Indigestion - Causes 

Causes of indigestion 

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Indigestion (dyspepsia) occurs when acid from your stomach irritates the lining of your stomach, oesophagus (gullet) and top part of your bowel.

In most cases, there is no underlying medical reason for indigestion. It is usually caused by a process known as acid reflux, where acid from your stomach escapes and is forced back up into your oesophagus.

However, indigestion can also be caused in other ways, and it can sometimes be a symptom of an underlying medical condition, particularly if you experience recurrent bouts. Some possible causes are explained below.


You may have indigestion if you take certain types of medication. Some medicines, such as nitrates (taken to widen your blood vessels) relax the oesophageal sphincter (ring of muscle between your oesophagus and your stomach), which allows acid to leak back up.

Other medicines, such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), can affect your digestive tract and cause indigestion.

Do not take NSAIDs, such as aspirin and ibuprofen, if you have stomach problems such as a peptic ulcer or have had this in the past. Children under 16 years of age should not take aspirin.

Never stop taking a prescribed medication unless you are told to do so by your GP or another qualified healthcare professional who is responsible for your care.


If you are very overweight, you are more likely to experience indigestion because of increased pressure inside your abdomen (tummy). This can force open your oesophageal sphincter after a large meal, causing acid reflux.

Hiatus hernia

A hernia occurs when an internal part of the body, such as an organ, pushes through a weakness in the surrounding muscle or tissue wall.

hiatus hernia occurs when part of your stomach pushes up into your diaphragm (the sheet of muscle under your lungs), preventing your oesophageal sphincter from closing. This can allow stomach acid to travel back up into your oesophagus, leading to heartburn.

Helicobacter pylori infection

You may have recurring bouts of indigestion if you have an infection with Helicobacter pylori (H pylori) bacteria. H pylori infections are common, and it is possible to become infected without realising because the infection does not usually cause any symptoms.

However, in some cases an H pylori infection can damage your stomach lining and increase the amount of acid in your stomach. It is also possible for your duodenum (the top of your small intestine) to be irritated by excess stomach acid if you have an H pylori infection.

Gastro-oesophageal reflux disease (GORD)

Gastro-oesophageal reflux disease (GORD) is a common condition and one of the main causes of recurring indigestion. It is caused by acid reflux. This occurs when the oesophageal sphincter fails to prevent stomach acid from moving back up into your oesophagus.

Acid reflux becomes GORD when the sensitive lining of your oesophagus is damaged by repeated irritation from stomach acid.

Peptic ulcers

peptic ulcer is an open sore that develops on the inside lining of your stomach (a gastric ulcer) or small intestine (a duodenal ulcer). If you have a peptic ulcer, you may have indigestion as a symptom.

Peptic ulcers form when stomach acid damages the lining in your stomach or duodenum wall. In most peptic ulcer cases, the lining is damaged as a result of an H pylori infection (see above).

Stomach cancer

In rare cases, recurrent bouts of indigestion can be a symptom of stomach cancer.

Cancer cells in your stomach break down the protective lining, allowing acid to come into contact with your stomach wall.

Page last reviewed: 12/06/2012

Next review due: 12/06/2014


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The 3 comments posted are personal views. Any information they give has not been checked and may not be accurate.

judith steadclark said on 16 November 2013

I keep getting a hot burning sensation at top of my stomach just under my ribs ,like it is on fire and some times it itches but it itches in side were the burning sensation is ,i do some times get hot sick that comes up in to my throat or mouth ,i have suffered from reflux for a long time ,i have been diagnosed with diabetis2 feb 2012
what can it be ...

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HPlady said on 14 September 2011

I had an H Pylori infection. Many GP's are not very good at diagnosing it.

It should be mentioned that this infection can be treated with a triple therapy of antibiotics and PPI (proton pump inhibitor to reduce acid.) Anything less than that will not kill off this infection as my GP has found out.

It has taken a lot to get the right diagnosis.

GPs need to be made more aware of this condition.
My own doctor admitted he did not even know about this and told me to google it !

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hermy said on 09 March 2010

I've found this article which has hints and tips for good diet and lifestyle that should help people stay free from indigestion and other related symptoms

The stuff in there makes sense so hopefully it will help others with indigestion etc!

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