Acid Indigestion – Causes, Symptoms, Treatment, Prevention

We all experience indigestion every now and then. It is not uncommon after overeating or exercising immediately after a meal. Indigestion is a collection of symptoms like nausea, bloating and excessive belching that we refer to as an upset stomach. Sometimes it is caused or worsened by stomach acid which is irritating the gut. In these cases we refer to it acid indigestion.

What is Acid Indigestion?

Acid indigestion is not a specific condition but refers to several upper digestive conditions and associated symptoms. From burning in the chest and upper abdomen to nausea and excessive belching, acid indigestion is typically associated with the esophagus and stomach conditions. It may include gastritis, peptic ulcers and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).

All these conditions are affected or caused by stomach acid either irritating or damaging the lining of the esophagus, stomach or duodenum (first part of the small intestine). Indigestion is a collection of symptoms, like nausea, bloating and upper abdominal pain or discomfort. When it arises due to conditions like acid reflux, gastritis or peptic ulcers then it may be referred to as acid indigestion.

Causes of Acid Indigestion

There are three main conditions that are responsible for acid indigestion. However, it is possible for acid indigestion to arise without these conditions being present. Overeating, overindulging in alcohol, spicy or greasy meals, strenuous physical activity after a large meal or lying flat after overeating can also cause acid indigestion.

Acid Reflux

In most cases, acid indigestion is used to describe gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). Most of know this condition as acid reflux. This is where the acidic stomach contents flow backward into the esophagus. The stomach is lined with mucus that prevents the acid from damaging the stomach walls.

The esophagus is not as well equipped to deal with acid as the stomach. Normally the acid in the stomach does not flow backwards into the esophagus. It depends on the lower esophageal sphincter (LES) which prevents the entry of stomach acid into the esophagus. When acid does enter the esophagus, saliva is secreted in large amounts in an attempt to neutralize the acid.

Some of the causes of acid reflux include :

  • Acute: Overeating, sleeping or lying flat immediately after eating, carbonated beverages, caffeinated drinks and alcohol.
  • Chronic: Lower esophageal sphincter dysfunction, hiatal hernia, impaired esophageal motility, delayed gastric emptying and increased intra-abdominal pressure. Read more on Stomach Reflux Causes.

Signs and Symptoms of Acid Reflux

  • Heartburn (burning chest pain)
  • Regurgitation
  • Waterbrash (sudden accumulation of large amounts of saliva in the mouth)
  • Throat irritation


The stomach has a protective barrier of mucus to prevent the acidic secretions from irritating the stomach lining. If this is compromised, the stomach acid can cause inflammation and even ulceration. The more common causes of gastritis is Helicobacter pylori infection and the use of NSAID drugs.

Both these causative factors increase gastric acid secretion and disrupt the protective mucus barrier within the stomach. This exposes the stomach lining to the enzymes and acid within it. As a result the wall is injured by this acid and becomes inflamed which is referred to as gastritis.

Signs and Symptoms of Gastritis

  • Stomach ache or gastric pain (dull, gnawing or burning)
  • Vomiting
  • Loss of appetite

Peptic Ulcer

A peptic ulcer may arise in anywhere in the upper gastrointestinal tract, from the esophagus to the stomach or small intestine. Most peptic ulcers occur in the duodenum,which is the first part of the small intestine. Food and fluids mix in the stomach with strong digestive enzymes. This partially liquid mix is known as gastric chyme and is gradually passed out into the small intestine.

The duodenum deals with incoming chyme by diluting and neutralizing it with a mix of water and bicarbonate ions secreted by the pancreas. In addition, the digestive hormone secretin also reduces gastric acid secretion and gastric emptying. However, when there is an infection with H.pylori bacteria or with excessive use of NSAIDs then the duodenum cannot contend with the incoming acid. Most cases of peptic ulcer occur as a result of :

  • Duodenal ulcers : H.pylori infection
  • Stomach ulcers : H.pylori infection, use of NSAIDs
  • Esophageal ulcers : acid reflux (discussed above) and H.pylori infection

Signs and Symptoms Peptic Ulcers

The symptoms are similar to gastritis symptoms and tend to aggravate after eating.

  • Stomach ache or gastric pain (dull, gnawing or burning)
  • Vomiting
  • Loss of appetite
  • In severe ulceration, there may be upper gastric bleeding which may present as blood in the vomit (hematemesis) or black tarry stools (melena).

Symptoms of Acid Indigestion

Most people experience a burning sensation, either in the chest (with acid reflux) or upper abdomen (with gastritis or peptic ulcers). The typical indigestion symptoms are also present, which includes:

  • Nausea: the feeling of wanting to vomit.
  • Bloating: the sensation of fullness in the stomach region.
  • Excessive belching (burping)
  • Loss of appetite
  • Abdominal distension – enlargement of the abdomen.

Treatment of Acid Indigestion

Neutralizing the stomach acid is one of the main ways to treat acid indigestion. Most people opt for alkaline drinks like milk or use antacids. This usually provides quick but short term relief as the food can move through the stomach and duodenum of the small intestine. However, in chronic cases other drugs may be used.

  • Proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) and H2-blockers suppress stomach acid production.
  • Metoclopramide speeds up emptying of the stomach.

Acid indigestion is not a serious digestive condition. It usually passes within a few minutes to an hour or two. Therefore treatment may not always be necessary.

How To Prevent Acid Indigestion

Acid indigestion can be prevented and even treated to some degree with simple dietary and lifestyle changes.

  • Do not overeat. Rather opt for smaller portion sizes and instead eat meals more frequently throughout the day.
  • Avoid trigger foods. Spicy foods tend to be a problem for most people however there may be individual trigger
  • foods and beverages.
  • Minimize alcohol consumption before and during meals. Caffeinated beverages like coffee can also be an aggravating factor for some people.
  • Do not lie down or sleep after a meal. Try moving around and undertake light physical activity like a slow walk.
  • Drink plenty of water with meals. This aids with digestion and speeds up the emptying of food from the stomach.

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