What Causes Indigestion?

The standard Western diet is full of processed foods, and this makes indigestion a common problem in the United States. But ignoring indigestion could also mean ignoring a more serious health problem. Read on to learn when to see the doctor.

9 minute read

Last Updated July 8, 2020

Indigestion Treatment - Heart Symptoms - 1MD

Indigestion is a condition that most people experience in their life at some point. It can be triggered by poor eating habits as well as chronic digestive issues.

Indigestion can be acute as the result of overeating, or you can develop chronic indigestion as part of an underlying health problem. Both can be treated, and it is important not to ignore the symptoms of indigestion. Ignoring indigestion could also mean ignoring a more serious health problem.

What Causes Indigestion?

Eating too fast or eating too much are the most common causes of indigestion. Spicy foods can also cause indigestion in some people, as can lying down or exercising too soon after eating a meal. 

Your food needs time to digest; otherwise, it can back up along the digestive tract causing discomfort. Indigestion can also be triggered or made worse by:

Smoking
♦ Excessive alcohol consumption
♦ Certain medications

Indigestion is also associated with several health conditions and diseases.

GERD or acid reflux: Chronic acid reflux or heartburn, caused by stomach acid flowing back through the esophagus, is known as GERD. Indigestion is closely related to this condition, as GERD can be an underlying condition for chronic indigestion and abdominal discomfort. Treatment to control acid reflux will help to reduce symptoms.

Gastritis: This inflammatory condition is typically caused by a bacterial infection, and it causes indigestion along with gnawing stomach pains. Medications and antibiotics are required to cure the infection and reduce inflammation.

Ulcers: Ulcers can occur anywhere along your digestive tract. Peptic ulcers (in the lining of the stomach) are the most common, and along with stomach pain, they can cause indigestion. Bacteria are a common cause for ulcers, so antibiotics are used for treatment along with anti-inflammatory medications.

Celiac disease: This disease is characterized by an allergy to gluten (a protein found in wheat). Consuming gluten causes a reaction and inflammation along the digestive tract. Along with poor nutrient absorption and pain, celiac disease can also cause bloating and indigestion.

Gallbladder disease: Chronic gallbladder problems can cause digestive trouble, including indigestion. Chronic indigestion could be a sign of this underlying disease that would require treatment. Depending on the problem, surgery may be needed as in the case of gallstones. Anti-inflammatory medications can also help to reduce pain, and medications like antacids can help to control the reflux causing indigestion.

Gastric cancer: chronic indigestion, or the constant feeling of fullness, is one of the first symptoms of gastric or stomach cancer. Indigestion will typically be accompanied by weight loss, nausea, vomiting, and a poor appetite. 

Pancreatitis: Acute and chronic pancreatitis can cause abdominal pain. The pain can be felt across the upper body like a squeezing band. Inflammation and swelling can cause pressure and boat in the abdomen, which contributes to indigestion. Treating pancreatitis will reduce indigestion.

Cirrhosis: New studies have found that liver problems, such as cirrhosis, can impact the digestive tract. One of the most common symptoms of liver disease is bloating and indigestion. Bloating and distention of the abdominal cavity disrupt digestion, and this combined with jaundice, can be an early sign of liver disease.

H. Pyloiri infection:  H. pylori is a bacterium that causes gastric infections, and without treatment, it can lead to stomach cancer. Early signs of the bacterial presence include indigestion and abdominal pain. The infection can be successfully treated with antibiotics, which will return digestive health to normal.

Congestive Heart Failure (CHF): Congestive heart failure does not always present with symptoms, and they can be mild to severe if they do appear. While they are not the only signs of heart failure: indigestion, nausea, and abdominal pain can indicate heart trouble. Chronic indigestion should not be ignored, especially when accompanied by shortness of breath and chronic chest pain.

Indigestion Symptoms

What does indigestion feel like? The most common symptoms of indigestion include:

♦ Feeling full during a meal, and not being able to finish the meal
♦ Burning sensation in the stomach or esophagus
Abdominal pain or upset stomach
♦ Gnawing sensation in the stomach
♦ Feeling overly full after a normal-sized meal
Excessive gas or bloating

Some additional symptoms indicate more serious problems and should not be ignored. You need to see your doctor immediately if you notice any of the following symptoms.

♦ Unexplained weight loss
♦ Black stools
♦ Trouble swallowing
♦ Severe vomiting or blood in your vomit

How Is Indigestion Diagnosed?

Constant indigestion could be indicative of an underlying digestive issue that needs treatment. It is also important to understand the difference between indigestion and heartburn. 

Heartburn is a symptom of indigestion, which is a more overall feeling of discomfort in the abdomen and chest area. Heartburn is the burning sensation felt in the chest caused by stomach acid backing up through the esophagus.

Your doctor can help you determine if you have indigestion by evaluating your medical history and your eating habits, as well as conducting a physical examination. Scans may also be done to detect any abnormalities along your digestive tract. 

In chronic cases, an endoscopy may be performed, where a small tube with a camera is placed down your esophagus to look closely at the lining of your digestive tract. This can help identify ulcers, inflammatory diseases, reflux esophagitis, and cancers. 

Indigestion Treatment

There are a number of medications to treat indigestion. Several are available over the counter, such as antacids, which help neutralize stomach acid, and others like proton pump inhibitors need to be prescribed. 

Depending on the severity and cause of your indigestion, your doctor may prescribe one or more of these drugs. They will also recommend lifestyle changes that are known to improve digestion and relieve uncomfortable symptoms.

♦ Eating smaller meals
♦ Avoiding fatty, fried, and spicy foods
♦ Eating slower
♦ Not eating before you lay down
Stop smoking
♦ Losing excess weight
♦ Getting regular physical exercise
♦ Reducing stress through meditation and yoga
♦ Getting plenty of rest each night

Natural Treatment for Indigestion

Indigestion is most commonly associated with the digestive system. As mentioned, heart failure can also cause indigestion. There are additional treatment options you can try to protect your heart. If your indigestion is related to your heart health, then there are several natural ingredients that can help in several ways. 

Reducing cholesterol is important in preventing heart failure. Too much cholesterol can lead to the accumulation of fatty deposits along the arteries, causing a condition known as atherosclerosis. This reduces blood flow to the heart and increases the risk of heart failure. 

You can naturally lower your cholesterol levels with the following ingredients: 

Niacin (vitamin B3)
Lion’s mane
Chromium

Hypertension (high blood pressure) is another common factor that increases your risk of heart failure. It increases the amount of work the heart has to do, causing stress and damage over time. 

It’s also one of the most preventable heart disease factors. A balanced diet and regular exercise combined with the natural supplements below can reduce high blood pressure.

♦ Red yeast rice
Pine bark extract
Berberine bark extract

When to See Your Doctor

With the standard Western diet full of processed foods, poor digestion is not uncommon. When constipation becomes chronic and severe and no longer responds to over-the-counter medications, you need to see your doctor. 

When indigestion causes pain in the chest and other serious problems, there is likely an underlying condition involved that will require treatment. Once identified and properly treated, your indigestion will be manageable if not go away completely.

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