What are the Symptoms of Indigestion?

Indigestion is more commonly known to medical professionals as dyspepsia and refers to a condition where the stomach is unable to digest consumed food correctly and this can lead to discomfort among other symptoms in some people.

Depending on the severity of your indigestion symptoms can include but are not limited to;

  • Habitual pain or discomfort (in the upper abdomen)
  • Loss of appetite
  • Feeling fuller sooner
  • Feeling bloated
  • Sickness
  • Heartburn
  • Excessive belching and/or flatulence

You should consult your GP if any of these symptoms cause major disruption in your life or appear to be more serious (such as severe pain or the appearance of blood when vomiting) and they will then be able to advise you on the best possible solution for yourself.

What causes indigestion?

Indigestion occurs when acid from your stomach wrongly flows up through the oesophagus or in more serious cases when the stomach has become irritated and inflamed. The pain that you may know as heartburn is caused by this roaming acid which the stomach releases to digest food, however there is a small opening at the top of your stomach that it healthy cases prevents stomach acid from being released into the oesophagus.

Some aspects of your life may be what are triggering your indigestion and cutting down or cutting out on these can help prevent it;

  • Smoking
  • Stress
  • Excessive alcohol or caffeine consumption

However if you have had consistent symptoms of indigestion there may be a more serious underlying medical condition causing your symptoms. The most common medical condition that causes dyspepsia is known as Gastro-Oesophageal Reflex Disease (commonly abbreviated to GORD) which causes the previously mentioned sphincter at the opening of the stomach to become loose. The next most common medical cause is peptic ulcers which can be extremely painful with the introduction of acid from the stomach, but symptoms of this can be eased by following a low-acid diet that a medical professional will help you with. In a very small number of cases indigestion can also be a symptom of stomach cancer, if you think that this may be the cause of your indigestion (for example, you have ruled out all the more common causes) you need to contact your GP immediately to seek professional advice.

Pregnancy can also cause indigestion in some women.

What can I do to ease my indigestion?

If you don’t consider your indigestion to be life-interfering there are a number of simple things that you can do to ease the pain and discomfort that it may cause.

  • If you are overweight a change in diet and increase in exercise, along with slimming down to a healthy weight can help decrease the pressure on the stomach. Cutting out caffeine and fat-heavy foods can also help.
  • Cutting down or quitting smoking.
  • Reducing stress levels.
  • Reducing alcohol consumption.
  • Eat smaller portions or eat more slowly.
  • Sleeping upright can also reduce your indigestion, prop yourself up with a pillow or sleep in a chair but make sure you are comfortable.

Certain over-the-counter medicines can be bought without prescription that may lessen the side-effects of indigestion. Seek advice from a pharmacist before buying as they will be able to help you decide the best course of medicine for your symptoms and possibly suggest over helpful tips.

Antacids neutralize the acidity of the stomach acid thus reducing the pain of heartburn. The most common examples of Antacids are Alka-Seltzer and Gaviscon.

If you antacids do not ease the discomfort or you require a large quantity before they have any effect on your digestive system you can also try what are known as H2 blockers, these directly decrease the amount of acid that your stomach produces depending on the dosage.

Should neither antacids nor H2 blockers work for yourself your pharmacist may also suggest you try what is called a proton pump for a maximum of four weeks. Proton pumps work similar to H2 blockers but instead of decreasing the acid produced by the stomach they stop it altogether. Please ask your pharmacist for advice before buying any of the medicines described above.

What will my GP do?

If you choose to visit your GP they will most likely ask you what your symptoms are and assess what is the most likely cause of indigestion and advise you on ways to ease the pain and discomfort it causes. Alongside this they may also prescribe you medicine, some of which is described above and can also be bought via a prescription.

If symptoms persist there are a number of tests that can be done to trace the cause of indigestion.

  • A blood test can detect the presence of bacteria known as H. Pylori (helicobacter pylori.) These bacteria can interrupt certain processes of the stomach and are linked to the occurrence of peptic ulcers; the usual course of treatment is to wait for the ulcers to heal with the addition of medicines to relieve symptoms of dyspepsia.
  • A gastroscopy can also be carried out by a doctor. This involves inserting a small camera attached to a flexible tube into the mouth and down through the oesophagus so that the doctor can get a clear view of what is going in your digestive system and find the cause of your indigestion.
  • Your doctor may also send you for an x-ray after giving you a small amount of barium to swallow. Barium will show up on the x-ray and highlight the journey that it takes throughout your digestive system and thus draw attention to any problems that there may be.
  • Surgery may be suggested in the rarest of cases where the indigestion is severe. Your GP will discuss this with you further.
  • If you believe your indigestion is caused by stress or anxiety you may benefit from certain talking therapies that are available at your local medical centre.

Remember to always seek advice from a trusted medical professional who can help you with your condition and tailor things to suit your needs specifically.