Indigestion and Heartburn

In: Clinical Methods: The History, Physical, and Laboratory Examinations. 3rd edition. Boston: Butterworths; 1990. Chapter 83.


Indigestion is a term commonly used by patients and physicians to indicate some form of gastrointestinal tract upset. It includes a wide variety of symptoms, which in turn may be manifestations of a wide variety of gastrointestinal and nongastrointestinal diseases. Often these symptoms prove to be a reflection of gastroduodenal dysfunction secondary to stress. The words indigestion and dyspepsia may be used interchangeably, usually to describe one or more symptoms experienced shortly after eating, simply implying a disorder of the digestive processes. Among such symptoms are postprandial nausea and occasionally emesis; upper abdominal bloating, fullness, or discomfort; belching and flatulence; and, less commonly, a bad taste in the mouth, a coated tongue, fatigue, somnolence, or headache.

Occasionally patients use the term indigestion to describe the symptoms of heartburn; heartburn, however, is defined more specifically as a substernal burning sensation of variable intensity that may extend toward the neck or base of the throat.

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