Friday, May 28, 2010

Health Care and Indigestion

How many times have you ever had a big meal, then some time later you have a problem with indigestion? Indigestion, common in adults, can occur once in a while or as often as every day. Also known as dyspepsia according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), indigestion is a term used to describe one or more symptoms including a feeling of fullness during a meal, uncomfortable fullness after a meal, and burning or pain in the upper abdomen. Indigestion can be caused by a condition in the digestive tract such as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), peptic ulcer disease, cancer, or abnormality of the pancreas or bile ducts. If the condition improves or resolves, the symptoms of indigestion usually improve. Sometimes a person has indigestion for which a cause cannot be found. This type of indigestion, called functional dyspepsia, is thought to occur in the area where the stomach meets the small intestine. The indigestion may be related to abnormal motility—the squeezing or relaxing action—of the stomach muscle as it receives, digests, and moves food into the small intestine.

According to the Mayo Clinic, most people with indigestion have one or more of the following symptoms:
--Early fullness during a meal. You haven't eaten much of your meal, but you already feel full and may not be able to finish eating.
--Uncomfortable fullness after a meal. Fullness lasts longer than it should.
--Pain in the upper abdomen. You feel a mild to severe pain in the area between the bottom of your breastbone (sternum) and your navel.
--Burning in the upper abdomen. You feel an uncomfortable heat or burning sensation between the bottom of the breastbone and navel.

Less frequent symptoms may come along with indigestion, including:
--Nausea. You feel like you are about to vomit.
--Bloating. Your stomach feels swollen, tight and uncomfortable.
--Sometimes people with indigestion also experience heartburn, but heartburn and indigestion are two separate conditions. Heartburn is a pain or burning feeling in the center of your chest that may radiate into your neck or back after eating.

People of all ages and of both sexes are affected by indigestion, according to It's extremely common. An individual's risk increases with excess alcohol consumption, use of drugs that may irritate the stomach (such as aspirin), other conditions where there is an abnormality in the digestive tract such as an ulcer and emotional problems such as anxiety or depression. Swallowing excessive air when eating may increase the symptoms of belching and bloating, which are often associated with indigestion. Sometimes people have persistent indigestion that is not related to any of these factors. This type of indigestion is called functional, or non-ulcer dyspepsia. During the middle and later parts of pregnancy, many women have indigestion. This is believed to be caused by a number of pregnancy-related factors including hormones, which relax the muscles of the digestive tract, and the pressure of the growing uterus on the stomach.

What Causes Indigestion? Indigestion has many causes, according to, including:
1.) Diseases: Ulcers, GERD, Stomach cancer (rare), Gastroparesis (a condition where the stomach doesn't empty properly; this often occurs in diabetics).
2.) Stomach infections: Irritable bowel syndrome, Chronic pancreatitis, Thyroid disease.
3.) Medications: Aspirin and many other painkillers, Estrogen and oral contraceptives, Steroid medications, Certain antibiotics, Thyroid medicines.
4.) Lifestyle: Eating too much, eating too fast, eating high-fat foods, or eating during stressful situations, Drinking too much alcohol, Cigarette smoking, Stress and fatigue.

If you are experiencing symptoms of indigestion, make an appointment to see your doctor to rule out a more serious condition. Because indigestion is such a broad term, according to, it is helpful to provide your doctor with a precise description of the discomfort you are experiencing. In describing your indigestion symptoms, try to define where in the abdomen the discomfort usually occurs. Simply reporting pain in the stomach is not detailed enough for your doctor to help identify and treat your problem. First, your doctor must rule out any underlying conditions. Your doctor may perform several blood tests and you may have X-rays of the stomach or small intestine. Your doctor may also use an instrument to look closely at the inside of the stomach, a procedure called an upper endoscopy. An endoscope, a flexible tube that contains a light and a camera to produce images from inside the body, is used in this procedure.

Some people can eat anything and they never get upset stomachs. But other people are more sensitive to food and they might find certain ones just don't agree with them. According to, if you discover one of these foods, it's best not to eat a lot of them, or skip them entirely. In addition to avoiding problem foods, it's a good idea to eat several smaller meals instead of a couple really big ones. Here are some other tips to prevent indigestion:
--As much as possible, avoid fatty, greasy foods, like fries and burgers.
--Avoid too much chocolate.
--Eat slowly.
--Don't smoke — or don't start smoking!
--Find ways to relax and decrease stress.
--Give your body a chance to digest food. Don't eat a huge meal and immediately engage in alot of physical activity, or have any sports practice. Try to eat at least an hour beforehand, or eat afterward.

According to, because indigestion can be a sign of a more serious condition, such as an ulcer or occasionally cancer, anyone experiencing the following symptoms in addition to indigestion should consult with their doctor:
--Unplanned weight loss.
--Severe pain.
--Anyone over 45 who has not previously suffered with any indigestion problems.
Immediate medical attention is needed for anyone who experiences either of the following symptoms:
--Vomiting with specks of blood or with blood that looks like coffee-grounds.
--Vomiting fresh blood.

Because indigestion is a symptom rather than a disease, treatment usually depends upon the underlying condition causing the indigestion, according to Keep in mind that excess stomach acid does not cause indigestion, so using antacids will not help your indigestion. Often, episodes of indigestion go away within hours without medical attention. However, if your symptoms become worse, you should consult a physician. Avoiding foods and situations that cause indigestion are the best ways to treat it. Changing the following eating habits that cause you to swallow too much air can help relieve indigestion:
--Chewing with your mouth open.
--Talking while chewing.
--Eating food too fast.
Drink fluids after rather than during meals, and avoid late-night eating. Try to relax after meals. Avoid spicy foods, smoking, and alcoholic beverages. Sometimes aspirin can irritate the stomach lining. If this occurs, switch to acetaminophen. If indigestion is a functional, or nonulcer condition, your physician may prescribe medications that affect stomach function.

The best way to treat indigestion is to prevent it by avoiding the foods and situations that seem to cause indigestion. According to the Cleveland Clinic, keeping a food diary is helpful in identifying foods that cause indigestion. Here are some other suggestions:
--Eat small meals so the stomach does not have to work as hard or as long.
--Eat slowly.
--Avoid foods that contain high amounts of acids, such as citrus fruits and tomatoes.
--Caffeine causes the stomach to produce more acid, so reduce or avoid foods and beverages that contain caffeine.
--If stress is a trigger for your indigestion, reevaluating your lifestyle may help to reduce stress. --Learn new methods for managing stress, such as relaxation and biofeedback techniques.
--Smokers should consider quitting smoking, or at least not smoking right before eating, as smoking can irritate the stomach lining.
--Cut back on alcohol consumption because alcohol can irritate the stomach lining.
--Avoid wearing tight-fitting garments because they tend to compress the stomach, which can cause its contents to enter the esophagus.
--Do not exercise with a full stomach. Rather, exercise before a meal or at least one hour after eating a meal.
--Do not lie down right after eating.
--Wait at least 3 hours after your last meal of the day before going to bed.
--Sleep with your head elevated (at least six inches) above your feet and use pillows to prop yourself up. This will allow digestive juices to flow into the intestines rather than to the esophagus.

The doctor may recommend over-the-counter antacids or medications that reduce acid production or help the stomach move food more quickly into the small intestine, according to the NIH. Many of these medications can be purchased without a prescription. Nonprescription medications should only be used at the dose and for the length of time recommended on the label unless advised differently by a doctor. Informing the doctor when starting a new medication is important. Antacids, such as Alka-Seltzer, Maalox, Mylanta, Rolaids, and Riopan, are usually the first drugs recommended to relieve symptoms of indigestion. Many brands on the market use different combinations of three basic salts—magnesium, calcium, and aluminum—with hydroxide or bicarbonate ions to neutralize the acid in the stomach. Antacids, however, can have side effects. Magnesium salt can lead to diarrhea, and aluminum salt may cause constipation. Aluminum and magnesium salts are often combined in a single product to balance these effects. Calcium carbonate antacids, such as Tums, Titralac, and Alka-2, can also be a supplemental source of calcium, though they may cause constipation.

Indigestion is usually not a serious health problem, unless other symptoms also occur such as weight loss or trouble swallowing, according to Medline Plus. However, you should seek immediate medical help if your symptoms include jaw pain, chest pain, back pain, profuse sweating, anxiety, or a feeling of impending doom. These are possible heart attack symptoms. If your symptoms are not severe, a visit to your doctor makes sense if you have any concerns about your indigestion. Your doctor will perform a physical examination, paying special attention to the stomach area and digestive tract. You will be asked questions about your symptoms. The symptoms of indigestion can be mistaken for the early warning signs of a heart attack, but most medical professionals can tell the difference within a few minutes of examination, according to If over-the-counter remedies have little to no effect on your feelings of indigestion, it may be a good idea to visit the emergency room or another medical facility as soon as possible if the symptoms are severe.

Until next time. Let me know what you think.

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