Have you ever felt like someone set your stomach on fire? Most people across populations have experienced symptoms that include a sense of burning in the stomach, bloating, gas, and most importantly - indigestion. Indigestion is called dyspepsia in medical jargon, indicating a state of altered or impaired gastric function. But what causes indigestion?
The answers point to a variety of conditions and underlying factors since indigestion is a symptom and not a standalone condition.
While indigestion is self-limiting and resolves on its own over a short period, conditions like GERD, peptic ulcers, irritable bowel syndrome, and food intolerances also present as indigestion and a feeling of burning in the stomach in the initial stages. Read on as we discuss more gastrointestinal symptoms associated with indigestion such as vomiting, diarrhea, and blood in the stool, and also provide simple yet effective home remedies for indigestion and gas.
What is Indigestion?
- Indigestion, though a singular term, refers to a variety of symptoms that relate to the impaired functioning of the gastrointestinal tract.
- An uncomfortably full, bloated, and sometimes painful sensation either during or after a meal is considered indigestion or dyspepsia.
- A feeling of burning in the stomach, specifically in the upper part, also constitutes a sign of indigestion.
- Indigestion can also be accompanied by heartburn and gas, which can lead to either flatulence or belching.
- A large meal, certain foods like carbonated drinks, food high in fat, sugar, & processed elements can lead to indigestion and a burning sensation in the stomach.
- Swallowing a lot of air during eating, especially due to eating food too quickly, can also cause symptoms like bloating and gas.
- However, there are a variety of potentially serious conditions that cause indigestion, which makes it an important symptom to watch out for.
- While most incidences of indigestion are short-lived and are temporary inconveniences, persistent indigestion and dyspepsia can lead to serious consequences like malnutrition and indicate an underlying disease.
What Causes Indigestion?
- If you’ve thought, ‘why does it feel like my stomach is on fire?’, you aren’t alone. Nearly 11.5 to 30% of the global population suffers from indigestion and reflux. This makes dyspepsia a fairly common condition.
- The condition is prevalent across all age groups and has a variety of causes that are related to lifestyle, diet, medication, and underlying diseases.
- The lifestyle factors that can cause indigestion include:
- High levels of stress
- Eating large quantities of food in a very short amount of time
- Eating a diet rich in fats and sugars
- A diet that’s too spicy
- Trying to exercise immediately or shortly after a meal
- Lying down immediately after a meal
- Excessive alcohol consumption
- Several medications have side effects that can cause a feeling of burning in the stomach and indigestion, some of these are:
- Estrogen pills & other birth control medications
- Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs like aspirin, ibuprofen, diclofenac, and naproxen
- Steroid medications such as prednisolone.
- Antibiotics such as amoxicillin, ampicillin, and clavulanic acid
- Thyroid-modulating medications such as levothyroxine
- Medical conditions also present as indigestion either in the early stages of development or during the course of the disease. Some of these conditions are:
- Peptic ulcers
- Gallstones and cholecystitis (inflammation of the gallbladder)
- Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
- Gastritis (stomach infections)
- Enteritis (intestinal infections)
- The improper emptying of the stomach’s contents into the small intestine or gastroparesis
- Hypo and hyperthyroidism
- Irritable bowel syndrome
- Crohn’s disease
- Food intolerances that include lactose and gluten
- Rarely, certain cancers of the stomach and other parts of the gastrointestinal tract
- The fluctuating levels of a variety of hormones in women’s bodies during pregnancy can lead to frequent bouts of indigestion and heartburn - this is a common occurrence.
- Some people also suffer from frequent incidences of indigestion without underlying causes. This type of indigestion is called functional dyspepsia or non-ulcerous dyspepsia.
What are the Symptoms of Indigestion?
The symptoms of indigestion include:
- Abdominal pain
- Burning sensation in the abdomen, especially in the upper stomach region
- Nausea and vomiting
- Burning sensation in the chest and throat (Reflux)
- Feeling too full too soon during a meal
- Increased flatulence and belching
- Black colored stool
- Bloody vomit
- Weight loss and malnutrition
- Chest pain
How is Indigestion Diagnosed?
- Indigestion is often one of many symptoms reported to doctors in case you suspect an underlying condition.
- Be sure to give your doctor a detailed family and medical history. Don’t forget to emphasize what your lifestyle is like and what your diet consists of.
- Be specific about your symptoms like burning in the stomach or abdomen, reflux, or the bloated feeling following a meal.
- If your doctor suspects an underlying condition, they might recommend a slew of tests that includes bloodwork, imaging, and possibly even endoscopy.
- The endoscopy procedure involves the insertion of a thin tube that contains a camera into your gastrointestinal tract through the mouth to enable your doctors to get a closer look at the organs within.
- An endoscopy can help your doctors rule out GERD, peptic ulcers, certain cancers, and inflammatory conditions.
- The treatment for indigestion is often not necessary due to its self-limiting nature.
- It’s common for indigestion to resolve in a few hours. However, if your symptoms persist, your doctor might provide either symptomatic treatment or treatment based on your diagnosis.
- Symptomatic treatment often involves drugs that reduce the secretion of excessive stomach acid, improve the motility of the digestive tract, and drugs that support the digestive process.
- There also exist simple, home remedies for indigestion and gas. You can follow these steps to reduce the incidence of heartburn, indigestion, and gas:
- Avoid foods that have had a history of causing a burning sensation in the stomach
- Do not sleep or recline immediately after a meal
- Avoid eating late in the night
- Eat at a comfortable pace and do not eat too quickly, this prevents you from swallowing air and causing gas.
- Cut down your intake of alcohol
- Try to quit smoking by getting help
- Avoid drinking beverages like coffee during a meal
- Exercise regularly and maintain a healthy weight
- Avoid chewing with your mouth open
- Try to mitigate stress
- If possible, go for a short and slow-paced stroll following a meal
- Avoid vigorous exercise after a meal
- Eat at least three hours before you retire to the bed
- Cut back on foods with acid content like tomatoes, citrus fruits, and peppers
- Limit the intake of fatty, sugary, and processed foods
- If you have trouble digesting large portions, try to incorporate smaller meals dispersed throughout the day
- Drink a lot of water
- Avoid talking while chewing
- Cut out carbonated beverages from your diet
- Maintain a nutritious diet with sufficient macronutrients and fiber to help your system digest food easily.
- Include prebiotics and probiotics in your meals to keep your gut microbiome healthy
Indigestion is a very prevalent issue that affects several millions of people across the world. While the symptom encompasses several related signs elicited by the body, the causes range from benign reasons to underlying medical conditions with serious implications on the individual's health. If you notice persistent indigestion, severe heartburn, a sense of immediate discomfort while eating, blood in your stool, or while you vomit, contact your health provider immediately and inform them of your symptoms. Try to cooperate with your doctor to help them diagnose your condition and take the necessary measures to improve your quality of life along with the treatment provided.