Most people suffer from indigestion from time to time. Indigestion is the feeling of fullness or burning in your chest that occurs while you’re eating or a few hours afterwards.  It may be an occasional problem due to overindulgence, perhaps after a large or spicy meal.  But for some, it’s a regular annoyance.  How can we avoid it, and when should we worry?

Indigestion, Heartburn, and GERD

Indigestion (also known as dyspepsia or upset stomach) is a vague feeling of discomfort and pain in the upper abdomen and chest, including a feeling of fullness and bloating, accompanied by belching and nausea.

Occasionally, heartburn is one of the symptoms of indigestion.  Heartburn is felt when stomach acid comes up through the lower esophageal sphincter (LES) that links your esophagus to your stomach. This causes a burning sensation in your chest or throat. When you feel the taste in the back of your mouth it may be called acid indigestion.

Heartburn that occurs more than twice a week may be considered Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD).

What are the symptoms of Indigestion?

While Indigestion is not a disease, each person may experience Indigestion in a slightly different way.  Symptoms of indigestion may be felt occasionally or as often as daily and include:

  • Early fullness during a meal. You haven’t eaten much of your meal, but you already feel full and may not be able to finish eating.
  • Uncomfortable fullness after a meal. Fullness lasts longer than it should.
  • Discomfort in the upper abdomen. You feel a mild to severe pain in the area between the bottom of your breastbone and your navel.
  • Burning in the upper abdomen. You feel an uncomfortable heat or burning sensation between the bottom of your breastbone and your navel.
  • Bloating in the upper abdomen. You feel an uncomfortable sensation of tightness.
  • You feel as though you want to vomit.
  • Burping & flatulence
  • Vomiting and belching are less frequent symptoms.

What causes Indigestion?

Indigestion has many possible causes. Often, indigestion is related to lifestyle and may be triggered by food, drink or medication.

Common causes of indigestion include:

  • Overeating or eating too quickly
  • Fatty, greasy or spicy foods
  • Too much caffeine, alcohol, chocolate or carbonated beverages
  • Smoking
  • Anxiety
  • Certain antibiotics, pain relievers and iron supplements

Sometimes indigestion is caused by other digestive conditions, including:

  • Gastritis
  • Peptic ulcers
  • Celiac disease
  • Gallstones
  • Constipation
  • Pancreas inflammation (pancreatitis)
  • Stomach cancer
  • Intestinal blockage
  • Reduced blood flow in the intestine (intestinal ischemia)

Indigestion with no obvious cause is known as functional or nonulcer dyspepsia.

When Should You See a Doctor?

Mild indigestion is usually nothing to worry about. Consult your doctor if discomfort persists for more than two weeks. Contact your doctor right away if pain is severe or accompanied by:

  • Unintentional weight loss or loss of appetite
  • Repeated vomiting or vomiting with blood
  • Black, tarry stools
  • Trouble swallowing that gets progressively worse
  • Fatigue or weakness, which may indicate anaemia

Seek immediate medical attention if you have:

  • Shortness of breath, sweating or chest pain radiating to the jaw, neck or arm
  • Chest pain on exertion or with stress

Getting a Diagnosis

Because indigestion is such a broad term, it’s helpful to give your doctor a precise idea of how you’re feeling.  Be specific about where in your belly you usually feel pain or bloating.  Your doctor is likely to start with a health history and a thorough physical examination.  These evaluations may be sufficient if your indigestion is mild and you’re not experiencing certain symptoms, such as weight loss and repeated vomiting.

But if your indigestion began suddenly, and you are experiencing severe symptoms or are older than age 55, your doctor may recommend:

  • Laboratory tests, to check for thyroid problems or other metabolic disorders.
  • Breath and stool tests, to check for Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori), the bacterium associated with peptic ulcers, which can cause indigestion. H. pylori testing is controversial because studies suggest limited benefit from treating the bacterium.
  • Endoscopy, to check for abnormalities in your upper digestive tract. A tissue sample (biopsy) may be taken for analysis.
  • Imaging tests (X-ray or CT scan), to check for intestinal obstruction.

If initial testing fails to provide a cause, your doctor may diagnose functional dyspepsia.

Treatment of Indigestion

You might not need any treatment at all. Indigestion often goes away on its own after a few hours. Should you need treatment over-the-counter antacids are generally the first choice.

If however your indigestion persists, medications may help.

What you can do on our own to ease your symptoms

  • Try not to chew with your mouth open, talk while you chew, or eat too fast. This makes you swallow too much air, which can add to indigestion.
  • Eat smaller meals throughout the day.
  • Avoid spicy, fatty foods that can trigger heartburn.
  • Drink beverages after rather than during meals.
  • If overweight then weight loss is important
  • Try to relax after meals.
  • If you smoke, quit.
  • Cut back on alcohol.
  • Watch your posture while you eat – eating in a slumping position can interfere with digestion
  • Don’t exercise with a full stomach. Do it before a meal or at least 1 hour after you eat.
  • Don’t lie down right after you’ve eaten.
  • Wait at least 3 hours after your last meal of the day before you go to bed.
  • Raise the top of your bed so that your head and chest are higher than your feet. You can do this by placing 6-inch blocks under the top bedposts. Don’t use piles of pillows to achieve the same goal. You’ll only put your head at an angle that can increase pressure on your stomach and make heartburn worse.

If the above measures do not help, call your Doctor

The good news is that with the proper treatment and the correct medications what can seem like a very disruptive effect on your lifestyle can usually be brought under control quite easily.  In addition by taking care of your lifestyle and eating habits you can also contribute greatly towards reducing the advent and the symptoms of indigestion from interfering with your daily life.

Doctors- on- Call, your house-call doctor service, are able to diagnose and treat digestive disorders like indigestion, heartburn and gastroesophageal reflux disease.  It is a good idea to have a ‘house call doctor’ like Doctor-on-Call number at hand, especially if you are suffering from some of the more severe symptoms discussed above.  Timeous and effective diagnoses and treatment of symptoms can have major positive lifestyle changing effects and can also result in the early detection of any serious conditions.