ve had a lot of patients take turmeric for other issues and find that their indigestion also resolves,” he says.
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Moving your body can help: After a meal, avoid the allure of the nap and refrain from lying down, as this can cause or worsen indigestion. Instead, remain upright and consider some gentle movement: “You might even take a walk,” says Gans. (A run, on the other hand, might make you feel worse.)
Medications can also ease the symptoms of indigestion: Aside from antacids such Pepto-Bismol and Tums, there are two main types of medicine that doctors use to settle the stomach: histamine (H2) blockers and proton pump inhibitors, which decrease the amount of acid in your stomach, Balzora explains. These aren’t a long-term fix, however. “Even with OTC medications, it’s important to not take them for extended periods of time without consulting with your physician,” she says. For when you’re looking for some quick relief, here are a few OTC medications to check out.
1. Pepto-Bismol Chewable Tablets Cherry
Each of these flavored, chewable tablets contains the active ingredient bismuth subsalicylate, which can alleviate stomach and gastrointestinal distress.
2. Tums Chewy Delights Very Cherry