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Indigestion

Aria Health Center for Gynecology & Women's Health

Indigestion, also known as dyspepsia, is a feeling of pain or burning in the stomach-area of the abdomen. It is often 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.

Dyspepsia may be a brief, passing, and infrequent problem or it may be a chronic, lifetime disease. It may naturally fluctuate over many weeks or months.


Causes/risk factors

Causes of indigestion include the following:

  • overeating or eating foods that are difficult to digest;
  • stomach or duodenal ulcers;
  • stomach irritation (gastritis);
  • inflammation of the gallbladder (cholecystitis);
  • lactose intolerance (inability to digest lactose, a milk sugar, and dairy products);
  • irritable bowel syndrome and other disorders affecting intestinal motility;
  • swallowing air (aerophagia);
  • anxiety or depression;
  • medications that irritate the stomach lining;
  • smoking;
  • and drinking too much alcohol.


Signs & symptoms

The most common symptoms of indigestion are:

  • pain and discomfort in the stomach or upper abdomen;
  • belching and loud intestinal sounds (borborygmi);
  • nausea;
  • constipation;
  • regurgitation or reflux of acid from the stomach;
  • poor appetite;
  • diarrhea;
  • weakness and loss of energy;
  • and flatulence.


Diagnosis

Diagnosis starts with a physical examination and medical history. 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 or other GI studies are performed.


Treatment

Often, there are many lifestyle factors and habits that an indigestion sufferer can alter to help with indigestion. Avoiding foods and situations that can cause indigestion is one of the most successful ways to treat the problem. Avoiding heavy or rich meals, or heavy use of alcohol, and especially both together, is recommended. Avoiding such consumption late at night and before bedtime is also recommended.

While many persons feel antacids may help, indigestion is not the result of stomach acid. Smokers may be advised to quit smoking or avoid smoking before meals. Stress reduction can be helpful. 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 stomach movement problems in the digestive system, medications that treat this may be prescribed. Treatments for related psychological symptoms may also be relevant.