1 What is Indigestion?

Indigestion, also known as dyspepsia or stomach upset, is a condition in which there is discomfort in the abdomen. Symptoms include abdominal pain and a feeling of fullness at the beginning of a meal.

Symptoms may vary from individual to individual with some people experiencing symptoms occasionally and other on a daily basis. Indigestion can a sign of other diseases of the digestive tract.

Lifestyle changes and medication can ease the symptoms of indigestion.

2 Symptoms

The signs and symptoms of indigestion include:

  • Early fullness during a meal
  • Fullness that lasts longer than usual
  • Mild to severe pain in the area between the breastbone (sternum) and navel
  • Bloating in the upper part of the abdomen
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Belching
  • Heartburn in some cases

3 Causes

Indigestion can be caused by several factors and can be triggered by food, drink or certain medications.

Common causes of indigestion include:

  • Overeating or eating too quickly
  • Fatty, greasy or spicy foods
  • Excessive intake of caffeine, alcohol, chocolate or carbonated beverages
  • Smoking
  • Anxiety
  • Certain antibiotics, pain killers and iron supplements

Digestive conditions that can cause indigestion include:

4 Making a Diagnosis

A thorough physical exam and a medical history are usually enough for the diagnosis of indigestion in mild cases.

In cases of severe indigestion, doctors may request further tests, such as:

  • Lab tests to check for thyroid problems or other metabolic disorders.
  • Breath and stool tests to check for Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori), the bacteria associated with peptic ulcer, that can also cause indigestion.
  • Endoscopy to check for abnormalities in the upper gastrointestinal tract. A biopsy may also be taken for further lab analysis.
  • Imaging tests, such as X-ray or CT scan to check for intestinal obstruction.

If the initial testing fails to provide a cause, the doctor may diagnose functional dyspepsia.

5 Treatment

Over-the-counter antacids are the first choice in the treatment of indigestion. Other treatments include:

  • Proton pump inhibitors (PPI's) - which can reduce stomach acids, are usually given in patients who experience heartburn.
  • H-2-receptor antagonists (H2RAs) - which also reduce stomach acids.
  • Prokinetics - which help the stomach to empty slowly.
  • Antibiotics if H. pylori are the cause indigestion.
  • Antidepressants or anti-anxiety medications, which may ease the discomfort from indigestion by decreasing the sensation of pain.

6 Alternative and Homeopathic Remedies

Alternative and complementary remedies for indigestion include:

  • Herbal tea with peppermint.
  • STW5 (iberogast), a liquid supplement that contains extracts of herbs including bitter candytuft, caraway, and licorice root. This remedy may work by reducing the production f stomach acid.
  • Artichoke leaf extract, which may stimulate the flow of bile from the liver and improve digestion.
  • Psychological treatment, including behavior modification, relaxation techniques, cognitive behavioral therapy, and hypnotherapy.
  • Acupuncture which may block the pathways of the nerves which transmit pain sensations to the brain.

7 Lifestyle and Coping

Lifestyle changes that can relieve symptoms of mild cases of indigestion include:

  • Eating smaller, more frequent meals and chewing slowly and thoroughly.
  • Avoiding foods that can trigger indigestion, such as fatty and spicy foods, caffeine, chocolate and carbonated beverages.
  • Maintaining a healthy diet and exercising regularly to promote better digestion.
  • Avoiding certain drugs, such as pain killers which may irritate the stomach lining.

8 Risks and Complications

Indigestion doesn't cause serious complications. It can however, cause discomfort and loss of appetite.