What is dyspepsia?
Dyspepsia, also known as functional dyspepsia, is long-term or recurring indigestion. Dyspepsia can be uncomfortable and often causes pain or distress within your digestive tract. Often, dyspepsia will not cause long-term damage to your body, but it can cause lots of worry, stress, and irritation.
Researchers do not fully understand what causes dyspepsia, but risk factors may include anxiety, depression, smoking, alcohol consumption, and obesity. Dyspepsia can also be caused by your diet. Women and older people are more likely to experience dyspepsia than other populations.
Dyspepsia is fairly common, with up to 30% of the general population experiencing the condition.
To manage dyspepsia, you need to understand its signs and symptoms and then learn how to treat it.
Symptoms of dyspepsia
There are a few warning signs that you may be experiencing dyspepsia. These include the following symptoms:
Digestive tract discomfort
Discomfort in your upper abdomen or digestive tract is a common symptom of dyspepsia. This discomfort can create a burning sensation or pain in these areas. Sometimes these feelings can be relieved by eating something or taking an antacid.
Feeling of fullness
It’s normal to feel full after eating a lot of food. People with dyspepsia often have this feeling without eating or after eating only a very small amount of food.
Another symptom of dyspepsia is bloating, which can go hand-in-hand with the feeling of fullness (also called satiety) described above.
Nausea or vomiting
If you feel sick to your stomach and as though you might vomit (a condition commonly called nausea), this could be a sign of dyspepsia. The disorder sometimes leads people to vomit in addition to experiencing nausea. If these symptoms of dyspepsia are recurring, consider speaking to a doctor.
Dyspepsia commonly causes lots of burping (also called belching). This is a typical sign of dyspepsia that you might experience after consuming a lot of food.
These symptoms will vary from person to person. If you are regularly experiencing any of these warning signs, dyspepsia could be the cause of your discomfort.
Causes of dyspepsia
Sometimes it’s helpful to know the causes of dyspepsia so you can avoid or minimize your symptoms without taking medication. Below are a few common causes of dyspepsia.
Heartburn can be caused by smoking or using tobacco. The nicotine in tobacco causes stomach acid to back up into your esophagus, the tube that connects your throat and your stomach. This acid backup causes symptoms of dyspepsia.
If you smoke and experience symptoms of dyspepsia, try quitting smoking to see if that helps eliminate your symptoms.
Researchers believe there is a strong link between obesity (having excessive body fat) and dyspepsia. Obesity is also connected to other functional gastrointestinal disorders (FGIDs) like irritable bowel syndrome.
Anxiety and depression
More research is needed to confirm whether anxiety increases stomach acid, but researchers believe that anxiety can lead to symptoms associated with GERD or make you more sensitive to these symptoms.
In order to be diagnosed with chronic (functional) dyspepsia, you must experience symptoms often for at least a month. Your doctor will listen to your symptoms and then may perform tests to rule out other conditions. These tests could include any of the following:
- Endoscopy, where a doctor inserts a tube called an endoscope to view your stomach, esophagus, and duodenum (part of your small intestine)
- Esophageal pH monitoring, a test that measures acid reflux from your stomach back into your esophagus
- Testing your blood, breath, or stool for bacteria
- Barium X-ray
- Other blood tests
Treatments for dyspepsia
Aside from avoiding the above triggers and causes, how can you treat dyspepsia?
First, focus on maintaining a healthy weight and try to eat smaller meals instead of very large meals, which can quickly cause indigestion.
Also, try avoiding foods and drinks that can trigger dyspepsia. Aside from alcohol, avoid fried foods, caffeine, chocolate, onions, and garlic, which are high in acidity. Make sure you drink lots of water and avoid carbonated beverages like soda.
Medications that treat dyspepsia include:
- Over-the-counter (OTC) antacids like Tums or Rolaids, which combat the effect of stomach acid
- Prokinetics like metoclopramide, medications that help food move through your stomach
- H-2 receptor blockers like Pepcid and Tagamet, which reduce stomach acid and are stronger than antacids
- Antibiotics, which can be helpful if you have stomach ulcers caused by the bacteria Helicobacter pylori
- Antidepressants, which can help reduce dyspepsia if it is caused by a problem with your central nervous system (part of the nervous system made up of your brain and spinal cord)
- Proton pump inhibitors (PPIs), medications like Nexium and Prevacid that reduce stomach acid and are stronger than H-2 receptor blockers
Your doctor may also recommend psychotherapy to ease symptoms and help you manage stress.
Because there are several different causes of dyspepsia, treatments will vary from person to person. While changing your lifestyle, habits, and diet may prevent indigestion symptoms, if you experience long-term signs and continued discomfort, it is best to discuss your treatment options with a doctor.
Digestive Disorders Resources
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Gastroenterology and Hepatology: "The Relationship Between Obesity and Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders."
Gastroenterology Research and Practice: "Functional Dyspepsia: Subtypes, Risk Factors, and Overlap with Irritable Bowel Syndrome in a Population of African Patients."
Healthline: "Functional Dyspepsia Causes and Treatment."
International Foundation for Gastrointestinal Disorders: "Dyspepsia."
Medical News Today: "What to know about indigestion or dyspepsia."
Michigan Medicine: "GERD: Controlling Heartburn by Changing Your Habits."
World Journal of Gastroenterology: "Anxiety and depression in patients with gastroesophageal reflux disease and their effect on quality of life."