Indigestion, also known as dyspepsia, is a painful or burning feeling in the upper abdomen and is usually accompanied by nausea, bloating or gas, a feeling of fullness, and, sometimes, vomiting. While indigestion may be the result of a disease or an ulcer in the digestive tract, most often it is the result of eating too much, eating too quickly, eating high-fat foods, or eating during stressful situations.
Some causes of indigestion may include the following:
Stomach or duodenal ulcers
Stomach irritation (gastritis)
Regurgitation or reflux of acid from the stomach into the esophagus
Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) infection
Inflammation of the gallbladder (cholecystitis)
Lactose intolerance (inability to digest lactose, a sugar found in milk and other dairy products)
Irritable bowel syndrome and other disorders affecting intestinal motility
Swallowing air (aerophagia)
Anxiety or depression
Medications that irritate the stomach lining
Drinking too much alcohol
The following are the most common symptoms of indigestion. However, each individual may experience symptoms differently. Symptoms may include:
Pain and discomfort in the upper abdomen
Belching and loud intestinal sounds (borborygmi)
The symptoms of indigestion may resemble other medical conditions or problems. Always consult your health care provider for a diagnosis.
If the indigestion is accompanied by vomiting, weight loss or appetite loss, black tarry stools, blood in the vomit, severe pain in the upper right abdomen, shortness of breath, sweating, radiating pain to the jaw, neck, or arm, or difficult, painful swallowing, it may be an indication of a more serious problem. Contact your health care provider immediately.
Often the diagnosis is made based on physical examination. However, because indigestion can be a sign of more serious medical problems, often laboratory examinations and X-rays of the stomach and small intestine are performed to rule out other problems. Sometimes, endoscopy is also performed.
Specific treatment for indigestion will be determined by your doctor based on:
Your age, overall health, and medical history
Extent of the condition
Your tolerance of specific medicines, procedures, or therapies
Expectations for the course of the condition
Your opinion or preference
Medications such as antacids, H2 receptor antagonists, proton pump inhibitors, antibiotics, and prokinetics
Avoiding foods, medications, and situations that can cause indigestion is one of the most successful ways to treat the problem. Smokers are advised to quit smoking or at least to avoid smoking before meals. Also, exercising after a meal can be a cause of indigestion, so scheduling exercise before a meal, or waiting at least an hour after eating, can also help prevent indigestion.
If indigestion is caused by motility or movement problems in the digestive system that prevent the stomach from emptying properly, medications to treat this may be prescribed.