Indigestion and Heartburn Differences

Man having indigestion

Some people who suffer from heartburn report to others that they are suffering from a case of indigestion. Though they both have similar triggers, and treatment may be the same in many instances, indigestion isn't the same thing as heartburn. For example, indigestion is the condition, and heartburn occasionally is a symptom of indigestion.

Indigestion is a vague feeling of discomfort and pain in the upper abdomen and chest, including a feeling of fullness and bloating, accompanied by belching and nausea.

Occasionally, heartburn is one of the symptoms. It is a common problem and can be triggered by several things. These include eating particular foods, drinking alcoholic or carbonated beverages, eating too fast or too much, eating fatty or spicy foods, drinking too much caffeine, or eating too many high-fiber foods. Symptoms have also been shown to be worsened by anxiety and depression.


Common Causes

  • Overeating
  • Eating too fast
  • Significant caffeine intake
  • Eating fatty or spicy foods
  • Significant alcohol consumption
  • Smoking
  • Cholecystitis (inflammation of the gallbladder)
  • Chronic or acute gastritis (inflammation of the stomach)
  • Chronic or acute pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas)
  • Duodenal ulcer
  • Gastric ulcer
  • Antibiotics
  • Aspirin
  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)

Less Common Causes

  • Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori)
    This is a bacterium that lives in the mucous layer of the stomach, that can cause irritation (gastritis) and ulcers. If H. pylori is diagnosed, it can be treated.
  • Hiatal hernia
    This occurs when part of the stomach slides upward through the diaphragm, and into the chest cavity. Besides indigestion, a hiatal hernia can cause pain and heartburn.


  • Heartburn, a burning pain that usually starts in the chest, behind the breastbone.
  • Pain, that occurs in the upper abdomen or the chest. It may or may not be related to overeating or consuming a trigger food or beverage.
  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea
  • Burping
  • Flatulence

Because indigestion can be a sign of a more serious condition, such as an ulcer or occasionally cancer, anyone experiencing the following symptoms in addition to indigestion should consult with their doctor.

  • Unplanned weight loss
  • Severe pain
  • Anyone over 45 who has not previously suffered from any indigestion problems

Immediate medical attention is needed for anyone who experiences either of the following symptoms:

  • Vomiting with specks of blood or with blood that looks like coffee-grounds
  • Vomiting fresh blood


Lifestyle Changes

Symptoms of indigestion can often be relieved with a few lifestyle changes.

  • Eat smaller, more frequent meals.
    Large meals expand your stomach and increase upward pressure against the esophageal sphincter.
  • Limit your intake of acid-stimulating foods and beverages.
    Eat foods that rarely cause heartburn and avoid those foods that will often cause heartburn.
  • Don't lie down for about two hours after you eat.
    Gravity helps to keep the stomach juices from backing up into the esophagus and assists the flow of food and digestive juices from the stomach to the intestines.
  • Elevate your head a few inches while you sleep.
    Lying down flat presses the stomach's contents against the LES. With the head higher than the stomach, gravity helps reduce this pressure. You can elevate your head in a couple of ways. You can place bricks, blocks or anything that's sturdy securely under the legs at the head of your bed. You can also use an extra pillow, or a wedge-shaped pillow, to elevate your head. 
  • Don't smoke. 
    Nicotine relaxes the esophageal sphincter. Smoking also stimulates the production of stomach acid. 
  • Don't drink alcohol.
    If you still want to drink alcoholic beverages, follow these tips.
  • Relax.
    While stress hasn't been linked directly to heartburn, it is known that it can lead to behaviors that can trigger heartburn. Follow these relaxation tips to alleviate stress, and thus make stress-related heartburn less likely.
  • Don't wear belts or clothes that are tight fitting around the waist.
    Clothing that fits tightly around the abdomen will squeeze the stomach, forcing food up against the LES, and cause food to reflux into the esophagus. Clothing that can cause problems includes tight-fitting belts and slenderizing undergarments.


    • Over-the-counter remedies
      There are various over-the-counter treatment options available for acid reflux. For some individuals, they've found relief from their indigestion symptoms by using these methods.
    • Histamine Receptor Antagonists
      There are a number of medicines for treating stomach ulcers and indigestion. One of the most important of these is a group of medicines known as H2-receptor antagonists or histamine receptor antagonists.
    • Proton Pump Inhibitors
      Proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) are a group of prescription medications that prevent the release of acid in the stomach and intestines.

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