Indigestion (also called dyspepsia, heartburn, or GERD) affects up to one in four Americans each year. Indigestion can be experienced differently, causing a wide array of disruptive gastrointestinal symptoms.
Thankfully, there are many treatment options for indigestion. Treatment of indigestion depends on the cause but may entail over-the-counter (OTC) medications, prescription medications, or at-home lifestyle changes.
In this article, I’ll describe what indigestion is, and the different treatment options available. I’ll also cover what you should avoid if you experience symptoms and which home remedies can effectively treat or prevent indigestion.
Finally, I’ll explain when you should see a healthcare provider for more personalized care.
Home Remedies for Indigestion
In many cases, your provider may recommend lifestyle changes to help alleviate your symptoms or prevent future bouts of indigestion—these changes may be avoiding certain substances or habits, or adding other foods, beverages, and habits into your daily life.
Mix Baking Soda and Water
Some OTC antacids, like Alka-Seltzer, contain baking soda (also known as sodium bicarbonate).
Baking soda works to neutralize stomach acid and temporarily relieve some symptoms of indigestion and acid reflux. Just add ½ teaspoon to four ounces of water and drink the solution.
But be careful not to use too much. One study found that adults should have no more than seven ½ teaspoons of baking soda in one day, and no more than three ½ teaspoons if over the age of 60.
Sip Apple Cider Vinegar
Apple cider vinegar has recently become a popular at-home remedy for many ailments.
Because of its high acetic acid content, it may help to aid digestion and break down food.
Unfortunately, there is little to no evidence that it is a safe and effective treatment for indigestion or heartburn.
To be safe, talk with your doctor or healthcare provider before using.
Ginger has long been used as a home remedy to soothe stomach ailments, including indigestion.
Research has found that ginger increases the rate of gastric emptying in patients with indigestion.
Just be sure to limit your consumption to three to four grams per day to avoid gas, heartburn, and throat burn.
Take Licorice Supplements
A randomized double-blind, placebo-controlled study found that licorice supplements are safe and effective at managing symptoms of indigestion.
Eat Healthy Fats
Fatty and greasy foods are linked to worsening indigestion symptoms (including symptoms of acid reflux).
However, evidence suggests that replacing saturated fats with unsaturated fats —like those from plants, fish, and some nuts and seeds—may help to relieve the symptoms of acid reflux.
Maintain a Healthy Weight
Carrying excess pounds can put pressure on your stomach, causing acid to back up into your esophagus.
Experts recommend maintaining a healthy weight, which can help manage symptoms of indigestion.
Medication for Indigestion
Depending on the cause of your indigestion, your provider may recommend either over-the-counter (OTC) or prescription medications to help treat indigestion symptoms.
Examples of medications your doctor may recommend are:
For most types of indigestion, these are the first-line recommendations. Antacids work by neutralizing acids in your stomach. Common antacids include calcium carbonate (Tums), loperamide (Imodium), simethicone (Mylanta), and sodium bicarbonate (Alka-Seltzer).
If the cause of your indigestion is an infection of the bacteria H. pylori, your provider may recommend a course of at least two antibiotics, such as amoxicillin (Amoxil), clarithromycin (Biaxin), metronidazole (Flagyl), tetracycline (Sumycin), ortinidazole (Tindamax). This type of infection requires a lab test to diagnose correctly.
H2 receptor blockers
These medicines reduce the amount of acid your stomach produces, which can help to alleviate symptoms of indigestion. H2 blockers don’t work as quickly to reduce heartburn as antacids, but the effect can last longer. Examples of these medications include famotidine (Pepcid AC), nizatidine (Axid AR), and ranitidine (Zantac 75).
Proton pump inhibitors (PPIs)
PPIs are especially effective at reducing stomach acid to treat symptoms of indigestion and heartburn. Your doctor may recommend PPIs if antacids or H2 blockers have failed to resolve your symptoms. Recently, some PPIs have become available OTC, including esomeprazole (Nexium) and omeprazole (Prilosec). Other PPIs, like rabeprazole (AcipHex), are only available with a prescription.
If your provider identifies that delayed stomach emptying is the cause of your symptoms, they may prescribe prokinetics, medications to help your stomach empty faster by stimulating the muscles in your stomach. Examples of prokinetics include bethanechol (Urecholine) and metoclopramide (Reglan).
How to Get Rid of Indigestion at Night
Discomfort from acid reflux can keep you up at night when trying to sleep. To prevent heartburn when you lay down, it’s a good idea to follow these tips:
- Avoid eating within three to four hours of your bedtime. A full stomach adds extra pressure to your upper stomach and esophagus when you lay down.
- Elevate the head of your bed six inches. Use a wedge pillow under your mattress to prop your head up higher. Don’t have a wedge pillow? Bricks, books, or blocks under your mattress work too.
- Avoid a large meal for dinner. This gives your stomach time to complete the digestive process before bed.
- Avoid certain foods or beverages for dinner that trigger acid reflux. These include spicy foods, tomato-based foods, carbonated drinks, citrus, alcohol, and greasy foods.
What to Avoid
Quitting smoking is an umbrella health recommendation for preventing many conditions and diseases, including hypertension, cancer, and even premature death. Evidence shows that quitting smoking may help prevent indigestion, too.
Nicotine may relax the lower esophageal sphincter—the bottom end of your esophagus, which meets your stomach. This relaxation can cause symptoms of indigestion and heartburn.
Wearing tight clothing that puts pressure on your belly can make symptoms of indigestion caused by acid reflux worse.
Similarly, exercises that put pressure on your stomach, like sit-ups, leg lifts, and crunches, can also exacerbate symptoms.
If acid reflux is the cause of your indigestion, try wearing loose, non-restrictive clothing to ease your symptoms.
Laying Down Right After Meals
To give your body time to digest, aim to finish your meal at least three hours before laying down in bed.
One study found that regular consumption of spicy foods can trigger symptoms of indigestion, especially in people with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
If you think spicy foods may exacerbate your symptoms, try eliminating them from your diet to see if your symptoms improve.
Citrus is another possible trigger for symptoms of indigestion.
Researchers believe that citrus juice, including the juice of oranges, lemons, and grapefruit, irritates the lining of the esophagus.
One study found that orange or grapefruit juice worsened the acid reflux symptoms of 72% of GERD patients.
Research is mixed on whether mint worsens symptoms of indigestion.
However, one study found that consuming large amounts of spearmint can worsen symptoms of acid reflux.
Several studies show that drinking alcohol, even in moderate amounts, can worsen symptoms of indigestion by increasing stomach acid, relaxing the lower esophageal sphincter, and impairing the ability of the esophagus to clear itself of acid.
Other Foods to Avoid
Additional foods that may trigger your indigestion symptoms are carbonated drinks, coffee and other caffeinated beverages, tomatoes, chocolate, and fatty or greasy foods.
Drinking liquids at the same time as meals can also make symptoms worse if you suffer from acid reflux.
When to See a Medical Provider
Many cases of mild indigestion can be managed at home. But if you experience any of the below symptoms, reach out to your doctor or healthcare provider immediately:
- Unintentional weight loss or loss of appetite
- Bloody vomit
- Frequent vomiting
- Black, tarry stool
- Severe, constant stomach pain
- Difficulty swallowing that gets progressively worse
- Fatigue or weakness
- Shortness of breath, sweating, or chest pain that radiates to the neck, jaw, or arm
- Chest pain on exertion or with stress
- Yellowing of the skin or eyes
Additionally, if any of your symptoms of indigestion last longer than two weeks, reach out to your provider.
How K Health Can Help
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Frequently Asked Questions
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An Extract of Glycyrrhiza glabra (GutGard) Alleviates Symptoms of Functional Dyspepsia: A Randomized, Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled Study. (2012).
A prospective study on symptom generation according to spicy food intake and TRPV1 genotypes in functional dyspepsia patients. (2016).
Baking Soda Can Settle the Stomach but Upset the Heart: Case Files of the Medical Toxicology Fellowship at the University of California, San Francisco. (2013).
Diet Changes for GERD. (n.d.).
Effects of ginger on gastric motility and symptoms of functional dyspepsia. (2011).
Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD). (n.d.).
Indigestion (Dyspepsia). (2016).
Lack of effect of spearmint on lower oesophageal sphincter function and acid reflux in healthy volunteers. (1999).
Relationships between the acidity and osmolality of popular beverages and reported postprandial heartburn. (1995).
The effects of alcohol consumption upon the gastrointestinal tract. (2000).