Separating Acid Reflux from Functional Dyspepsia

by Tracy Davenport, Ph.D. Health Writer

What is functional dyspepsia?

Functional dyspepsia (FD) is one of the most common disorders of the upper gastrointestinal tract. It can present significant diagnostic and treatment challenges for both patients and doctors. Dyspepsia, also known as indigestion, is a medical condition characterized by chronic or recurrent pain in the upper abdomen and feeling full earlier than expected, just to name two of the most common symptoms. The causes of functional dyspepsia are still being debated. Some believe that an infection may be to blame, such as H. pylori. Others think delayed gastric emptying or genetic factors are behind FD.

Are they really different diseases?

One important challenge in diagnosing and treating functional dyspepsia is the often overlap with acid reflux disease (GERD) and irritable bowel syndrome in many patients (Yarandi & Christie, 2013). No matter how hard doctors and researchers have tried to separate these disorders, it remains a difficult task. Recent studies have shown that 37 percent of patients complaining of dyspeptic symptoms also have acid reflux proven by pH monitoring. According to the American Journal of Gastroenterology, there is now emerging data to support the view that heartburn and dyspepsia are really part of one disease complex (2013). Many used to believe that acid reflux disease and FD were completely different disorders, easy to pry apart if one just asked the patient the right questions.

What are the implications of co-existing FD and GERD?

Like many digestive disorders, functional dyspepsia is a complex issue with both direct and indirect costs to an individual. The cost of functional dyspepsia to the U.S. population was over $18 billion in 2009 (Lacy et al., 2013). It is important that the best help is found for this digestive condition as soon as possible. From the recent research, it seems clear that you and your doctor should not be overly worried about what the name of the digestive disorder is, but rather be focused on which diagnostic tests and which treatments are going to be the most effective.

It is also important to understand there may be several digestive disorders occurring at once. There may be some trial and error involved in the treatment. For example, you may have a burning sensation that requires acid suppression therapy, but this treatment may not be helpful to some of the other symptoms you are experiencing, such as feeling full earlier than expected. Patience may be required to find different treatments for different symptoms.

Tracy Davenport, Ph.D.
Meet Our Writer
Tracy Davenport, Ph.D.

Davenport is the founder of Using the latest scientific research, she helps people live their healthiest lives via one-on-one coaching, corporate talks, and sharing the more than 1,000 health-related articles she's authored.