The resulting indigestion or heartburn is often experienced as pain, a burning sensation in the stomach or chest, abdominal bloating, gurgling, distention, and belching. Indigestion is caused and made worse by overeating, especially fatty, rich, or spicy foods, alcohol, coffee, and acidic foods such as tomatoes and citrus fruits. Eating while stressed, on the run, or late at night also can cause indigestion. Heartburn can accompany indigestion, as the excessive food and liquid in the stomach churns up stomach acid, which spills up into the esophagus and irritates the lining. Over time chronic heartburn can develop into gastritis or esophagitis, much more serious conditions in which the lining of the stomach or esophagus erodes and ulcerates. The regurgitation of acids is also called gastroesophageal reflux disease, commonly referred to as GERD. Chronic acid reflux can lead to cancer of the esophagus.
Chinese medicine sees three main causes of indigestion. First, poor diet damages the spleen-pancreas-stomach network. Second, emotional turmoil stresses the liver-gallbladder network, slows down the digestive process, and potentially causes hiatal hernia by pulling the stomach upward into the diaphragm. Third, pathogens in a postnasal mucus drip or food-borne microbes can invade the stomach, causing upheaval. Acupuncture can provide quick symptom relief and restore the natural flow of the intestinal tract, while herbal remedies support a healthy esophageal and stomach lining and normal gastric juice production.