Treatments For Indigestion

Indigestion, also known as upset stomach or dyspepsia, is a painful or burning feeling in the upper abdomen, often accompanied by nausea, abdominal bloating, belching, and sometimes vomiting.

Indigestion might be caused by a disease or an ulcer in the digestive tract, but for most people, it results from eating too much, eating too quickly, eating high-fat foods, or eating during stressful situations. Smoking, drinking too much alcohol, using medications that irritate the stomach lining, being tired, and having ongoing stress can also cause indigestion or make it worse.

Bloating can result from excessive gas in the digestive system, failure of the digestive tract to sustain youthful peristaltic contractions, and a lack of sufficient quantities of digestive enzymes and bile acids required to rapidly break down food . Intestinal gas results from food fermentation and from swallowing air while eating. The bloating from intestinal gas is different from that which occurs in the colon.

Some people have persistent indigestion that is not related to any of these factors. This type of indigestion--called functional or nonulcer indigestion--is caused by a problem in how food moves through the digestive tract.

The effect of the shift in our diets during the last hundred years has resulted in 44% of Americans and Canadians being afflicted with heartburn; peptic ulcer disease appears in 5% of the population and nonulcer dyspepsia plagues between 20 and 40% of Americans.

Dyspepsia is extremely common, but tends to come and go in spurts. There is no difference between the percentage of men and women that are affected by this condition. Up to 10 percent of the population will experience the new onset of dyspeptic symptoms each year, while approximately one-third of patients lose their symptoms over time. Dyspepsia is a waxing and waning phenomenon with symptoms occurring regularly for up to months at a time followed by long intervals without symptoms. Precise quantification of the prevalence of dyspepsia is limited because only about half of the population seek medical care and many patients medicate themselves with over-the-counter therapies.

To diagnose indigestion, the doctor first rules out other problems, like ulcers. In the process of diagnosis, a person may have x-rays of the stomach and small intestine or undergo endoscopy, in which the doctor uses an instrument to look closely at the inside of the stomach.

Avoiding the foods and situations that seem to cause indigestion is the most successful way to treat it. Excess stomach acid does not cause or result from indigestion, so antacids are not an appropriate treatment, although some people report that they do help. Smokers can help relieve their indigestion by quitting smoking, or at least not smoking right before eating. Exercising with a full stomach may cause indigestion, so scheduling exercise before a meal or at least an hour afterward might help.

To treat indigestion caused by a functional problem in the digestive tract, the doctor may prescribe medicine that affects stomach movement.

Because indigestion can be a sign of or mimic a more serious disease, people should see a doctor if they have:

  • Vomiting, weight loss, or appetite loss.
  • Black tarry stools or blood in vomit.
  • Severe pain in the upper right abdomen.
  • Discomfort unrelated to eating.
  • Indigestion accompanied by shortness of breath, sweating, or pain radiating to the jaw, neck, or arm.
Discuss It!