Indigestion: causes, symptoms and treatments
Indigestion is manifested by discomfort in the upper abdomen and is also called dyspepsia. The digestive disorder is manifested by the unpleasant feeling that you are too full and usually occurs after a hearty meal. But it can also be the consequence of some diseases or an adverse effect of drugs. Treatments aim to both eliminate the cause and alleviate the symptoms.
Indigestion is a digestive disorder that most often occurs immediately after heavy meals (with fatty foods, fried foods, spices, alcoholic or carbonated beverages) and that causes pain in the upper abdomen. A common condition - every person faces such a thing at least once in their life - indigestion is also called dyspepsia. In popular terms, indigestion is also known as "stomach trouble", but it is rather a general term, which covers a combination of symptoms of the digestive tract.
In short, indigestion occurs when muscles and nerves of the gastrointestinal tract (esophagus, stomach, small intestine, gallbladder, bowel) no longer function properly and this dysfunction leads to pain. And when we are stressed, cortisol (stress hormone) can change the normal functioning of the body. In most cases it is not something serious, so indigestion can be treated at home and there are various medical or natural treatments at hand. Most of the time, it is a minor problem, which is manifested by discomfort, chest pain and nausea, vomiting, early satiety (you feel too full) or bloating. This clinical condition has a limited evolution, but may present possible risks for more serious complications, which may damage the quality of life.
Most of the time, indigestion is confused with heartburn, but the way it affects each individual is different. With symptoms that can be felt on various occasions, prevention and treatment measures for indigestion are useful to avoid discomfort. So they can be ameliorated with medications or lifestyle changes.
Symptoms of indigestion
Indigestion is not a disease in itself and when it affects the digestive system there are several symptoms that set in (especially) after meals. These can vary from person to person, the most common signs of indigestion being the following:
- mild or severe abdominal pain;
- discomfort in the upper abdomen;
- burning sensation or abdominal heat;
- the feeling that you are full or too full, during the meal or immediately after eating;
- bloating or feeling of pressure;
- belching or excessive regurgitation;
- intestinal gas;
- acid taste felt in the mouth;
- diarrhea or constipation;
- sounds in the stomach.
How many types is indigestion?
Indigestion is a general term that covers a variety of gastrointestinal symptoms. It can be classified into several types, as follows:
- Organic dyspepsia: occurs when there is a well-established cause and the symptoms are severe and continuous. It is caused by organic diseases of the gastrointestinal tract and among the most common causes are gastric and duodenal ulcers, gastroesophageal reflux, liver or biliary diseases, parasitosis (giardiasis and ascariasis) or pancreatic diseases; manifests itself in 40% of cases.
- Functional dyspepsia: occurs when the mode of indigestion has not been defined. It covers a wider range of abdominal conditions, and the stomach can no longer accept or digest food. It can refer to disorders of the motor function of the upper gastrointestinal tract, possibly associated with abnormalities of the visceral sensation. Some of the psychosocial factors (such as stress and difficult life events) are considered responsible for producing symptoms, even though they may not be the main cause of the problem; manifests itself in 60% of cases.
- Lifestyle dyspepsia: lasts up to 3-4 days. In principle, it affects daily activity and occurs mainly as a result of inadequate nutrition.
Causes of indigestion
Several causes have been identified for indigestion, most of which are related to lifestyle. Among the most common problems causing indigestion are the following:
- eating too fast or too much;
- food choices that include eating fat or spicy foods;
- consumption of caffeine, alcohol, sour drinks;
- digestive diseases (gastritis, peptic ulcer, celiac disease, kidney stones, stomach cancer, intestinal blockage, pancreatitis) or nondigestive (diabetes, hyperparathyroidism, kidney disease, depression or nervousness, emotional trauma);
- medication that have the adverse effect of indigestion (analgesics, antibiotics, estrogen).
Among the risk factors responsible for indigestion are:
- overeating or ingesting too fast;
- consumption of food that is difficult to digest (especially at disordered intervals);
- inflammation of the gall bladder (cholecystitis);
- stomach irritations due to various causes;
- lactose intolerance;
- irritable bowel syndrome;
- aerophagia (when swallowing and accumulating air in the lower esophagus and upper stomach);
- anxiety or depression;
- smoking or various inhaled chemicals;
- eating too late;
- deprivation of sleep or rest;
- infection with the bacterium Helicobacter pylori;
- hormonal changes.
Complications of indigestion
In most cases, dyspepsia occurs occasionally and although it does not have - usually - major implications, it can affect the quality of life, because it makes you feel uncomfortable or can determine you to eat less. But severe indigestion can worsen, leading to complications such as:
- esophageal stenosis or narrowing of the esophagus, which occurs if an area of scar tissue is formed, which can lead to difficulty swallowing and pain; occurs if indigestion is caused by reflux of stomach acid, which drains back into the esophagus and irritates the mucosa;
- pyloric stenosis is caused by long-term irritations of the lining of the digestive system, from stomach acid; occurs when the passage between the stomach and small intestine (known as the pore) narrows; if it settles, then it causes vomiting and stops the proper digestion of any food you eat;
- peritonitis occurs when chronic indigestion decomposes and infects the lining of the intestinal tract (and the peritoneum deteriorates as a result of repetitive exposure to stomach acid).
When to go to the doctor?
Many people who suffer from occasional indigestion resort to remedies that help relieve unpleasant symptoms. But you should consult your doctor for any health problems you have, especially if the symptoms of indigestion persist for a long time and check the following:
- you are over 45 years old;
- you have a family history of gastric problems;
- you smoke a lot;
- take pills regularly;
- you have severe and prolonged chest pain;
- you have unexplained and sudden weight loss;
- you notice that your feces are dark in color;
- feel back pain;
- you have repeated vomiting or accompanied by blood;
- you have difficulty swallowing food;
- you have difficulties in breathing;
- you sweat profusely.
Depending on the patient’s age and the duration of symptoms, a diagnosis of indigestion can be established. There are several options for this:
- laboratory studies: blood tests, stool tests, celiac disease tests, lactose intolerance tests, serological tests, coproparasitological tests for Giardia, testing for infection with H. pylori bacteria;
- imagery studies: upper digestive endoscopy (the most used procedure), ultrasound of the gall bladder, radiography or simple tomography (thoracic, abdominal, barium).
Treatment for indigestion depends on the causes and severity of the symptoms. If the symptoms are mild and rare, lifestyle changes will make them easier. This usually involves consuming less fatty or spicy foods and less caffeine, alcohol and chocolate. At least 7 hours of sleep each night can also help get rid of mild indigestion. Regardless of which option you choose to treat indigestion, keep in mind that you need a consultation with a specialist, who is able to give you the necessary instructions.
As remedies for indigestion, you can choose from:
Homeopathic treatments, which are based on the administration of substances that cause strong reactions, such as:
- “pedicuta” or “wolf’s leg” (Lycopodium), which will improve the feeling of fullness and eliminate toxins, being recommended especially to those suffering from flatulence;
- charcoal or wood charcoal (Carbo vegetabilis) is recommended for people who are disgusted by the consumption of fats, meat or milk; as a treatment for indigestion, will improve aversion to such aliments and relieve discomfort and stomach pain;
- colubrin or wolf cake (Nux vomica) is recommended when the feeling of heaviness in the stomach persists for a long time after a meal and in the mouth there is a sour or bitter taste; is a treatment for indigestion indicated especially during pregnancy;
- ipecac (Cephaelis ipecacuanha sau Psychotria ipecacuanha) can work when indigestion is also manifested by nausea, pallor or alternative sweating (hot and cold) and cramps are accompanied by diarrhea;
- followers of the traditional Chinese medicine recommend that in case of indigestion, derivatives of Chinese peony (Paeonia lactiflora), hibiscus (Hibiscus sabdariffa) or “jawed earwig” (Bupleurum chinense) to be used.
Administration of medications
Administration of medications, after consulting with the doctor who deals with your case. The specialist will be able to indicate, in case of indigestion, treatment with:
- antacids or drugs that reduce the level of stomach acid (as a first line of treatment);
- proton pump inhibitors (PPIs);
- prokinetic drugs (if the stomach empties slowly), which will stimulate gastrointestinal activity;
- antibiotic (if it turns out to be an infection with H. Pylori bacteria);
- anti-depressants (if the mental state is the cause of indigestion).
Natural remedies for indigestion
Natural remedies for indigestion, such as the following:
- mint relaxes muscles, has an antiseptic effect and helps digest fats, also treating the symptoms of indigestion (such as abdominal pain and flatulence); to be taken either 5 drops of essential oil / day or 3 cups of mint tea / day (prepared from 5 grams of dried plant in 200-250 ml of boiled water, after meals);
- basil tea is made by infusion (2 grams per 250 ml of boiled water; 2-3 cups daily), because it will provide carminative benefits and stimulate digestion, thanks to volatile oils; in addition, it is anti-vomiting and antiseptic;
- rosemary can be consumed in powder form (1/2 teaspoon grated, 4 times / day, on an empty stomach) or as an infusion (2 cups / day, half an hour before a meal, tea from a teaspoon with a tip of the plant, to 250 ml of boiling water); in the form of tea, rosemary induces satiety and helps the digestion process;
- dandelion stimulates digestion secretion and to quickly reduce indigestion will be consumed as such 2-3 fresh stalks of twigs, the bitter taste will stimulate the flow of gall;
- once chewed, the roots of the gentian medicinal plant will eliminate the feeling of heaviness and pressure in the stomach; it is considered the bitterest substance in the world;
- fennel consumed in the form of tea prepared from 2 teaspoons (one cup before, another after a meal) will speed up digestion and eliminate the feeling of bloating, having antiseptic and carminative properties;
- chamomile tea, consumed every morning or as needed, will fight irritations in the lining of the digestive tract, and indigestion will be treated thanks to its anti-inflammatory effect;
- consume of spices that help assimilate food or stimulate digestion (ginger, cardamom, coriander).
Food supplements that help with indigestion:
- Gastrocalmin, mint-flavored chewable tablets containing calcium carbonate, magnesium carbonate, licorice root extract, chamomile extract, all with a role in maintaining digestive comfort and avoiding indigestion;
- ColonHelp is a detoxifier and intestinal regulator, which stimulates gastric and digestive secretions; is a reliable help for indigestion, thanks to its coriander content (recommended for eliminating intestinal gas and bloating);
- Medicinal charcoal is preferred in case of indigestion, having anti-diarrheal action; relieves abdominal discomfort, sticking to the acids responsible for indigestion, when you suffer from flatulence; it will be taken as needed or after each meal, as a preventive measure;
- Turmeric Root Extract is a tonic of the digestive system; only one vegetable capsule should be administered per day, helping to prevent bloating or the formation of intestinal gas;
- Carbodigest is taken in case of indigestion accompanied by abdominal cramps; contains charcoal, anise, fennel, chamomile and mint essential oils; 1-2 capsules of 3 / day will be administered;
- Complet Digest supports the proper functioning of the gastrointestinal tract and this makes it suitable for indigestion, because it reduces the feeling of abdominal discomfort associated with the disease;
- Easy Digestion capsules (100% natural) contain bay leaves (stimulates digestion, have carminative, antispasmodic, detoxifying properties, are useful in indigestion and bloating), coriander fruits, sweet rush rhizomes, ginger rhizomes, “caric” extract, pineapple extract.
Other treatments used for indigestion
Other treatments used for indigestion, more or less conventional:
- colon hydrotherapy is a natural and painless method, which deeply cleanses the large intestine; is indicated for indigestion because, among the many benefits, it regulates intestinal transit, reduces bloating, controls appetite and weight;
- therapeutic relaxation massages or reflexology, because it helps to improve diseases of the digestive system, including indigestion, by applying pressure on various points in areas of the body; another holistic healing technique in the same area is Bowen therapy, which can also treat indigestion;
- yoga or meditation relaxes you and reduces stress and anxiety episodes, sometimes responsible for the onset of indigestion; certain elements of yoga, done correctly, position the muscles of the abdomen so as to release excess gas from the gastrointestinal tract and reduce bloating;
- psychological therapy is recommended for people with functional dyspepsia and can help manage the cognitive aspects of indigestion;
- biofeedback, as mind-body relaxation therapy;
- hypnotherapy or hypnosis therapy can solve digestive disorders, indigestion being one of the problems that respond to treatment;
- acupuncture balances the functioning of the body and helps with various disorders, including indigestion.
Prevention of indigestion
The onset of indigestion can be prevented by handy means such as:
- avoid eating with your mouth open;
- meals should be in small quantities and at long intervals (ideally five meals / day, divided into small portions);
- avoid the consumption of foods and beverages that ferment or those that favors the production of gastric acid;
- not to wear tight clothes similar to a corset;
- do not exercise immediately after eating;
- water hould be consumed in considerable quantities, eliminating stomach acids;
- fatty foods should be replaced with healthy ones;
- tobacco and alcohol to be reduced or eliminated;
- maintaining an optimal body weight so as not to put pressure on the abdomen;
- ice drinks should be avoided because cold foods can affect the digestion process;
- taking dietary supplements that reduce digestive disorders and absorb fat-soluble vitamins, minerals and amino acids;
- stress and anxiety should be kept under control.
Did you know that…?
- the word “dyspepsia” is composed of the Greek words “dys” (meaning “bad” or “difficult”) and “pepsis” (which translates to “digestion”)?
- between 25-40% of adults suffer from recurrent dyspepsia in industrialized areas of the world?
- indigestion is often confused with irritable bowel syndrome or heartburn?
- most episodes of indigestion not require medical treatment?
- in most cases, milk is the food most often eliminated from the diet of those who develop indigestion and this can lead to inadequate calcium intake and even osteoporosis?
- the symptoms felt in the case of indigestion can affect interpersonal relationships, especially those between partners?
- the symptoms of upper abdominal discomfort can affect 4 out of 10 people each year?
- many women experience this condition during pregnancy, especially in the last trimester?