An introduction to stomach pain and indigestion
Indigestion is a common experience and most of us will have experienced the odd episode or two after having eaten a bit too much of the ‘wrong’ food. This ‘normal indigestion’ is distinct from ‘indigestion problems’ – said to affect up to 40% of people at some point during their lives.
Indigestion can give rise to a number of symptoms – excessive wind and bloating, heartburn as well as mild stomach pains or discomfort. This page describes stomach pains in relation to indigestion, what you can do about it and what to look out for.
However, stomach pains can also be caused by other digestive problems and are more of a prominent feature in disorders such as constipation, food intolerances and IBS. Follow the links for more information.
Why does indigestion cause stomach pain?
Indigestion, also known as dyspepsia, is a disturbance or failure of the normal digestive process taking place in the upper part of the digestive tract (mouth, gullet and stomach).
When food is eaten, the stomach releases enzymes to break down what is in the stomach, and acid to help the enzymes work better. Disturbance of this normal digestive function can cause stomach pain and discomfort in two main ways:
- If the digestion of food is not progressing well, excessive gas can build up leading to bloating and distension of the stomach. This can in turn give rise to pain, especially if excess wind is not released by burping
- The contents of the stomach can become too acidic. This then starts to irritate the lining of the stomach and in turn lead to tummy pains.
Stomach pains or discomfort arising from indigestion is felt in the upper part of the abdomen, just under the rib cage.
Sometimes, it can be accompanied by heartburn due to acid reflux.
Diet and lifestyle tips
Here are some steps you can take to help yourself reduce the severity of indigestion symptoms such as stomach pain or discomfort:
- Slow down when you eat and chew your food well. Mealtimes should be a time for relaxation
- Avoid the foods that make the problem worse. In general, these are fatty, spicy and acidic foods, but you will soon be able to work out when other classes of foods trouble you
- Avoid fizzy drinks, even fizzy water. Not only will they introduce gas into your stomach, these drinks are fizzy because of carbon dioxide which is acidic in nature
- Eat smaller meals
- If you smoke, reduce the number you go through or better still, stop altogether.
Are there herbal and natural remedies to help me?
Herbal remedies, in the form of ‘stomach bitters’ or ‘bitter herbs’, have been used for a long time to help ease a variety of indigestion symptoms. This class of medicine works by helping the stomach digest food better.
It is important for the tongue to taste bitterness when using these herbs, so they are best used in liquid (or tincture) form. Bitterness triggers off a nerve reflex from the tongue which leads to the stomach producing more digestive enzymes, reducing acidity levels.
Digestisan drops contain artichoke, dandelion, boldo and peppermint – all stomach bitters. Best taken in liquid form, 5 to 10 minutes before each meal.
What about medicines from my doctor?
If stomach bitters are not your answer, seek advice from your doctor who may recommend medicines for indigestion such as antacids, H2 blockers and proton pump inhibitors.
If your stomach pain is severe, does not respond to treatment or if you are concerned, seek advice from your doctor. In addition, seek help urgently if the pain worsens, if you start to vomit, notice blood in your vomit or your faeces.