What's Causing Your Indigestion — And How to Treat It

TUESDAY, June 13, 2023 (HealthDay News) -- Indigestion, or dyspepsia, is a common ailment that can bring about a range of uncomfortable symptoms, leaving one feeling full and experiencing stomach pain.

It's a condition that affects many individuals and can significantly impact their quality of life. In this article, experts delve into the intricacies of indigestion, exploring its causes, symptoms and treatment options.

Additionally, they shed light on the distinction between indigestion and heartburn, offering clarity on these often confused terms.

What is dyspepsia (indigestion)?

Dyspepsia, commonly known as indigestion, is a collective term encompassing a range of gastrointestinal symptoms. According to the U.S. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), these symptoms typically manifest as pain, a burning sensation or general discomfort in the upper abdomen.

Heartburn vs. indigestion: What’s the difference?

Heartburn and indigestion are often used interchangeably to describe digestive discomfort, but they are distinct conditions with different underlying causes and symptoms. It's important to understand the difference between the two to address and manage the discomfort properly. While a burning sensation in the chest characterizes heartburn, indigestion refers to a broader set of gastrointestinal symptoms, including pain, bloating and a feeling of fullness.

“Acid reflux is a disorder of the lower esophageal sphincter that can cause various symptoms when it occurs,” Dr. F.P. “Tripp” Buckley III, surgical director of Digestive Health, a clinical partnership between UT Health Austin and Ascension Seton, said in a recent article. “Symptoms of acid reflux include a burning in your chest, known as heartburn, regurgitation, excessive belching and sour taste when acid and bile flow back up the esophagus and into your throat or mouth.”

On the other hand, indigestion “is a broad term that involves a variety of symptoms, and sometimes those symptoms may be related to other conditions,” Stephanie Doggett, a licensed physician assistant at Digestive Health, added. “If you are experiencing persistent indigestion, it is recommended that you speak with your doctor, providing a precise description of the discomfort you are experiencing so they can try to rule out any underlying conditions that may be causing your symptoms.”

What does indigestion feel like?

Cleveland Clinic explains that the abdomen houses the significant organs of the digestive system. Hence, any difficulties they encounter during their functions will likely be felt there. Indigestion symptoms typically manifest after meals, when the stomach is actively digesting.

Medical professionals concur on the common symptoms associated with indigestion, which include:

  • Epigastric pain. The epigastrium, located in the central upper abdominal region, is where the stomach is situated. Pain in this area is a common symptom of indigestion.

  • Burning sensation. The sensation of burning can arise from stomach acids, enzymes in the gastrointestinal tract or inflammation. It is another characteristic symptom experienced during indigestion.

  • Early or late-lasting satiety. Feeling full shortly after eating or experiencing prolonged fullness indicates that the stomach may be overwhelmed or struggling to process the consumed food.

What causes indigestion?

Understanding the underlying causes of indigestion is key to managing and preventing this common digestive issue. Various factors can trigger indigestion, ranging from lifestyle choices to underlying medical conditions.

According to the NIDDK, the causes of indigestion include:

  • Overeating or eating too quickly

  • Consuming fatty, greasy or spicy foods

  • Excessive consumption of caffeine, alcohol or carbonated beverages

  • Smoking or exposure to secondhand smoke

  • Stress, anxiety or emotional factors

  • Certain medications, such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), antibiotics or iron supplements

  • Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), where stomach acid flows back into the esophagus

  • Peptic ulcers, which are sores in the lining of the stomach or upper small intestine

  • Gallstones or inflammation of the gallbladder

  • Inflammation or infection in the stomach or pancreas

Indigestion symptoms

Experiencing gnawing pain in the stomach or indigestion pain in the chest can be distressing and indicative of underlying digestive issues. Recognizing the symptoms associated with indigestion is crucial for understanding and managing this common condition.

According to Mayo Clinic, the symptoms of indigestion (dyspepsia) may include:

  • A burning sensation or discomfort in the upper abdomen (heartburn)

  • Abdominal pain or discomfort, often described as a gnawing or dull ache

  • Feeling excessively full during or after meals

  • Nausea or recurrent vomiting

  • Belching or excessive gas (flatulence)

  • Bloating of the abdomen

  • A growling stomach or gurgling sounds

  • Regurgitation of food or a sour liquid (acid reflux)

  • A bitter or acidic taste in the mouth

  • Difficulty swallowing (dysphagia)

  • Feeling a lump in the throat

Indigestion treatment

Finding effective treatment for indigestion is essential for obtaining relief, improving overall digestive well-being and determining how to get rid of indigestion. Managing and alleviating indigestion symptoms is possible with indigestion medicine and lifestyle modifications.

The Mayo Clinic suggests the following treatments commonly recommended for indigestion relief:

  • Over-the-counter antacids. These medications can provide temporary relief by neutralizing stomach acid and are highly effective if you are trying to find out how to cure indigestion fast. Antacids can be helpful for individuals experiencing heartburn along with indigestion.

  • Medications to reduce acid production. H2 blockers, such as famotidine (Pepcid), and proton pump inhibitors (PPIs), such as omeprazole (Prilosec) or esomeprazole (Nexium), can be prescribed to decrease acid production and alleviate indigestion symptoms.

  • Prokinetics. These medications help improve the movement of food and nutrients through the digestive tract, aiding in proper digestion and reducing symptoms of indigestion.

  • Antibiotics. If a bacterial infection, such as Helicobacter pylori, is identified as the cause of indigestion, antibiotics may be prescribed to eradicate the infection.

  • Lifestyle modifications. Making changes in lifestyle and habits can significantly improve indigestion symptoms. For example, eat smaller, more frequent meals. Avoid trigger foods such as fatty or spicy foods, caffeine and alcohol. Manage stress through relaxation techniques and meditation, and maintain a healthy weight. Further, stop smoking, and avoid lying down or going to bed immediately after eating.

Speak with your primary care provider on the best way to seek indigestion relief

If you are experiencing symptoms of indigestion, having an open and honest conversation with your physician is crucial. Discussing your indigestion symptoms with a health care professional can give you a proper diagnosis and guidance on the most effective treatment options tailored to your needs.

Seeking comfort and relief from indigestion is attainable with the support and expertise of your physician, ensuring that you can regain control over your digestive well-being and improve your overall quality of life.

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