OverviewKey FactsSymptomsCausesRisk factorsDiagnosisCelebs affectedPreventionSpecialist to visitTreatmentHome-careComplicationsAlternatives therapiesLiving withFAQsReferences
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Indigestion

Indigestion

Also known as Dyspepsia, Abdominal Discomfort, Stomach Upset

Overview

A sensation of pain or discomfort in the upper abdominal region accompanied by a feeling of fullness, bloating, and flatulence is known as indigestion or dyspepsia. Some of the common causes of indigestion include sedentary lifestyle, eating habits, certain medications, and some gastrointestinal illnesses like GERD.


In most cases, indigestion can be controlled by making simple lifestyle changes such as taking a physical activity, balanced healthy diet and consuming alcohol and carbonated beverages in moderation. If lifestyle measures fail to improve the condition, then the use of over-the-counter (OTC) medications like antacids are suggested to improve indigestion. Prescription drugs like prokinetics and antibiotics may also be advised to treat the underlying cause of indigestion.


If indigestion becomes a chronic problem and/or is accompanied by other symptoms such as diarrhea, vomiting, blood in the stools, severe abdominal pain, or chest pain, it is essential to seek prompt medical care.

Key Facts

Usually seen in
  • Adults above 25 years of age
Gender affected
  • Both men and women but more common in women
Body part(s) involved
  • Stomach

  • Large intestine

  • Small intestine

  • Oesophagus

Prevalence
  • Worldwide: 10 - 30% (2018)



Mimicking Conditions
  • Esophagitis
  • Gastritis
  • GERD
  • Esophageal Spasm
  • Gastrointestinal Malignancy
Specialists to consult
  • Gastroenterologists
  • General physician

Symptoms Of Indigestion

Indigestion refers to a sensation of pain or discomfort in the upper abdominal region. It is not a disease in itself but instead presents as a group of symptoms seen in certain gastrointestinal diseases.

 

You may be suffering from indigestion if you have the following symptoms -

  • Feeling full too soon while eating meals

  • A sensation of bloating in the abdomen

  • Abdominal cramps

  • Pain along the sides of the stomach

  • Burning sensation in the stomach or upper abdomen

  • Hyperacidity

  • Nausea and vomiting

  • Growling or grinding sounds in the stomach

  • Acidic taste in the mouth

  • Burping or belching up stomach contents 

  • Flatulence

 

Seek medical attention in the following conditions:

  •  Unintentional weight loss or loss of appetite
  •  Repeated vomiting or vomiting with blood
  • Black, tarry stools
  • Trouble swallowing that gets progressively worse
  • Fatigue or weakness, which may indicate anemia

 

Causes Of Indigestion

Many factors can cause Indigestion such as -

Lifestyle and dietary factors

  • Consuming excess alcohol, caffeinated beverages, and carbonated beverages irritate the stomach and cause indigestion.

  • Eating larger meals that are fried, spicy, or salty also causes stomach upset.

  • Eating stale and undercooked food.

  • Excessive smoking also irritates the stomach and causes indigestion

  • Leading a sedentary lifestyle

  • Overeating or eating too quickly

  • Being stressed or overly anxious most of the time

Gastrointestinal diseases

Many gastrointestinal diseases cause an upset stomach, such as -

  • GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease): It causes the contents of the stomach to hurl back into the esophagus and cause symptoms like heartburn and dyspepsia (indigestion).

  • Gastroparesis: It is a condition in which the stomach is not able to empty itself due to affected motility of the stomach. This leads to the sensation of fullness and bloating.

  • Irritable bowel syndrome: It is a condition that affects the absorption of food from the intestines and can cause indigestion.

  • Celiac disease: In this condition, the body abnormally reacts to gluten, a protein found in grains such as wheat and barley.

  • Malabsorption syndrome: It is a condition in which the small intestine is not able to absorb nutrients from the food and body.

  • Gastrointestinal infections: It can cause acute inflammation in the gastrointestinal tract, known as gastritis or gastroenteritis. These may be caused by a variety of microorganisms. 

  • Chronic pancreatitis: It can often cause bloating, flatulence, and indigestion.

  • Gastric cancers: They are a rare condition but could be a probable cause of indigestion.

Medications

Certain medications like NSAID painkillers, antibiotics like fluoroquinolones  tetracycline, iron and potassium supplements, cardiovascular drugs like digitalis, etc., can irritate the gastric lining and cause hyperacidity, bloating, or indigestion.

Functional dyspepsia

This type of indigestion with no apparent cause is chronic and can last for more than 6 months. It is not associated with stool irregularities either.

 

Other conditions

Sometimes indigestion is caused by other conditions such as:

  • Gallstones
  • Constipation
  • Reduced blood flow in the intestine (intestinal ischemia)
  • Diabetes
  • Thyroid disease
  • Pregnancy

 

Risk Factors For Indigestion

Indigestion is a very common condition that affects people of all ages and sex. The incidence of indigestion is found to be higher among 

  • Smokers

  • Alcoholics

  • Frequent use of NSAIDs/painkillers

  • Individuals who have suffered from H. Pylori infection

Diagnosis Of Indigestion

A single episode of indigestion is not a cause for concern and requires no further evaluation. However, if indigestion is recurrent, accompanied by other troublesome symptoms, and interferes with the person’s daily life and activities, lab investigations and imaging studies may be needed to establish the cause of indigestion.

Laboratory tests

Laboratory tests play a limited role in the evaluation of indigestion. Complete hemogram, Lipid profile plus, and liver function test may give an insight into the general health of the patients. Breath test and stool examination R/M may be performed to check for the presence of Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori), the bacterium associated with peptic ulcers and also to find out any disease association, which can cause indigestion.

Imaging studies

  • X-Ray abdomen - helps visualize the internal organs of the abdomen and looks for the presence of obstruction or as part barium swallow testing.

  • USG Abdomen, Dual Phase CT Abdomen - to visualize the internal organs of the abdomen in greater detail and diagnose any abnormalities

  • Barium Meal Follow Through, Barium Swallow - for this study, the patient is made to swallow a drink that has barium in it, followed by taking x-rays of the digestive tract. This helps identify any abnormalities of the esophagus, stomach, or intestines.

  • A gastric emptying scan helps check the time taken by food particles to pass from the stomach to the intestines and can help identify reduced gastric motility.

  • Endoscopy, Colonoscopy - these are invasive tests in which a probe is inserted via the mouth (endoscopy) or the rectum (colonoscopy) to visualize the inner structures of the digestive tract in real-time.

Celebs affected

Bill Clinton
Former US president Bill Clinton has revealed that he was suffering from acid reflux during his stay in the White House

Prevention Of Indigestion

Although indigestion is a very common occurrence, certain lifestyle modifications can help prevent the condition as follows: . 

  1. Eat fresh, home-cooked food, which is simple and easy to digest. Avoid eating fried and spicy food.

  2. Eat smaller portions throughout the day rather than consuming large meals at once.

  3. Limit the consumption of aerated beverages and caffeinated beverages.

  4. Quit smoking and consumption of alcohol.

  5. Avoid taking medications, such as NSAID painkillers, antibiotics, etc., for a longer duration than prescribed.

  6. Perform light exercises, such as walking, after consuming heavy meals to help with the digestion process.

  7. Drink plenty of water and fluids throughout the day.

  8. Do not consume foods that cause allergies. 

 

Indigestion is often neglected by many people as they consider it as a common issue which does not require much attention. That may be right to some extent as an occasional episode of indigestion is mostly harmless and can be fixed easily by simple home remedies. Here are some: Indian remedies to treat indigestion naturally.

Specialist To Visit

You must visit a doctor if indigestion becomes a chronic problem and/or is accompanied by one or more of the following symptoms:

  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Blood in the stools
  • Change in the color or frequency of stools
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Severe abdominal pain
  • Chest pain
In order to diagnose and treat the symptoms of indigestion, you need to visit:

  • General physician
  • Gastroenterologist

Treatment Of Indigestion

The treatment of indigestion aims to provide relief from symptoms and treat the underlying cause.

Symptomatic relief

  • Digestive enzymes and probiotics help relieve the symptoms of indigestion and improve the body’s digestive system. 

  • OTC preparations for gas, acidity and indigestion help provide immediate symptom relief.

Treatment of underlying cause

If symptoms of gas are due to an underlying cause, it is necessary to treat the causative condition to provide complete relief.

Home Care For Indigestion

Most often, symptoms of indigestion, such as abdominal pain, flatulence, or bloating can be managed at home with simple home remedies and lifestyle changes. Here is a list of things to follow in order to reduce indigestion-related problems:

  • Take OTC preparations to help with faster relief of symptoms.

  • Perform mild exercise, such as walking, as it helps with digestion and reduces bloating.

  • Gently massage the abdomen to reduce abdominal cramps and bloating.

  • Modify your diet by increasing the consumption of fiber-rich foods, such as fresh fruits and vegetables. Also, reduce the intake of fatty, spicy foods that are prime cause of indigestion.

  • Limit the consumption of alcohol, aerated, and caffeinated beverages.

  • Modify or reduce the use of medications, such as NSAIDs or painkillers.

Ginger, yoghurt, and papaya can fight indigestion
You can prevent indigestion from worsening if you avoid foods such as caffeine, high-fat diets, alcohol, and spicy foods. On the other hand, including certain foods in your diet like ginger, papaya, and yoghurt can help you to improve digestion and fight indigestion. Here is a list of few other foods you must include in the diet to fight digestive problems

Complications Of Indigestion

Indigestion does not cause any major complications on its own. The underlying disease, however, may worsen and cause health complications like:

 

  • Ulceration and bleeding in the gastrointestinal tract due to worsening of GERD and peptic ulcer disease

  • Malnutrition due to the inability of the body to absorb nutrients

  • Increased risk of gastrointestinal cancers

  • Intestinal obstruction

 

Alternative Therapies Of Indigestion

Apart from prescription medications and OTC preparations, there are alternative therapies that may help provide relief from chronic indigestion, such as -

Diet modifications

Diet rich in fresh fruits and vegetables can help benefit in relieving the symptoms of indigestion. Along with that, limiting the consumption of spicy foods, fatty foods, and foods that cause allergies helps improve the overall health of the digestive system. It is advisable to eat smaller portions throughout the day instead of eating larger meals all at one go. Also, to prevent indigestion, it is recommended to have a minimum gap of 2 hours between dinner and sleep time. Early dinner, followed by a short distance walk can aid digestion and also help you sleep better.

Exercise and yoga

 

Light exercises can help reduce abdominal discomfort, provide relief from symptoms, and improve digestion. You can do walking, simple whole body movements, light stretching, and Yoga Asanas. Paschimottanasana, Supta Baddha Konasana, Vajrasana, Pawanmuktasana are some yoga asanas suggested for digestive health.

Massage therapy

Gentle abdominal massage may help ease abdominal cramps and provide relief from constipation. You can massage your abdomen gently in circular movements, while lying down. Be careful not to exert heavy pressure as it may cause harm to the internal organs.

Ayurveda

Ayurveda suggests that indigestion or Ajirna Rog is caused when food is consumed without self-restraint. Bio cleansing therapies like Shodhana Chikitsa and Shamana Chikitsa help manage indigestion.

 

Natural herbs and spices, such as cinnamon, carom seeds, cumin seeds, ginger, asafoetida, fenugreek, etc., help build a strong digestive system and provide relief from flatulence and belching. You can use these herbs and spices in your meal preparations or even consume small quantities directly. Taking a pinch of asafoetida or carom seeds after a heavy meal or sucking on a piece of ginger candy or cinnamon stick can improve digestion. Medicinal preparations like Lahsunadi Vati and Hingavastaka Churna also help reduce indigestion.

Amla juice is good for indigestion
Amla juice not only helps in indigestion but also acts as an effective remedy in relieving acidity and heartburn. Take 15-20ml of amla juice and add equal amounts of water. Drink this amla juice every morning on an empty stomach for a healthy gut. Click here for more ayurvedic remedies for indigestion.

Living With Indigestion

Chronic indigestion may impose a lot of dietary restrictions for a patient. The person may not be able to enjoy or occasionally binge on fast foods or snacks. They may need to completely avoid eating food items if they suffer from any allergies such as lactose intolerance. 

 

Chronic indigestion may also cause problems such malnutrition as the patient may avoid eating meals. An acute episode of indigestion may leave the patient extremely weak and fatigued. If suffering from severe symptoms of indigestion such as prolonged nausea, excessive vomiting or diarrhoea, severe stomach cramping, etc., medical care must be sought promptly.

 

Additionally, here are a few tips which can help people with functional dyspepsia:

  •  Your busy schedule rarely gives you a chance to relish your meals, making you eat fast and swallow without chewing thoroughly. Make sure to eat slowly and chew your food properly.
  • Always have your dinner 3 hours prior to bedtime. 
  • Ensure you take a small walk before climbing to bed.
  • Drink 1-2 liters of water throughout the day. This will dilute the acid in your tummy and help in better digestion.
  • Include a lot of fresh fruits and vegetables in your diet.
  • Get your daily dose of sleep because lack of sleep is also a key risk factor for stomach problems such as indigestion.

 

Frequently Asked Questions

References

  1. Mahadeva S, Goh KL. Epidemiology of functional dyspepsia: a global perspective. World J Gastroenterol. 2006 May 7;12(17):2661-6. External Link
  2. Symptoms & Causes of Indigestion. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.External Link
  3. Indigestion. NHS UK. External Link
  4. Madisch A, Andresen V, Enck P, Labenz J, Frieling T, Schemann M. The Diagnosis and Treatment of Functional Dyspepsia. Dtsch Arztebl Int. 2018 Mar 30;115(13):222-232. External Link
  5. Harmon RC, Peura DA. Evaluation and management of dyspepsia. Therap Adv Gastroenterol. 2010 Mar;3(2):87-98. External Link
  6. Ford AC, Marwaha A, Sood R, et al. Global prevalence of, and risk factors for, uninvestigated dyspepsia: a meta-analysis Gut 2015;64:1049-1057. External Link
  7. Ajirna (Indigestion). National Health Portal India.External Link
  8. Ford AC, Marwaha A, Sood R, Moayyedi P. Global prevalence of, and risk factors for, uninvestigated dyspepsia: a meta-analysis.External Link
  9. Kim SE, Kim N, Lee JY, et al. Prevalence and Risk Factors of Functional Dyspepsia in Health Check-up Population: A Nationwide Multicenter Prospective Study. J Neurogastroenterol Motil. 2018;24(4):603-613. External Link
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