Indigestion (dyspepsia)

What is indigestion?

Indigestion, also medically referred to as dyspepsia, is a pain in the upper abdomen that occurs particularly after eating. It’s a very common condition that can be alleviated by taking medication to reduce heartburn and protect the stomach. Sometimes, indigestion is related to stress, alcohol consumption, smoking, consuming too many high-fat foods or eating too quickly. The discomfort felt from indigestion can be alleviated if healthy habits are acquired.

Man holds chest as he struggles with indigestion.

Prognosis of indigestion

The prognosis of indigestion is most often positive and without major consequences. However, in many cases, it evolves into a chronic disease and may appear and disappear intermittently over the years. On rare occasions, it originates from serious diseases with a negative prognosis.

Symptoms of indigestion

The most common symptom is discomfort in the upper abdomen, which usually manifests during or after meals. This pain can be described as a warm or burning sensation in the area between the navel and the lower part of the sternum. In addition, to the sensation of annoying swelling at the beginning of meals or after. These discomforts aren’t related to gastric acidity since it’s symptoms usually begin in the chest and can be transmitted to the neck or throat.

Medical tests to diagnose indigestion

When diagnosing indigestion, specialists resort to two tests:

  • Abdominal ultrasound. Ultrasound waves are used to visualise and study the abdomen.
  • Gastrointestinal endoscopy. This examination is performed to obtain images of the oesophagus, stomach and duodenum to detect and identify if there are any injuries.

What are the causes of indigestion

There is great general uncertainty about the exact causes of dyspepsia. In some cases, the symptoms occur after a large meal or having taken medications that cause some damage to the gastric mucosa, specifically via taking too many aspirin or anti-inflammatory drugs. Some psychological problems such as stress, anxiety or depression can be triggers. There are cases in which patients suffer an ulcer in the stomach in the area of ​​the duodenum, mostly caused by a bacterium called Helicobacter pylori.

The most common causes of dyspepsia are:

  • Excessive alcohol consumption
  • Eating spicy or greasy foods
  • Eating large quantities of food in a short time frame
  • Smoking tobacco
  • Eating foods with high fibre content
  • Excessive consumption of caffeine

Can it be prevented?

There are some habits that can help to prevent the condition such as avoiding stress and exercise immediately after eating and chewing food well. In patients who have previously suffered episodes of indigestion, it’s advisable to avoid taking some medications such as acetylsalicylic acid and some anti-inflammatories on an empty stomach. Speak to your specialist for individual advice.

Treatments for indigestion

There are various types of treatments that the specialist may indicate:

  • Diet. In many cases, patients have symptoms related to food intake. Therefore the doctor may advise that low-fat and low-calorie meals are more regularly consumed, and in small portions.
  • Antibiotics. In cases where the bacterium known as Helicobacter pylori is the cause, the specialist will prescribe antibiotics in order to eliminate them.

Which type of specialist treats indigestion?

Doctors who specialize in digestive diseases, such as gastroenterologists, treat indigestion.

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