Most of us never even notice the internal workings of our digestive system. Occasionally, we may have a bit of a tummy rumble or belch but nothing more.
Indigestion is a common disorder and is characterized by pain and a nauseous and full feeling in the stomach. It often occurs after we have eaten or overeaten the wrong types of food. Severe or persistent indigestion may need treatment as it may be a symptom of a medical complaint.
Types of indigestion
It is extremely common to get a bout of indigestion after eating rich or spicy food or after eating a heavy meal and most adults have suffered this form of mild indigestion from time to time. If the indigestion is more severe and persists even after using an antacid, it may be indicative of a medical condition that can be treated. Medical conditions with indigestion as a symptom include migraine headache, peptic ulcer, and hiatus hernia. This type of indigestion is known as chronic indigestion.
Causes of Indigestion
Indigestion usually occurs as a result of eating food that is unsuitable or it can occur as a result of the way that food is eaten. However, it can be a symptom of illness. Foods such as pickled onions, cucumbers, tomatoes, curries, spicy foods, and foods rich in butter or cream are common culprits for causing indigestion in some people.
There are also some foods and other substances that the stomach deals with more slowly and these can also be the cause of indigestion. Such things include unripe fruit, raw meat, excess alcohol, excess tea or coffee, and tobacco. Because the stomach does not process these substances as quickly, the acid lies in the stomach for a long time before being passed into the duodenum. Heartburn is then caused by the acid being poured out of the stomach.
Failing to chew food efficiently or eating too fast may bring on a case of indigestion for some people. Poor dental hygiene can also be to blame. This is because blood or pus from bad or septic teeth may leak, tainting food and causing chronic indigestion.
The vagus nerve is responsible for acid production and rate of discharge of food from the stomach. Because this part of the nervous system is also affected by depression and anxiety, it can create a psychological reason for indigestion. This is due to excess acid production and slowness in emptying the stomach which can cause indigestion and ulcers.
Symptoms of Indigestion
The symptoms of indigestion can range from mild pain and flatulence to severe pain and regurgitation of acidic food and can affect individuals in different ways.
The cause of the indigestion may also determine the symptoms or the combination of symptoms in each individual. Regardless of this, it is usual to experience either colicky or constant pain in the stomach or the upper chest. Often, you may feel nauseous and feel very full and bloated. Vomiting will relieve the indigestion immediately.
Another symptom of indigestion is heartburn. This is characterized by the regurgitation of acid that comes up into the mouth and produces a burning sensation in the chest. There is also another symptom called waterbrash where saliva flows into the mouth and is usually accompanied by wind or hiccups.
When a person has chronic indigestion, the tongue may feel dry and furry and the breath is very stale.
Dangerous Side Effects
An occasional bout of indigestion isn't normally dangerous and can happen to anyone following a night of drinking alcohol or following a heavy meal. It is only when the indigestion is chronic, or when the pain remains or becomes worse, that it is important to seek medical advice as it may be a symptom of a more serious condition rather than simple indigestion.
Similar symptoms to indigestion can be found in inflammation of the gallbladder, appendicitis, and even a heart attack though in this case the pain remains fixed or becomes worse despite taking an antacid.
Where an undiagnosed peptic ulcer causes the chronic indigestion, the ulcer may bleed or become perforated. Sometimes persistent indigestion may also be an early indication of stomach cancer. Ignoring the possibility of any of these conditions and putting it all down to indigestion can be dangerous and even fatal. If you suffer from persistent indigestion, it is vital that you see your doctor.
Treatment for Indigestion
A medical examination will establish whether the cause of the indigestion is something such as hiatus hernia, stomach cancer, or peptic ulcer. These examinations may include x-rays or an endoscopy.
If the indigestion is caused by a stressful way of life or poor dietary habits, then lifestyle changes are all that is needed. Isolated bouts of indigestion will usually react favorably to an antacid. This will relieve the symptoms quickly and effectively.