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What is indigestion?

Indigestion is a common problem that most people will experience at some time. Indigestion is also called dyspepsia, usually by doctors. Indigestion causes an unpleasant pain or discomfort in the chest or stomach area. In most cases its usually mild and doesn’t cause many problems but some people can suffer frequent bouts of indigestion and this can affect their quality of life.

What causes indigestion?

Indigestion is usually caused by eating, either eating too fast, too much or eating foods that disagree with you (spicy or acidic foods, alcohol and caffeine are common irritants). When you eat the stomach produces acid which helps to digest food and this can irritate the stomach lining, top part of the bowel or the oesophagus. Indigestion can be made worse by many factors, these include:

  • Medication known as NSAIDs, such as aspirin and ibuprofen, which regularly taken can affect your digestive tract.
  • Being overweight or obese will encourage digestion as there is increased pressure inside the stomach, particularly after a large meal.
  • Pregnancy this can be due to the growing womb pressing on the stomach in later pregnancy and by hormonal changes.
  • Smoking and alcohol
  • Stress
  • Hiatus Hernia this occurs when part of the stomach pushes up through a hole in the diaphragm.
  • GORD or acid reflux for more information on GORD click here.
  • Stomach ulcers and H.pylori infection – for more information on ulcers and H.pylori click here.

Some people might experience regular indigestion but the cause is unknown, this is called functional dyspepsia.

What are the symptoms of indigestion?

Symptoms of indigestion usually occur soon after eating or drinking and may include the following:

  • A pain or uncomfortable feeling in the upper tummy and abdomen.
  • Bloated, feeling of being full.
  • Sickness, just feeling sick or being sick.
  • Burping
  • Passing wind

Indigestion can be made worse at times of stress.

What is the diagnosis of indigestion?

You can usually treat indigestion yourself with over the counter remedies and there is no reason to see your doctor. Antacids such as Tums or Rennie can help reduce some of the symptoms. You should however see your doctor if you are over 55, you have experienced weight loss, have difficulty swallowing, persistent vomiting or vomiting blood, or the symptoms are persistent or severe.

If you do go to see your doctor they are likely to discuss your symptoms and any medications you are on.  Your doctor may also examine your stomach and they might then want to carry out further tests. These tests can include blood tests, urine tests, x-rays or ultrasound.  You may also need an endoscopy, this is when a thin tube is passed down your oesophagus so they can examine you internally.

What is the treatment for indigestion?

The treatment of indigestion will depend greatly on the cause. Most people can manage indigestion themselves by simply making lifestyle changes. You can also take an antacid, these are available over the counter. Antacids work by neutralising the stomach acid and some will also help form a protective layer. If your symptoms are persistent or recurring your doctor might recommend you take PPIs (proton pump inhibitors) these work by restricting the acid the stomach produces. Your doctor might also suggest a medication such as ranitidine, known as H2-receptor antagonists. These work by decreasing the acidity level in the stomach. For more information on ranitidine or to purchase click here.

What can I do to prevent indigestion?

Some simple tips to prevent indigestion includes eating slowly and at regular intervals. Avoid excessive use of NSAIDs, stick to a healthy diet and cut back on alcohol consumption. Regular exercise can also help reduce indigestion. Don’t lie down too soon after eating and avoid eating too late at night. If you are overweight then try to lose weight. It might help for you to keep a food diary to help you identify the cause or trigger.

What are the long-term effects of indigestion?

Indigestion itself rarely causes any long-term problems. If problems develop it is usually down to the cause of indigestion, for example a stomach ulcer or reflux.