What is a Sour Stomach?

The term “sour stomach” is commonly used to describe a range of symptoms associated with upper gastrointestinal disturbances. The most notable symptoms attributed to a sour stomach include regurgitation, nausea, stomach bloating and excessive belching. These symptoms are often related to two common gastroesophageal conditions, namely and acid reflux and indigestion.

Other common terms associated with a sour stomach include an upset stomach, queasiness, acid indigestion, stomach reflux and digestive problems. Since the term sour stomach is not a medically defined condition , it is not uncommon for this term to vary in meaning due to regional and linguistic differences.

A sour stomach is usually acute – meaning that it is not persistent, recurrent or constant. It may occur periodically, often related to the contributing and causative factors mentioned below. The symptoms associated with a sour stomach may also resolve spontaneously with little or no treatment.

Chronic cases should be investigated as this may be linked to more serious gastrointestinal conditions or persistent causes that can eventually lead to a host of complications if left untreated.

Signs and Symptoms of a Sour Stomach

What are the symptoms of a sour stomach?

The most common symptoms attributed to a sour stomach includes :

  • Regurgitation is reflux (retrograde flow) of the stomach contents up into the esophagus which may reach as high up as the throat. It is not as forceful as vomiting and may not involve reverse peristalsis as is seen in the vomiting process. Instead the LES (lower esophageal sphincter) is not able to prevent the backward flow of the stomach contents up the esophagus.
  • Nausea is the sensation that precedes vomiting and is often referred to as queasiness, upset stomach, bilious and ‘sick in the stomach’. Vomiting may not actually occur but the feeling of nausea may persist for long periods of time, even when other symptoms allay.
  • Stomach bloating refers to the a sensation of feeling full or bloated even after eating small amounts of food. It is frequently associated with ‘gassiness’ meaning there is gas accumulation in the upper gut causing a sensation of bloating and accompanied by excessive belching. Sour eructations (belches) may be as a result of stomach acid reflux during belching.

It is not uncommon for other symptoms to also be present including :

Causes of a Sour Stomach

What causes sour stomach?

A sour stomach may be related to a number of acute conditions of the upper gastrointestinal tract. By far, acid reflux and non-functional dyspepsia are the most common causes for the range of symptoms known as a sour stomach. Many of the causes in both these conditions overlap.

  • Acid Reflux Causes and Severe Indigestion Causes
    • Overeating
    • Excessive consumption of carbonated beverages (‘gassy drinks’), alcohol, caffeinated beverages (tea, coffee, cola)
    • Lying flat, especially prone (face down), after eating
    • Strenuous physical activity after eating
    • Hanging upside down (inverted) after eating
    • Eating too quickly
    • Air swallowing (aerophagia)
    • Spicy foods

A sour stomach, especially if it is persistent or recurrent, may be due to more chronic conditions like :

Although less frequent, sometimes a sour stomach is associated with vomiting and diarrhea. This is more likely due to :

Treatment of a Sour Stomach

Sour Stomach Diet and Home Remedies

Dietary management is important in repeated episodes of a sour stomach. Usually avoiding the contributing and causative factors mentioned above is the key to preventing a sour stomach. Dietary measures may include :

  • Eat bland meals that are balanced in carbohydrates and protein with moderate to low amounts of fat.
  • Avoid fatty meals entirely, especially if it is a known trigger.
  • Dairy, gluten, fructose and sorbitol should be avoided altogether if there is any sign of intolerance.
  • Eat small portions more frequently throughout the day rather than a single large meal.
  • Do not eat too close to bedtime. Wait for at least 2 hours after eating before lying flat or sleeping.
  • Avoid carbonated beverages and alcohol with meals.
  • Moderate physical activity, like a slow walk, after eating may help with digestion rather than sitting idle.

While not all home remedies have been scientifically proven to assist with digestion and reducing symptoms, a person may find individual remedies that may be helpful. Commonly reported home remedies include :

  • Asafetida (asafoetida, Ferrula assafoetida) added to the food to reduce gas bloating. *
  • Ginger, peppermint and ‘bitters’ for assisting with digestion and gut motility. *

These remedies have been widely used by many cultures in different regions for similar ailments. However, it should not be used unless a medical doctor approves these simple measures and excludes serious underlying conditions.

* Health Hype does not recommend the use of any alternative remedy or complementary medicine without clinical trials and scientific studies verifying its efficacy.

Other dietary measures for a sour stomach are discussed under specific causes :

Sour Stomach Medication

Most cases of a sour stomach will resolve without any treatment. Persistent or recurrent cases need to be investigated for underlying conditions like gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).

Antacids often provide fast but temporary relief for most cases of a sour stomach. Antacid suspensions are rapid-acting and the preferred choice these days but effervescent salts and chews are still widely used. While antacids are available over-the-counter (OTC) without the need for a prescription, regular use may lead to a host of complications and mask the symptoms of more serious underlying disorders.

Always consult with a medical doctor before self-medicating and managing any recurrent or severe condition in the home environment. Other medication that may be helpful includes the acid suppressing drugs discussed under Stomach Acid Medication.


Article reviewed by Dr. Greg. Last updated on March 25, 2012