Understanding Dyspepsia

Up to 70 million people in the United States, or more than 20%, live with some type of chronic gastrointestinal (GI) problem. Dyspepsia, otherwise known as indigestion, ranks as one of the most common digestive complaints — despite the fact that it’s widely considered a collection of symptoms rather than a definitive disorder. 

To understand exactly what dyspepsia is, it’s important to understand what it isn’t. If you suffer from chronic indigestion, here’s what you should know. 

Dyspepsia defined

Dyspepsia is the medical term used to describe indigestion, or the combination of GI symptoms that typically includes mild to severe pain in your upper abdomen (the area between your chest and your navel) and an uncomfortable feeling of fullness while eating or shortly after mealtime. 

During a bout of indigestion, you may experience:

While it’s also possible to experience heartburn, or acid reflux, during an episode of indigestion, it’s important to note that dyspepsia and acid reflux are two separate conditions.  

For some people, dyspepsia is a temporary problem that only occurs after eating too quickly, eating too much, or eating fatty, fried, or spicy foods. For others, it’s an ongoing problem that occurs virtually every day — often after every meal. 

Symptom... or condition?

Occasional dyspepsia is usually a benign problem that’s related to controllable lifestyle factors like overeating or consuming foods that disagree with your body. Smoking, feeling anxious, and taking certain medications can also lead to temporary dyspepsia. 

Persistent dyspepsia, on the other hand, is often a symptom of another GI problem, such as an inflammatory condition like gastritis or pancreatitis. Peptic ulcers, gallstones, celiac disease, and chronic constipation can also cause frequent dyspepsia. 

Severe dyspepsia that persists for a week or longer may be a symptom of stomach cancer, especially if it’s accompanied by frequent vomiting, loss of appetite, weight loss, or black, tarry stools. If you experience these symptoms, call Dr. Singh as soon as possible. 

Just as often, dyspepsia has no obvious cause, meaning it persists despite the absence of an identifiable underlying condition. Known as functional dyspepsia (FD), this form of indigestion can only be diagnosed through a process of elimination, once all other possible causes have been evaluated and excluded.    

Although there are no observable or measurable structural abnormalities to explain persistent FD symptoms, abnormally slow motility of the stomach or hypersensitive stomach nerves seem to play a role in some people.  

Treatment solutions 

If an upper endoscopy reveals that your dyspepsia is symptomatic of a peptic ulcer or stomach inflammation, your treatment plan will focus on resolving the underlying problem — you may need to take medication to curb the overproduction of stomach acid, or you may need to take an antibiotic to get rid of the bacterium that causes peptic ulcers.     

For most people with unexplained FD, deliberate lifestyle adjustments and dietary changes are often all it takes to achieve long-term symptom relief. This usually means eating more slowly at mealtime, or swapping three larger daily meals for five smaller, more frequent meals. 

It means staying away from the fatty, greasy, or spicy foods that can trigger dyspepsia, too, and limiting or eliminating alcohol and caffeine. It’s also helpful to avoid any foods you’re particularly sensitive to, such as milk (lactose) or wheat (gluten). 

To learn more about dyspepsia, call your nearest Hardeep M. Singh, M.D. office in Orange or Irvine, California, today, or click online to schedule an appointment with Dr. Singh any time.

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