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December 13, 2014

7 ways to calm your upset stomach

Maybe you've just eaten, or finished a meal an hour or so ago — and now your stomach just doesn't "feel right." You feel bloated and uncomfortable. Or maybe it's more of a burning sensation. Maybe you feel queasy, or even throw up. You might say you have an "upset stomach" or indigestion. If there is no known medical cause for your symptoms, your doctor would call it "dyspepsia" or "bad digestion."

Indigestion is real. The medical term for persistent upper abdominal pain or discomfort without an identifiable medical cause is functional dyspepsia. Eating often triggers symptoms of functional dyspepsia. Sometimes the discomfort begins during the meal, other times about half an hour later. It tends to come and go in spurts over a period of about three months. One of the annoying things about functional dyspepsia is that a medical workup often finds no physical or anatomical cause for it.

If you suffer from functional dyspepsia, you're not alone. Roughly 25% of the population is affected, and it hits men and women equally. It's responsible for a significant percentage of visits to primary care doctors; in part because many people worry they might have an ulcer. It's a reasonable concern, given that 10% of Americans develop a peptic ulcer at some time in their lives. While it's frustrating that the cause of functional dyspepsia is unknown, it's even more frustrating that there is no surefire cure.

The good news is that there are simple things you can try to help get some relief.

  1. Avoid foods that trigger your symptoms.
  2. Eat small portions and don’t overeat; try eating smaller, more frequent meals and be sure to chew food slowly and completely.
  3. Avoid activities that result in swallowing excess air, such as smoking, eating quickly, chewing gum, and drinking carbonated beverages.
  4. Reduce your stress. Try relaxation therapies, cognitive behavioral therapy, or exercise. An aerobic workout 3-5 times per week can help, but don’t exercise right after eating.
  5. Get enough rest.
  6. Don’t lie down within two hours of eating.
  7. Keep your weight under control.

For more on diagnosing and treating indigestion, buy The Sensitive Gut, a Special Health Report from Harvard Medical School.