Dyspepsia or indigestion is a chronic functional disease of the gastrointestinal system that interferes with the digestion process of food in the stomach. It is often characterized by pain or discomfort in the upper abdomen. In the layman’s term dyspepsia is also referred to as indigestion. With dyspepsia the sufferer experiences fluctuating episodes of remission and escalation varying in frequency and intensity till it exists. Dyspepsia is a term used to address a group of symptoms rather than any particular one.
In dyspepsia it is believed that the stomach and some part of the small intestine function abnormally. Theories suggest that the muscles of these organs or the nerves of these organs function abnormally to give rise to the same. There is no one reason that can give rise to a condition like dyspepsia in an individual, there are several factors, dysfunctions and other medical complications that is thought to make the muscles of the intestine and the nerves controlling them go defunct. Some of the common causes are:
Wrong eating habits: Eating excess food without chewing it properly can give rise to discomfort in the intestine. Also certain foods like spicy foods, fatty foods, chocolates, citrus fruits and caffeine can trigger the symptoms. Tobacco and alcohol are also thought to be probable culprits. Also read simple tips to prevent heartburn and acidity.
Complications of the intestine: Some conditions like gastritis (inflammation of the stomach), gallstones, peptic ulcers, infection due to H. Pylori bacteria, hiatus hernia, pancreatitis, GERD can also be the reason behind dyspepsia.
Other health conditions: Sometimes dyspepsia is also seen co-existing in people suffering from other chronic diseases like diabetes, thyroid problems or severe kidney disease. Obesity is also a reason for one to suffer from a condition like dyspepsia.
Anxiety and stress: Some studies also state that dyspepsia can be an outcome of excessive stress, anxiety and depression. Also read ten symptoms of stress you didn’t know about.
Drug overuse: Specific drugs like, NSAIDs, ibuprofen and estrogen supplements can also trigger the symptoms of dyspepsia.
Some of the common symptoms of dyspepsia are:
- Pain in the upper abdomen especially around the navel area
- Belching or frequent burping
- A constant nagging feeling of nausea, wherein the sufferer many or may not throw up undigested food
- Abdominal fullness or bloating without any physiological reasons
- Feeling full or satiated after eating a very small amount of food
- Abdominal swelling
Usually these symptoms are seen after having a meal or after eating at odd hours. Sometimes these symptoms appear to be more severe and frequent lasting for days, weeks or even months at a stretch. Other times it can be less severe, often ignored and goes away on its own.
Here are few diagnostic tests to determine dyspepsia or indigestion-
The diagnosis for dyspepsia usually happens with a physical examination and taking in account the medical history of the patient. The physical examination is conducted by pressing various parts of the stomach and chest to look for any abnormality.
A blood test is usually done to check for any infection in the blood stream that can give the gastrointestinal tract a jolt.
An endoscopy is done to check on the innards of the stomach for ulcers, inflammation or infection.
A stool test is usually done to check if there is an H.pylori infection in the body. Peptic ulcers are usually caused by this bacterium. If bacterium is present in the digestive system a urea breath test is also done to confirm the same.
A liver function test is done if it is suspected that the indigestion problem is due to a functional problem of the liver or the bile ducts. This involves a blood test that determines how the liver is working.
An x-ray of the upper gastrointestinal tract is taken to see the functioning of the esophagus, stomach and small intestine.
This is done to get a better view of the muscles and organs of the digestive system to ascertain the exact cause of dyspepsia.
Abdominal CT scan:
The CT scan takes a series of X-ray images to produce a 3-dimensional image of the inside of the abdomen which might be necessary at times to get to the root cause of the problem.
Medications: To treat dyspepsia medications usually prescribed are as follows.
- Antacids: These are the first line of treatment which are given to keep the acid levels in the stomach in check. They can also be bought over-the-counter without any prescription. Also readacidity: a cause of heartburn.
- H2-receptor antagonists: They reduce the acid levels in the stomach and their effects last longer than the antacids. Though, at times one can also have some side effects due to this drug like nausea, vomiting, constipation, diarrhoea, and headaches.
- PPIs or proton pump inhibitors: they are more effective in reducing the acid levels that the antacids and H-2 receptors. But their side effects are many including cough, headache, dizziness, back pain, abdominal pain, wind, nausea, constipation and diarrhea. In very rare cases long-term use can lead to bone fractures due to depleting calcium sources.
- Prokinetics: This medication helps in effective functioning of the stomach muscles and reduces the incidence of dyspepsia. Side effects may include tiredness, depression, sleepiness, and anxiety and muscle spasms.
- Antibiotics: These medications are prescribed if dyspepsia is due to a bacterium infection.
- Antidepressants: They are prescribed if there are no probable causes found to link the episodes of dyspepsia. Antidepressants sometimes ease the discomfort by reducing the patient’s sensation of pain. Side effects may include nausea, headaches, agitation, constipation, and night sweats.
Correcting dietary habits and lifestyle: It is usually seen that with dyspepsia the symptoms are usually triggered after consuming certain types of foods. Usually raw veggies, foods rich in fats, milk and milk products trigger an episode of dyspepsia. It is wise for people suffering from the condition to keep track of the foods that do not suit their digestive system and try to avoid them. Quitting smoking and alcohol can also help getting relief from the symptoms. A weight loss of 5 to 8 kgs can go in a long way in management of the condition.
Dyspepsia is not a life threatening disease but it can make a person go off track with its symptoms and severity. Hence managing the condition effectively is necessary. Correcting diet, staying away from triggers and following proper medical advice can help one get some relief from the symptoms.
Ignoring treatment can make the episodes of GERD or the bacterial attack inside the gut take a severe toll on the sufferer. It can lead to inflammation and irritation of the oesophagus and make it scarred. Over time, it can make the esophagus constricted and narrow. In such a scenario a surgical intervention might become necessary.
Long term irritation and inflammation of the lining of the stomach can make the passage between the stomach and small intestine also scarred leading to an emergency.
Ignoring treatment for long can also make one dependent on pills for a life time. Acting on the symptoms sooner can help provide relief from the condition and manage it effectively.