We’ve all probably dealt with it once or several times throughout our lives after enjoying a favorite dish or some not very healthy to-go food. Indigestion, or dyspepsia, refers to a condition in which the stomach does not digest food properly, resulting in upsetting symptoms ranging from pain and general discomfort to nausea, heartburn and belching. It is generally a benign condition resulting from poor dietary choices and bad lifestyle habits and does not pose any serious health risks on its own.
However, indigestion can also be caused by underlying medical conditions which require diagnosing by trained medical professionals and adequate treatment. Symptoms may vary from person to person and treatment will almost always require a more or less drastic change of diet. Keeping to healthy, clean eating, relatively small servings and an eating schedule suited to individual needs can help with indigestion immensely.
So what is indigestion? First of all, indigestion is not a disease, but more like an overlap of symptoms that come about as a result of impaired digestion. We basically do not digest food well. And the reason why our stomach fails at its one main task is generally our fault. Whether it’s because we eat bad foods, highly processed foods or simply foods that are bad for us but good for others, are under a lot of stress, skip meals, eat too much at once, don’t get enough sleep or do not properly manage related health issues, we are generally directly responsible for indigestion.
Indigestion can often resolve by itself, but it can leave us worried there may be a serious disease behind all of the symptoms and malaise. The condition can successfully mimic cardiovascular problems such as a heart attack because of symptoms like heartburn or chest pain. And this can be quite unsettling both for anyone with heart disease and for those of us who don’t have cardiovascular problems. Resting, relaxing, taking natural remedies or over the counter medication such as antacids can help a lot with indigestion.
But if you experience frequent indigestion with debilitating symptoms, it is always a good idea to see your doctor, even if it’s just to reassure you that everything is alright. After that, recognizing an episode of indigestion can save you a lot of time and unnecessary worry. Although you may not be experiencing all of the symptoms at once, here is a list of the main signs you have indigestion:
1) Bloating. A slight abdominal distension or swelling of the stomach as a result of feeling full as well as stomach discomfort are signs of indigestion.
2) Intestinal gas. Whether it’s flatulence or belching (burping), eliminating air on either sides is a sign of indigestion. Unless standing up straight improves belching problems, then you might have indigestion.
3) Nausea. Indigestion is brought on by either eating something bad or by eating too much of something. Eating too much overwhelms the stomach and nausea appears, signaling indigestion. Vomiting can also occur. It really depends on how bad your indigestion is.
4) Movements in the stomach. A small percentage of people experiencing indigestion have reported feeling movements in their stomach. They may be painful or simply dynamic. It is believed that intestinal gas is the cause for feeling things move in your stomach.
5) Heartburn. Indigestion is almost always accompanied by heartburn, a burning sensation in the upper abdomen (see more on Heartburn: Causes, Symptoms and Treatment). For this reason, some people may even end up mistaking a really bad indigestion for heart problems. However, heartburn is often a symptom of acid reflux, an underlying health problem that can also trigger indigestion episodes. In such cases, cold night sweats may also occur. See Night Sweats: Causes and Treatment.
Indigestion does not discriminate. Children, young adults up to the elderly can frequently experience indigestion, especially of they enjoy unhealthy foods or foods they are especially sensitive to. Here is what can trigger your indigestion:
1) Eating too much at once.
2) Eating highly processed foods, fatty foods or junk food.
3) Irritating foods (garlic, onions, pepper, chili, spicy foods).
Also see what Foods to Eat and to Avoid for Acid Reflux.
4) Foods you are particularly sensitive to.
This may include garlic, bell peppers, onions, beans, spicy foods, vinegar, citrus fruit, etc.
5) Alcohol and coffee.
6) Stress, fatigue.
8) Medication (aspirin, antibiotics, pain relievers in general).
9) Bad position while eating and afterwards, during digestion.
10) Disease (GERD, gastritis, food intolerance or sensitivities).
If you experience indigestion episodes regularly and they are not related to any bad dietary or lifestyle habits, then your indigestion might potentially be a symptom of an underlying medical condition such as:
1) Gastric ulcer. It has been shown to affect more than 10% of the world population. It frequently appears in the elderly and the socially unprivileged who cannot afford to eat properly or are under continuous stress, also known as chronic stress. Individuals abusing NSADs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medication) are also a risk factor for ulcers.
2) Helicobacter pylori infection. Helicobater pylori is a bacteria we all have, but which is not dangerous unless ‘activated’. According to research, around 70% of patients with gastric ulcers and 90% of people with chronic gastritis have it wrecking havoc in their digestive tract.
3) Irritable Bowel Syndrome. This is a disorder of the digestive tract with symptoms similar to indigestion: abdominal pain and discomfort and bloating. However, irritable bowel is also characterized by inconsistent bowel movements ranging from diarrhea to constipation.
4) Infection. Bacterial or, more often, viral infections can affect the stomach and cause symptoms that may be mistaken for indigestion: nausea, pain, discomfort. Usually, a major symptom you have a stomach bug is diarrhea.
5) Gastroparesis. This is a rather serious condition characterized by food moving slowly or stagnating in the stomach as a result of damage to the stomach never, the vagus nerve. Gastroparesis is basically a partial paralysis of the stomach which result in indigestion-like symptoms.
6) Medication. Medication such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medication (aspirin, ibuprofen), pain relievers in general as well as antibiotics or other types of medication can trigger indigestion-like symptoms or cause the condition to worsen. The longer you take them, the worse it may be for your digestive tract. Conventional medication is both efficient and strong, hence the damage it can do to the sensitive stomach mucosa which has to digest it.
However, indigestion is not a deal-breaker. There are many things we can do to prevent it from occurring or reoccurring. It’s mostly a matter of healthy eating and healthy living. Here is a list of solutions and recommendations for your troublesome indigestion:
1) Avoid coffee, alcohol and caffeinated and carbonated drinks.
2) Stop smoking.
3) Avoid citrus fruit, tomatoes, vinegar, garlic and onions.
4) Avoid acidic, pickled, fatty and spicy foods in general, as well as junk food.
5) Stop eating foods that are bad for you, whatever they may be.
6) Eat slowly, chew calmly and stay relaxed.
7) Avoid tight clothes that may compress your stomach and prevent good circulation.
8) Never lie down after eating. Wait at least 2-3 hours and move a little after each meal.
9) Drink some tea, accordingly to your doctor’s recommendations.
I admit that I have dealt with several severe indigestion episodes when I was younger. And it took me long enough to figure out how to manage the condition as it was caused by both gastritis and bad eating habits. Eating mostly low-fat, home-cooked meals and increasing my ratio of healthy fresh foods, giving up coffee, sodas and processed sweets has done wonders for me.
In the process, I also learnt which foods really work for me and which not. For instance, I can’t eat garlic, onions, whole milk or hard cheeses, but it really helps to include yogurt, fresh cheese, whole grains and home cooked meals in my diet. This is a crucial step in dealing with all stomach-related problems: finding out which foods are good for you and which are bad for you. It gets easier from there, and indigestion episodes should become infrequent.