Indigestion is one of the most common disease from which all of us have suffered at some point of our lives or the other. The modern 21st century life requires us to be on the go 24x7 round the year. Consequently, our lifestyle, too, gets molded to suit that situation. Hence, instead of choosing the healthy way out, we often opt for the quick but unhealthy way. This also holds true for our choices in terms of food. Most of us now survive on a diet of pizzas, burgers, fries and colas instead of healthy food options. This, along with a number of other factors, has contributed to the rising number of people suffering from the problem of indigestion. This article explains the causes, symptoms, and treatment for indigestion and how long does indigestion last?
What is Indigestion?
Indigestion or dyspepsia refers to a condition in which a person suffers from pain in the abdominal region accompanied by heartburn and a difficulty in digestion of food. The pain and the associated discomfort are recurrent in nature and are often indicators of underlying problems such as, ulcers, Gastrointestinal Reflux Disease or GRD, gallbladder diseases and the like. More than often, indigestion is a manifested symptom than a disease, the frequency of occurrence of which varies from one individual to another.
What Causes Indigestion?
There are a number of causative factors behind indigestion, the most common ones being the lifestyle of an individual, including the food habits, certain medications and the like. The most common causes of indigestion are-
- Eating foods that are high in fat content and containing a large amount of spices and over-eating.
- Consumption of large amounts of caffeine, chocolate, carbonated or aerated drinks, alcohol and the like can also trigger indigestion.
- Certain drugs such as, antibiotics, iron supplements, pain killers and the like may also lead to indigestion.
- Certain other factors such as, smoking, stress, anxiety can also act as catalysts for indigestion.
There are certain other diseases which can also lead to indigestion. Some of these diseases include:
- Inflammation of the pancreas or pancreatitis.
- Peptic Ulcers and Gallstones.
- Blockage in the intestine or reduction in the flow of blood also known as intestinal ischemia
- Gastritis, Celiac Disease, Stomach Cancer and Constipation may also trigger indigestion.
- Indigestion may also occur as a disease itself and not as a mere symptom. Such cases of indigestion are termed as dyspepsia or non-ulcer indigestion.
What are the Symptoms of Indigestion?
Though indigestion itself is seen as a manifested symptom of certain other diseases, the disease itself also manifests certain typical symptoms that one needs to be aware of. People suffering from indigestion may manifest one or more of the enumerated symptoms.
- Feeling of Full Stomach- Patients suffering from indigestion may feel full even before they have had their meal and might seem incapable of finishing the food. The symptoms of fullness might sustain long after one has finished eating.
- Upper Abdominal Cramps- Patients suffering from indigestion are also likely to suffer from an uncomfortable sensation in the upper abdominal region accompanied by a burning sensation in the region between the breastbone and the navel.
- Bloated Stomach- Patients are also likely to feel bloated which is an uncomfortable feeling of tightness in the abdominal region accompanied by nausea.
- Diarrhea and Constipation- In few cases both constipation and diarrhea can also be two different manifestations of indigestion.
- Nausea and Vomiting- Though rare and infrequent, some patients suffering from indigestion also vomit and belch.
- Heartburn- Some patients also experience symptoms of heartburn. It is important to note that heartburn is a separate condition wherein patients feel a burning sensation at the center of the chest radiating to the back and neck of the body after or during eating.
There are certain other symptoms which the patient need to look out for in order to identify if the case of indigestion is serious and requires immediate medical attention.
- Unexplained loss of weight accompanied by a loss of appetite.
- Stool and vomit might be accompanied by traces of blood. The stools might also be black and tarry.
- Patients might also feel severe pain in the lower and upper regions of the abdomen.
- They might also be feeling uncomfortable even when they haven't eaten.
How Long Does Indigestion Last?
The duration of indigestion depends on the causative factor of the disease. Indigestion and heartburn caused due to over eating junk food, consuming alcohol and smoking lasts for one to two hours. In few cases individual may suffer with less discomfort after 2 hours until food is emptied from stomach. Indigestion in obese and older patient may last for 3 hours if emptying of stomach food is slow and delayed. Symptoms of indigestion may last longer and up to 4 hours in pregnancy and when associated with diseases such as stomach cancer, Gastrointestinal Reflux Disease or GRD and Peptic Ulcer. Patient may continue suffering with frequent indigestion when symptoms of indigestion is caused by stomach diseases. The frequent symptoms of indigestion should not be ignored and individual should consult stomach or gastrointestinal specialist. Often when the causative factor behind indigestion remains undetected and untreated, the patient may continue to suffer from indigestion for a long time.
How to Diagnose Indigestion?
Most people suffer from indigestion at infrequent rates and the problem is resolved without any special medical attention. However, as indicated earlier, indigestion might just be a symptom and an indicator of certain other underlying diseases. It is, therefore, important to locate the actual cause of the disease and get treated accordingly.
The physician is likely to restrict the diagnostic procedures to physical examination in case of occasional mild form of indigestion unaccompanied by weight loss, vomiting and nausea. However, a frequent sudden onset of indigestion may call for a detailed diagnosis procedure. The physician is likely to conduct certain tests such as-
- Stool Test: Doctors recommend stool test in order to ascertain the presence of Helicobacter pylori responsible for Peptic Ulcers and which can be seen as a causative factor behind indigestion. Blood in stool maysuggest peptic ulcer or stomach cancer.
- Other laboratory tests might also be conducted so as to check for diseases such as, thyroid issues or other metabolic diseases.
- Imaging tests, such as, X-ray, CT scan may also be conducted in order to check for cancer and other stomach as well as intestine diseases.
- During endoscopy procedure fiberoptic tube is inserted under sedation in stomach and intestine to diagnose ulcer, cancer or pyloric stenosis. Endoscopy is done in order to check for certain abnormalities in the upper digestive tract. Often a sample of tissue is taken for biopsy.
Treatment of Indigestion
Though indigestion is a pretty common disease. The effective treatment often involves eating selective food and adequate quantity. Avoid over eating and greasy food. Ignoring frequent symptoms of indigestion may lead to a serious chronic disease if left untreated for a long time. One of the best ways to cure indigestion is to make healthy changes to the lifestyle. Symptoms can be treated by avoiding drinking alcohol regularly in large quantity and discontinue smoking while consuming a balanced and healthy diet. Certain over the counter medication to reduce or absorb the stomach gases also helps in getting rid of indigestion effectively. Following medications do provide relief to the patients suffering from indigestion.
- Prokinetics: This medication may prove to be helpful to increase stomach emptying time for patients with a slow metabolism and who find their stomach emptying slowly.
- Proton Pump Inhibitors or PPIs: This drug is often prescribed for reducing the acid content of the stomach and is generally recommended for patients experiencing heartburn accompanied with indigestion.
- Antibiotics: This drug is prescribed to patients who are suffering from an infection due to Helicobacter pylori bacteria and thereby, suffering from indigestion.
- H-2-Receptor Antagonists or H2RAs: This drug, like the PPIs is prescribed to reduce stomach acid in patients of indigestion.
- Anti-Anxiety Drugs or Antidepressants: These group of drugs work towards decreasing the sensation of discomfort and pain caused by indigestion.
Certain changes in the lifestyle such as reducing the consumption of alcohol, quitting smoking, a healthy diet, regular exercise and the like can go a long way in treating indigestion.
Coping with Indigestion
Severe cases of indigestion need proper medical attention and can be cured only with proper treatment which includes identification of the underlying causes of the disease and proper medication. However, mild form of indigestion can be often cured without any special medical attention. Certain lifestyle changes can prove to be quiet beneficial in the long run.
- Indigestion is often triggered by certain factors such as, excessive consumption of alcohol, carbonated or aerated drinks, food with high fat and spice content, processed food and the like. By avoiding these triggers, one can effectively avoid the occurrence and recurrence of indigestion.
- Obesity or being overweight can also act as a catalyst for indigestion by pushing up the stomach and forcing the acid back into the esophagus. Hence, shedding off those extra kilos from the body may also prove to be quite beneficial.
- Exercise can not only help in maintaining the weight of the body, but it also helps in improving metabolism, thereby, improving digestion.
- Eating smaller meals at frequent intervals also helps in keeping off indigestion. It is also important to chew the food properly as it facilitates digestion.
- Practicing techniques of relaxation such as meditation and yoga can also act as positive catalysts in keeping indigestion at bay. It is also important to get enough rest and plenty of sleep in order to keep off stress and indigestion by association.
- Indigestion may also be a side-effect of certain drugs. Hence, it is best to opt for a change in the medication or cut off those drugs permanently from the system with the advice of the physician.
Though the above lifestyle changes may seem to be quite small, the fact that these changes can help patients in coping with indigestion in a better way remains unchanged.