Saanichton, BC

Dr. Miguel A. Lipka

Indigestion

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Indigestion, also known as dyspepsia, is a term used to describe one or more symptoms including a feeling of fullness during a meal, uncomfortable fullness after a meal, and burning or pain in the upper abdomen.

Indigestion is common in adults and can occur once in a while or as often as every day.

Indigestion can be caused by a condition in the digestive tract such as:

  • Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
  • Peptic ulcer disease
  • Cancer
  • Abnormality of the pancreas or bile ducts

If the underlying condition improves or resolves, the symptoms of indigestion usually improve.

Sometimes a person has indigestion for which a cause cannot be found. This type of indigestion, called functional dyspepsia, is thought to occur in the area where the stomach meets the small intestine. The indigestion may be related to abnormal motility—the squeezing or relaxing action—of the stomach muscle as it receives, digests, and moves food into the small intestine.

Most people with indigestion experience more than one of the following symptoms:

  • Fullness during a meal. The person feels overly full soon after the meal starts and cannot finish the meal.
  • Bothersome fullness after a meal. The person feels overly full after a meal—it may feel like the food is staying in the stomach too long.
  • Epigastric pain. The epigastric area is between the lower end of the chest bone and the navel. The person may experience epigastric pain ranging from mild to severe.
  • Epigastric burning. The person feels an unpleasant sensation of heat in the epigastric area.

Other, less frequent symptoms that may occur with indigestion are nausea and bloating—an unpleasant tightness in the stomach. Nausea and bloating could be due to causes other than indigestion.

Because indigestion can be a sign of a more serious condition, people should see a doctor right away if they experience:

  • Frequent vomiting
  • Blood in vomit
  • Weight loss or loss of appetite
  • Black tarry stools
  • Difficult or painful swallowing
  • Abdominal pain in a nonepigastric area
  • Indigestion accompanied by shortness of breath, sweating, or pain that radiates to the jaw, neck, or arm
  • Symptoms that persist for more than 2 weeks

Some people may experience relief from symptoms of indigestion by:

  • Eating several small, low-fat meals throughout the day at a slow pace
  • Refraining from smoking
  • Abstaining from consuming coffee, carbonated beverages, and alcohol
  • Stopping use of medications that may irritate the stomach lining—such as aspirin or anti-inflammatory drugs
  • Getting enough rest
  • Finding ways to decrease emotional and physical stress, such as relaxation therapy or yoga

The doctor may recommend over-the-counter antacids or medications that reduce acid production or help the stomach move food more quickly into the small intestine. Many of these medications can be purchased without a prescription. Antacids, such as Alka-Seltzer, Maalox, Mylanta, Rolaids, and Riopan, are usually the first drugs recommended to relieve symptoms of indigestion. H2 receptor antagonists (H2RAs) treat symptoms of indigestion by reducing stomach acid. They work longer than but not as quickly as antacids. Proton pump inhibitors (PPIs), which are stronger than H2RAs, also treat indigestion symptoms by reducing stomach acid. PPIs are most effective in treating symptoms of indigestion in people who also have GERD. Prokinetics may be helpful for people who have a problem with the stomach emptying too slowly.