If you’ve got pain in your tummy or chest and you’re feeling bloated, you might well have indigestion. It’s also known as dyspepsia, and many people get it from time to time.
But if you’re feeling unwell, you probably want to know how long indigestion lasts for, and if you should be worried.
Usually, indigestion comes and goes, and you can treat it yourself. If you keep getting indigestion or are in a lot of pain, however, it might be a sign of something more serious.
Read on to learn more about the symptoms and causes of indigestion, and when you should see a doctor.
What are the symptoms of indigestion?
Feeling discomfort in your tummy after eating or drinking is the main symptom of indigestion, but other common symptoms include:
- feeling full or bloated
- a burning feeling in your chest (heartburn)
- an acidic taste in your mouth
- feeling sick (nausea)
- belching and farting
These symptoms can happen when acid from your stomach irritates the lining of your digestive system, causing soreness and swelling. Usually, you’ll notice them after you’ve eaten a large meal, but you can get them at any time.
How long does indigestion last?
As indigestion is a collection of symptoms rather than a condition in itself, how long it lasts can depend on what’s causing it.
Mild indigestion that occurs after eating usually only happens from time to time, and goes away on its own. For example, heartburn triggered by spicy food often only lasts for an hour or 2.
However, if your indigestion is caused by a medical condition, the condition may need to be treated before you start to feel better.
If you’re getting indigestion symptoms a lot or they come on after exercising, cause a lot of pain or are different from what you’ve had before or are persistent, it’s worth talking to your doctor.
Why do I keep getting indigestion?
Some things can make you more likely to get indigestion, and could also make it last longer. These include:
- certain medicines, including non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
- being overweight
- drinking alcohol
- eating fatty foods
- stress and anxiety
- a bacterial infection
Although indigestion isn’t usually serious, if you keep getting it, it could be a sign of an underlying health condition, such as:
- gastro-oesophageal reflux disease (GORD) – when the lining of your food pipe (oesophagus) becomes damaged by stomach acid
- peptic ulcer – when a sore develops on the lining of your stomach or small intestine
- stomach cancer – in rare cases, frequent indigestion can be a sign that cancer cells are breaking down your stomach’s protective lining
How can I treat indigestion?
The good news is that you can manage mild and occasional indigestion yourself. Making some simple lifestyle changes can often help, including:
- cutting down on tea, coffee, fizzy drinks and alcohol
- losing weight if you’re overweight
- eating a healthy, balanced diet
- using a pillow to raise your head slightly when you’re in bed
- not eating after 4 hours before going to bed
- avoiding rich, spicy food
- avoiding medication which could make it worse, such as ibuprofen and aspirin
- stopping smoking
You can also ask a pharmacist for advice – they may be able to recommend medication to treat heartburn.
When should I see a doctor?
You should speak to your doctor about your indigestion if you:
- keep getting indigestion
- are in a lot of pain
- are 55 or older
- have lost a lot of weight without meaning to
- have difficulty swallowing (dysphagia)
- keep being sick (vomiting)
- have iron deficiency anaemia
- can feel a lump in your stomach
- have blood in your vomit or blood in your poo
You should get urgent medical help if you have chest pain and any of the following, as you could be having a heart attack:
- pain that makes your chest feel tight or heavy
- chest pain that moves to your arms, neck, jaw or back
- you feel sick, sweaty or breathless
- pain that lasts more than 15 minutes
- indigestion is often felt as pain or discomfort in your tummy or chest, and most people get it at some point
- how long it lasts depends on what’s causing it, but it often only lasts for a few hours
- eating a large meal, alcohol, smoking, certain medicines and stress can make indigestion more likely
- frequent indigestion can be a sign of an underlying health condition
- see your doctor if you keep getting indigestion or have other symptoms