The Difference Between Acid Indigestion or a Peptic Ulcer

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After suffering with abdominal pain and distress, you may wonder if you have acid indigestion or a peptic ulcer. Though not an actual disease, indigestion presents a group of symptoms that can be range in severity and make you quite uncomfortable. A peptic ulcer is a disease causing actual sores to develop within the stomach lining and the esophagus.


Symptoms of indigestion usually start with abdominal pain that begins above the navel, accompanied at times with burning at the top of the stomach. Less often, indigestion causes bloating of the stomach and nausea, according to the Mayo Clinic. Eating the wrong foods makes the pain worse.

Abdominal pain is also the primary symptom of a peptic ulcer. The pain increases with an empty stomach and typically becomes more severe at night. Eating may stop the pain temporarily. Less frequent symptoms include vomiting blood, dark blood appearing in stools or stools being tarry in color, weight loss or nausea.


Indigestion is caused by overeating, eating foods that are greasy, or eating chocolate, caffeine or carbonated drinks. Medications are sometimes responsible for indigestion, including antibiotics, aspirin and NSAIDs. Less common causes of indigestion include stomach cancer, gallstones or pancreatitis. Peptic ulcers are most often caused caused by bacterium called Helicobacter pylori, overuse of anti-inflammatory pain medications-both prescription or over-the-counter varieties and osteoporosis medications.


Determining if it is acid indigestion or a peptic ulcer takes the same general path. Your health care provider will take a medical history. He may also order several series of x-rays of your stomach, esophagus and small intestine. Some of the x-rays will be taken alone and others will require you to swallow a barium dye to outline any issues as the dye travels through your stomach.

When an ulcer is suspected you may also go through a scope test. You will be sedated and a lighted scope will be sent on a tube down your esophagus giving the tester a clear view of your esophagus and stomach lining. In addition, you may be asked to swallow a small amount of liquid containing carbon. You then blow into a bag, and if you have an ulcer, the bag will contain carbon dioxide.


Treatment for both conditions typically includes medication. For indigestion an anti-acid is recommended and can be purchased over the counter. Peptic ulcers are typically treated with antibiotics to eliminate the bacterium infection. You may also be prescribed an acid reduction medication and an acid blocker.

What you can Do

Your health care provider will recommend lifestyle changes for each condition. Whether you have acid indigestion or a peptic-ulcer, you will be told to stop smoking, eat small meals and reduce stress. If you have an ulcer, a reduction in the amount of anti-inflammatory medications or a switch to different medications will also be recommended.


Mayo Clinic: Indigestion

National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse: What I Need To Know About Peptic Ulcers