Encyclopedia / D / Dyspepsia



Dyspepsia means painful, difficult, or disturbed digestion not associated with a definitive pathologic condition.


Dyspepsia - often called indigestion - is a common malady that many associate with the TV ads for antacids. While dyspeptic symptoms are often caused by overeating or eating the wrong foods, the disorder can be associated with a more serious problem.

The chronic recurrence and persistence of crippling dyspeptic symptoms disrupt the lives of many Americans. People suffering from the most severe symptoms can become disabled enough to miss work. Frequent doctors' visits and expensive diagnostic procedures can create a financial drain. In addition, many unnecessary operations are performed in an attempt to relieve the painful symptoms. Unfortunately, despite the surgery, many patients continue to suffer from the symptoms of dyspepsia.

The causes of dyspepsia are many, and some of them are not clearly understood. Too often, dyspepsia has been dismissed as a psychosomatic disorder. However, in recent years, doctors have begun to realize that dyspepsia is often the result of a malfunctioning of either the nervous system or the muscular activity of the stomach or small intestine.

The delicate motions of the stomach and small intestine are regulated by the brain and by a network of nerves embedded in the muscle wall of the digestive tract. The coordination between these nerve endings that secrete a variety of chemical substances (called neurotransmitters), hormones, and the muscle fibers in the wall of the digestive tract regulate the movement of the tract and thereby promote the digestion, absorption, and elimination of food we eat. Any disruption in the normal functioning of the nervous system or the muscular activity of the digestive tract can cause dyspepsia.


Dyspepsia can be caused by many different things. Symptoms similar to dyspepsia can be due to conditions ranging from mild and self-limiting to serious - so differentiation is important. Dyspeptic symptoms can occur allong with the following:

  • Gastritis (inflammation of the stomach)
  • Viral gastroenteritis (stomach flu)
  • Stomach ulcer
  • Cancer of the stomach
  • Gallbladder disease
  • Pancreatic diseases
  • Inflammatory bowel disease.
  • Pregnancy
  • Diabetes mellitus

Dyspepsia can also occur without the presence of digestive disorders.

When no disease is apparent, doctors in the past tended to diagnose patients as having a psychosomatic disorder. In recent years, however, medical research has recognized that the stomach and small intestine are regulated by "pacemakers" - much like the heart - that coordinate the movement of the muscles of the digestive tract.

During normal digestion, the muscle wall contracts and relaxes, allowing the upper part of the stomach to serve as a reservoir and the lower part to break down (digest) food. When the breakdown is complete, the stomach empties its contents into the upper part of the intestine (duodenum).


A person is said to have dyspepsia if he/she suffers from several of a group of symptoms which might include nausea, regurgitation (backwash of stomach contents into the esophagus or mouth), vomiting, heartburn, prolonged abdominal fullness or bloating after a meal, stomach discomfort or pain, and early fullness.

Often people say that they have a "sick feeling in the stomach," or "indigestion," or maybe "nervous stomach" when they are suffering from dyspeptic symptoms.

Sometimes people will experience these symptoms after overeating, or eating foods that disagree with them. The symptoms may also accompany a disease such as peptic ulcer disease, gallbladder disease, or gastritis.

Other people experience the symptoms for no apparent reason. The symptoms can last for 3 to 4 days, sometimes longer. In some people, dyspeptic symptoms can be severe and continuous, disrupting daily routines and causing absence from work.

Although dyspepsia can afflict men and women from all walks of life, it is most common in women ranging in age from 16 to 60. A woman is even more likely to experience dyspepsia during her childbearing years. Also patients in whom irritable bowel syndrome has been diagnosed comprise the majority of dyspepsia sufferers.


If the dyspepsia is associated with gastritis, peptic ulcer disease, gallbladder disease, or some other organic disorder, your doctor will begin by treating the specific disorder.

Dyspepsia not associated with a specific illness can usually be controlled by diet. Avoiding greasy foods or solid foods containing meat sometimes helps. And, if you are lactose intolerant, eliminating all dairy products from the diet should provide relief.

If the symptoms are severe, the doctor may recommend only liquids or small amounts of soft foods until the symptoms subside.

If these measures do not work, medical therapies may be prescribed to control persistent symptoms.

Apart from avoiding known irritants (such as alcohol, aspirin, and nonsteroidal, anti-inflammatory drugs), patients may have to take antacids and H2 blockers such as Tagamet.


What is causing the indigestion?

Is the indigestion a symptom of a more serious problem?

Are there tests given to determine whether it is just indigestion or something more serious?

Do you recommend avoiding certain foods? Should a special diet be considered?

Do you recommend an OTC product to help alleviate the problem? Which one?

How long do you expect this condition to last?

Can it be prevented?