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Indigestion: Treatment, symptoms, advice and help

About indigestion

Indigestion, medically termed as ‘dyspepsia’, is a very common problem which is mostly innocuous but may sometimes indicate a serious underlying condition of the gastrointestinal tract. Indigestion is a vague term which may include heartburn, reflux disorder and gastritis. A proper evaluation of indigestion is necessary to detect underlying conditions and achieve satisfactory relief.

Indigestion: Incidence, age and sex

Indigestion is common problem encountered in the general population. It can affect both men and women at any age. Pregnant women are prone to getting indigestion problems.

Signs and symptoms of indigestion: Diagnosis

The features of indigestion include intense burning sensation in the chest and upper abdomen. This may be associated with sour eructation and pain in the upper abdomen. The symptoms may be more pronounced after a heavy meal. Associated symptoms like loss of appetite, bleeding from mouth, nausea, burping or bloating sensation may indicate a serious underlying condition like peptic ulcer or a gastrointestinal infection.

Indigestion in absence of any other associated symptom usually does not need any further evaluation. However, if there are any associated symptoms, special investigations like gastrointestinal endoscopy and ultrasonography of abdomen are considered to evaluate for underlying causes.

Causes and prevention of indigestion

Indigestion can occur as a harmless symptom without any serious underlying ailment. However it can also indicate diseases like peptic ulcer, acid reflux disease, gastritis or a malignancy of stomach or upper intestine. Certain drugs like NSAIDs (analgesics), antibiotics and drugs used in cancer chemotherapy may lead to indigestion commonly. Smoking, alcohol intake and excessive consumption of carbonated drinks, tea and coffee also cause indigestion. Eating habits which include consumption of spicy, fatty, greasy food, incomplete chewing or over eating may also contribute to indigestion. Emotional stress and anxiety are some psychological factors which play a role in causation of indigestion in some individuals.

Preventive measures like consuming the right kind of foods, proper chewing, avoidance of alcohol and tobacco, avoidance of exercise after meals and wearing loose fitting clothes may help in preventing indigestion in susceptible individuals.

Indigestion: Complications

The underlying causes of indigestion can lead to serious complications like bleeding from the mouth, loss of weight, anaemia, malabsorption of nutrients and generalised muscle wasting.

Indigestion: Treatment

There are several drugs for management of indigestion. Antacids containing magnesium or calcium provide quick relief. Other drugs like H2 receptor blockers (ranitidine, famotidine) and proton pump inhibitors (omeprazole, pantoprazole, rabeprazole) block the production of acid in stomach and provide sustained relief. If there is acid reflux disease, one should take small, frequent meals. One should also avoid lying down for at least one hour after eating. Underlying causes of indigestion need appropriate evaluation and subsequent management.