Dyspepsia, also known as indigestion or upset stomach, is a term that describes discomfort or pain in the upper abdomen. It is not a disease. Dyspepsia is a group of symptoms which often include bloating, nausea and burping.
Indigestion is usually caused by stomach acid coming into contact with the mucosa of the digestive system - the sensitive protective lining of the digestive system. Stomach acids break down the mucosa, causing irritation and inflammation, which trigger the symptoms of indigestion.
In the majority of cases indigestion is linked to eating and/or drinking. Sometimes it may be caused by infection or some medications.
Common symptoms of dyspepsia / indigestion
Belching, nausea and a bloated feeling are common symptoms of dyspepsia.
Most people with indigestion feel pain and discomfort in the stomach or chest area. The sensation generally appears soon after consuming food or drink. In some cases symptoms may appear some time after a meal. Some people feel full during a meal, even if they have not eaten much.
Heartburn and indigestion are two separate conditions. Heartburn is a burning feeling behind the breastbone, usually after eating.
The following symptoms of dyspepsia are also common:
- Feeling bloated (very full)
In very rare cases indigestion may be a symptom of stomach cancer.
Mild indigestion is rarely anything to worry about. You should see your doctor if symptoms continue for more than two weeks. See your doctor immediately if pain is severe, and the following also occur:
- Loss of appetite or weight loss
- Black stools
- Jaundice (yellow coloring of eyes and skin)
- Chest pain when your exert yourself
- Shortness of breath
- Chest pain radiation to the jaw, arm or neck
Causes of dyspepsia / indigestion
Indigestion is usually related to lifestyle and what we eat and drink. It may also be caused by infection or some other digestive conditions.
Common causes of indigestion include:
- Eating too much
- Eating too rapidly
- Consuming fatty or greasy foods
- Consuming spicy foods
- Consuming too much caffeine
- Consuming too much alcohol
- Consuming too much chocolate
- Consuming too many fizzy drinks
- Emotional trauma
- Gastritis (inflammation of the stomach)
- Hiatus hernia
- Infection, especially with bacteria known as Helicobacter pylori
- Obesity - caused by more pressure inside the abdomen
- Pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas)
- Peptic ulcers
- Some medications, such as antibiotics and NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs)
- Stomach cancer
When a doctor cannot find a cause for indigestion the patient may have functional dyspepsia - a type of indigestion that may undermine the stomach's ability to accept and digest food and then pass that food on to the small intestine.
On the next page we look at the diagnosis of dyspepsia / indigestion as well as treatment options, including over-the-counter remedies.