Do you experience an unpleasant feeling in your stomach after a meal? Do you feel bloated and gassy when you’re stressed? Or do you have a burning sensation near your chest when you’re lying in bed? Perhaps you are suffering from indigestion. It is a very common condition which affects both men and women of all ages. Read on to find out what causes indigestion and tips for treating and preventing it.
The term for indigestion is dyspepsia. It describes the range of uncomfortable symptoms in the upper part of the abdomen. These are usually associated with eating and drinking but this is not always the case. Some common signs of indigestion include heartburn, fullness, bloating, loss of appetite, feeling sick or nauseous, excessive flatulence or burping.
The main culprit of indigestion is stomach acid. While it is needed for the digestion of food and protecting the body from infection, a layer of mucous lines the nearby organs as a barrier against this acid. If the mucous layer is damaged, stomach acid can irritate the tissues of the stomach. Alternatively, if the valve (sphincter) at the top of your stomach isn’t working, the stomach acid can move back up the oesophagus, causing a burning sensation.
Some factors cause certain people to be more prone to indigestion and heartburn than others. These include:
Pregnancy – most pregnant women experience indigestion, especially in the later stages of pregnancy. This is due to an increase of the hormones progesterone and oestrogen which relax the muscles of the digestive tract, consequently allowing the movement of stomach acid. Also, the expanding uterus as the baby grows, places additional pressure on the stomach.
Medication – indigestion can be a side-effect of some antibiotics, aspirin, birth control pills, steroid medications or thyroid medications
Disease – people who have stomach infections, irritable bowel syndrome, thyroid disease, peptic ulcers or reflux often suffer indigestion
Lifestyle – people who smoke, drink excessively, eat too much food or eat too quickly, have a high-fat diet, are obese or overweight, stressed or fatigued all have an increased likelihood of indigestion.
Knowing the cause of your indigestion is important for knowing how to best treat it. Your doctor can assist you in identifying any underlying problems. Sometimes no treatment is required as indigestion can come and go. Below are some simple steps you can take to try and manage your symptoms.
- Eat small meals
- Eat slowly
- Don’t talk while you are chewing food
- Keep a food journal to help identify what foods cause your symptoms to appear
- Avoid foods which contain high levels of acid (such as citrus fruits), spicy foods and fatty foods
- Cut back on alcohol and caffeine intake
- Don’t smoke
- Find healthy methods of stress management
- Maintain a healthy weight
- Don’t lie down right after eating. In fact, try and eat your last meal of the day a few hours before you go to bed.
- Don’t exercise on a full stomach
- Wear comfortable, loose-fitting clothes
- Try an over-the-counter medicine or product for indigestion
For more chronic cases, options might include prescription medications or even surgery. See your doctor straight away if you experience severe pain in your stomach or chest, shortness of breath, unexplained weight loss or traces of blood in your vomit.
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