Just indigestion? Or something more sinister? The dark side of dyspepsia

Written by: Dr Michael Mendall
Published: | Updated: 07/09/2023
Edited by: Cal Murphy

Indigestion, or dyspepsia is often little more than discomfort brought on by acid reflux or IBS. However, there can be other causes of these aches and pains in the region of your tummy, and some of them are not to be dismissed lightly. Expert gastroenterologist Dr Michael Mendall explains:

5 other conditions that can cause feelings of indigestion:

Pain from the gall bladder, pancreas, and kidney can all cause the sensation of dyspepsia. Worryingly, so can certain types of cancer.

  • Gallbladder – pain starts suddenly and lasts for a few hours. It may be felt it in the back as well. Pain in the gallbladder can be so severe that you feel you need to go to hospital – this could be gallstones.
  • Pancreas – you might typically feel pain in that area, or the back.
  • Kidney stones – pain occurs on one side of the body. Very severe.
  • The pain from all types of intra-abdominal cancer can be mistaken for indigestion, but the pain gets worse and worse over time. “Indigestion” + weight loss – indicates a serious problem.
  • Chest pain


Can indigestion cause chest pain?

Chest pain can be a symptom of indigestion, but it’s important if you’re of a certain age not to confuse it with pain from the heart. In general, the pain of dyspepsia will come after eating; heart pain will come after exercise, particularly if you’re a man over 40. Pain from the heart is a crushing heavy pain, radiating down the arm. It can be similar if the gut goes into spasm.


Indigestion or out-digestion?

A lot of people think that indigestion is related to the stomach, gullet or bowel but in fact, in older people, other abdominal problems can manifest, including different sorts of intra-abdominal cancer. A lot of people referred with indigestion, suspected of having cancer found that they were just as likely to have cancer outside the digestive tract, e.g. the pancreas, kidney, etc. as inside.

If you experience indigestion for the first time after the age of 45-50, it lasts more than a couple of weeks, gets worse and worse, and if you develop a problem swallowing, you could have a serious health problem. You should see your doctor or a specialist. 


To schedule a consultation with Dr Mendall, visit his Top Doctors profile today. 

By Dr Michael Mendall

Dr Michael Mendall is a renowned London-based gastroenterologist who specialises in conditions such as liver disease, acid reflux, irritable bowel syndrome, inflammatory bowel disease, as well as indigestion but to mention a few. He was first appointed as a consultant gastroenterologist at Croydon University Hospital in 1995, and, in the same year, as a senior lecturer at St George's Medical School.

He qualified from none other than Cambridge University in 1982 before going on to successfully complete studies in the medical field at the renowned Middlesex Hospital in 1985, completing both with distinction. He has made a number of important contributions to his field of expertise. He is internationally recognised with nearly 100 peer reviewed publications. He was the first to show that Helicobacter pylori infection of the stomach is mainly caught in childhood, and, more recently, was the first to show that obesity can be a cause of Crohn's disease. He possesses an extensive amount of knowledge and experience with regards to performing upper GI endoscopy and colonoscopy, oesophageal manometary, as well as duodenal and biliary stenting. 

To-date, Dr Mendall has written extensively on the role of diet in Crohn's, about IBS, the treatment of dyspepsia and reflux and Helicobacter pylori infection. He is currently the lead for gastroenterology at Croydon University Hospital, as well as a senior lecturer at St George's Medical School. Dr Mendall, who is also a member of various medical organisations, was named one of the top UK consultants in the Tatler Guide 2013. 

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