Indigestion Q&A

Many of us will experience indigestion at some point in our lives. Although indigestion is not a disease, it presents itself as pain or discomfort in the upper abdomen and can be a symptom of an underlying health condition.

To help make things clearer, Dr Michael Anthony Mendall from BMI Shirley Oaks Hospital, answers some of the most commonly asked questions about indigestion.

Michael Anthony Mendall
The most common causes of indigestion are acid reflux and a type of irritable bowel which mainly affects the stomach. Nowadays, peptic ulcer tends to be less common. Many other less common conditions can cause indigestion such as gallstones, pancreatic problems or in rare cases cancer.

Michael Anthony Mendall
Common over-the-counter painkiller and anti-inflammatory tablets can cause indigestion as can some medicines used to treat diabetes and blood pressure.

Michael Anthony Mendall
There would be cause for worry if your symptoms have been present for more than a month, are occurring every day and are getting progressively worse, particularly if you are over 50. Associated weight loss and difficulty swallowing or vomiting are also worrying symptoms. Another worrying sign is black bowel motions which can indicate bleeding from the stomach. This should receive urgent attention, as should the development of jaundice.

Michael Anthony Mendall
If you are overweight, you should try to lose weight and exercise regularly. You should also avoid eating last thing at night. Large fatty meals are particularly bad, as are acidic foods and alcohol, particularly spirits. Many people whose main symptom is distension or bloating can be helped by eating less wheat and cereals.

Michael Anthony Mendall
If your main symptom is heartburn, burning pain in the upper stomach or acid reflux, then over-the-counter medications available in pharmacies may help, but you should talk to a pharmacist for guidance.

If the main symptom is bloating, peppermint oil may be helpful. Avoiding wheat and cereals can also be helpful in this circumstance.

Michael Anthony Mendall
Gastroscopy is the main investigation for the different causes of dyspepsia, but other tests such as ultrasound or CT scanning and oesophageal pH recording may be necessary.

Michael Anthony Mendall
This depends on the cause. If gallstones are the problem then surgery is necessary. For acid reflux, surgery is occasionally needed, particularly if regurgitation is a major problem or if there is intolerance to the drugs normally used to treat it. If cancer is the underlying cause then surgery may well be necessary. However, the majority of people can be helped with lifestyle and dietary change and medication if necessary.

Michael Anthony Mendall
Indigestion caused by a stomach infection (H. pylori) can be resolved by a two week course of antibiotics. Surgery can resolve the pain from gallstones, and greatly improve symptoms from gastro-oesophageal reflux. In some people, if certain specific food intolerances can be identified then their avoidance is important in helping to resolve symptoms. Losing weight can help gastro-oesphageal reflux. However, most people can control their symptoms by making changes to their diet and lifestyle, as well as medication.

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