People may have an upset stomach for numerous reasons. Although diseases and infections in the GI tract can cause uncomfortable digestive symptoms, most upset stomachs occur as a result of poor eating habits that lead to indigestion.
The term indigestion broadly refers to the symptoms of an upset stomach, such as bloating and discomfort, after eating a meal.
The symptoms of indigestion occur when the lining of the stomach becomes irritated or inflamed, which can happen if people overeat or eat too quickly.
Consuming too many of the following foods or beverages can also irritate the stomach lining and lead to indigestion:
- high fat or greasy foods
- spicy foods
- carbonated beverages
Stress or anxiety
The enteric nervous system contains about 200–600 million neurons in the walls of the GI tract. These neurons help control digestive function.
The nerves in the GI tract respond to stress hormones in the same way as nerves in the brain and other parts of the body.
When the brain perceives danger, it signals to the adrenal glands to release stress hormones, such as epinephrine, norepinephrine, and cortisol.
These hormones have several physical effects on the body, including:
- slowing down digestive organs and restricting their blood supply
- increasing blood flow to the muscles, brain, heart, and lungs
- increasing heart rate, breathing rate, and blood pressure
- dilating the pupils to improve vision
- suppressing the immune system
- increasing metabolism
People who regularly have high levels of stress may experience the physical effects of stress hormones. According to the American Psychological Association, stress increases a person’s sensitivity to stomach pain, bloating, and nausea. Severe stress can even induce vomiting in some people.
Anxiety is a response to stress, and it refers to a sense of excessive worry, fear, or unease. People who have anxiety can experience a wide range of psychological and physical symptoms, including GI symptoms. These symptoms include:
- stomach cramps
- contractions or spasms in the intestinal tract
- diarrhea or constipation
Certain medications can also irritate the lining of the stomach. These include:
- nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen
- cholesterol lowering drugs
- blood pressure medications
- opioid-containing pain relievers
- iron supplements
IBD, the types of which include ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease, can cause unpleasant GI symptoms.
Other medical conditions that can cause indigestion include:
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