An introduction to indigestion
Indigestion, also known as dyspepsia, is a general term used to describe pain or discomfort in the upper abdomen, arising from the first part of the digestive system (oesophagus (gullet), stomach and duodenum (part of the small intestine)).
The term basically means ‘poor digestion’ and symptoms arise mainly because of a disturbance to the first part of the digestive process when food is broken down before being absorbed into the body.
‘Normal indigestion’ or ‘indigestion problems’?
Almost all of us will have experienced a bout of indigestion in the past. These episodes are usually transient and usually considered to be normal. Examples of ‘normal indigestion’ you might be familiar with include:
- the feeling of fullness, bloating and discomfort after partaking enthusiastically in a large piece of cake
- the need to burp repeatedly after a heavy or fatty meal.
However, there are times when indigestion symptoms become a regular or daily experience, after consuming our normal diet and usual amounts of food. This is when we have an ‘indigestion problem’.
It is estimated that around 40% of the population have experienced health problems with their digestion at some point in their lives.
What causes indigestion?
The digestive system produces substances known as enzymes which are necessaryfor us to digest the food we eat.
In the stomach, gastric juice is secreted together with gastric acid. This acid is strong enough to irritate the tissues of the stomach - however, this does not happen because nature provides the inside of our stomachs with a protective lining. However, sometimes, this protective mechanism breaks down and becomes less effective, leading to inflammation.
At the same time, the digestive process can become less efficient. There are a number of reasons why this can occur, including:
- Overindulgence in food, alcohol or caffeine
- Fatty or spicy foods
- Irregular eating habits
- Eating too fast
Some medical problems can give rise to symptoms of indigestion. These include:
- Gastric ulcers
- Hiatus hernia
- Stomach cancer
- Certain types of medication
Read more about the causes of indigestion.
What are the symptoms of indigestion?
Indigestion can lead to a variety symptoms:
What remedies are there for indigestion?
The first thing you should do is to examine your diet and lifestyle to see if changes to what and how you eat can help. If your symptoms are mild, this alone may be the answer you need.
If this does not resolve your symptoms completely, there are some additional steps you can take:
- Herbal remedies – a group of medicinal herbs known as ‘stomach bitters’ have been used for many decades to help with digestive problems. These herbs include artichoke, dandelion and boldo
- Conventional medicines – this includes antacids, H2-blockers and proton pump inhibitors that you can get from your doctor and pharmacist.
Read more about remedies for indigestion.
When should I approach my doctor?
Most people with indigestion will be able to manage their symptoms without going to a doctor, particularly if their symptoms are infrequent and mild. However, there are some instances when seeking medical attention is advisable. These include:
- If you suspect an underlying medical condition such as a stomach ulcer
- You are experiencing severe pain
- If you have blood in the stool
- Unexplained weight loss
- You are vomiting, particularly if there are specks of blood in your vomit
- You are 55 years or over and have never experienced indigestion before
- You feel that medication you are taking is aggravating your symptoms of indigestion.