06 December 2017
Dr Subramaniam Ramakrishnan, Consultant Gastroenterologist and Endoscopy Lead at Spire Cheshire Hospital, looks at the causes of indigestion, how we treat it and what we have to do to avoid it altogether.
But he also warned that people suffering indigestion regularly and for an extended period of time could actually be mistaking the symptom for something more sinister and urged them to see their GP or Gastroenterologist. Dr Ramakrishnan answers some common questions about indigestion and how it can be treated:
What is indigestion?
Indigestion is a very common condition affecting 40% of the population at some time or another. It is a combination of symptoms that includes heartburn, burning in the upper abdomen or behind the chest bone, acidy taste, pain after eating or drinking certain types of food
How is it usually caused?
There are a few common causes of indigestion. The most common is of course food related and it is usually food or chemicals that inappropriately relax the valve that controls acid in the stomach. The types of food that commonly does this includes diets rich in sugar, fat and acid
Are there any causes that people aren’t so aware of?
Sudden on onset of indigestion in someone who has never had this or those who have persistent symptoms may point to more serious illnesses such as gullet stomach or pancreatic cancer. Uncontrolled reflux may result in condition called Barrett’s Oesophagus which is found in nearly 90% of patients who develop oesophageal cancer.
Being overweight is another cause without necessarily having food or drinks that precipitate symptoms.
Some people are born with weaker valve function and therefore have symptoms despite not having any of the above causes.
Are there any foods that are more likely to cause it than others?
Yes. Rich food high in sugar and fat relaxes the valve controlling the acid in the stomach. Acidy fruits and vegetables may also cause these symptoms.
What about alcohol – are spirits more likely to bring on a bout of indigestion than beers or lagers?
Alcohol is one of the most common causes of indigestion. The stronger the alcohol content the more likely it is to cause these symptoms.
Besides abstaining from alcohol and saying ‘no’ to tasty treats what measures can people take to avoid indigestion?
Other than avoiding common food and drink related causes, it is advised that portion sizes are limited, eating or drinking alcohol just before sleep time is avoided. Being overweight is an independent risk factor and therefore these factors need to be addressed.
Does a pint of milk at the start of the evening help or is that an ‘old wives tale’ started by the dairy industry?
Milk is rich in protein and therefore may cause symptoms of indigestion. However small amounts of cold milk gives some relief of symptoms
If you do get indigestion what is the best way of treating it?
The best way is to avoid any of the common causes that result in symptoms. In many individuals additional treatment with acid suppression medication using the smallest dose to control symptoms is advised
There are dozens of over-the-counter remedies – are any better than the rest?
Yes. As there are different mechanisms within the body that result in symptoms, remedies are available that target these mechanisms that are helpful to varying degrees. Therefore it is important to use the most effective treatment that suits an individual
What about traditional ‘non-medical’ remedies?
Non-medical remedies are also useful adjuncts but interestingly may have chemicals within them that are known to reduce symptoms. It is important not to take these remedies without consulting a pharmacist as they may interact with the prescribed remedies and stop the benefits of each other.
What conditions could the symptoms of indigestion be hiding?
Serious conditions that can cause symptoms of indigestion include gullet, stomach and pancreatic cancer. Gallstones may also cause similar symptoms
At what stage should you seek medical help?
Anyone who has new symptoms of indigestion over the age of 55, those with family history of cancers of the gullet, stomach and pancreas, symptoms that do not respond or persist after initial treatment with common remedies and importantly those who have additional ALARM or RED FLAG symptoms such as early fullness after eating small portions, nausea/vomiting associated with the above, stickiness while swallowing, weight loss and anaemia.
Blood in your vomit or black coloured stools could point to probable bleeding from the stomach and so you need to seek urgent medial help.
As indigestion symptoms are common it is important not to worry unduly. However if there are risk factors as above, it is important not to postpone seeking medical help early as tests such as gastroscopy or scans (Ultrasound, CT or MRI ) will reassure that nothing serious is missed.
For more information or to make an appointment with Dr Ramakrishnan please call 01925 215 087 or complete our enquiry form.
The content of this article is provided for general information only, and should not be treated as a substitute for the professional medical advice of your doctor or other health care professional.