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What is Indigestion?

During your high school and college years, pizza was your go-to food 24/7; you ate that hot and piping pizza pie when it was delivered, and ice cold the next morning.  Your stomach never rebelled one iota.  So …

Suddenly, that ooey-gooey crust or that tangy tomato sauce leaves you feeling like your innards are on fire.  After vowing to stop patronizing that pizza joint going forward, you might think “do they make pizza differently these days … or is it me?”  Well, if you really have to ask that question, perhaps it is time to make an appointment with a gastroenterologist to have your GI tract checked out to ensure everything is okay.  Gastroenterologists deal with all types of stomach ailments and should be able to quickly determine if your pain is caused by simple indigestion or is a symptom of a serious stomach condition.

But first, let’s delve a little into the topic of indigestion.

Sudden pain

Most people blame indigestion on their advanced age – in fact there are many medical maladies that appear when one gets older and folks shake off symptoms and cast away all doubts that the issue may actually be something serious by chocking it up to “old age”.  When younger folks have sudden indigestion symptoms they often blame it on stress – careers, family matters or financial woes, which often takes its toll on your health, notably your digestive system.  Actually, indigestion does not discriminate between old or young, men or women – it is a common malady and may affect everyone.

The horrors of heartburn

You might recall seeing your mom or dad with the perpetual roll of Tums in their purse or pocket.  All of a sudden, one hand would clutch their chest and they’d mutter “heartburn again” and soon they’d be fishing for a Tums.  The word “heartburn” is really a misnomer – that burning sensation doesn’t attack the heart; no, it is an irritation of the esophagus that is caused by stomach acid.  Heartburn, (also known as acid reflux), is a burning discomfort in the upper abdomen or below the breast bone and also may include a chronic cough.  Once you determine the triggers that bring on your heartburn, whether it is certain foods, medications, obesity, or even stress, the treatment for heartburn may include medications, home remedies, or diet changes.

Get a handle on “GERD”

Heartburn and gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD, are digestive disorders that affect the lower esophageal sphincter (LES), the ring of muscle between the esophagus and stomach.  You may be more at risk for indigestion if you consume excess alcohol, use drugs that irritate the stomach such as aspirin and other pain relievers, have an abnormality in the digestive tract like an ulcer or suffer emotional problems, like anxiety or depression.  These factors may make you a candidate for indigestion.  Many pregnant women suffer from severe indigestion during their pregnancy.

Common symptoms of indigestion

  • Burning in the stomach or upper abdomen
  • Abdominal pain
  • Bloating 
  • Belching and gas
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Acidic taste
  • Growling stomach

Source of intestinal issues

Even if you have some of the symptoms listed above, remember that an intense bout of heartburn does not mean you need to hustle to the doc for a GI test and a consult … the first or second time anyway.

As suggested above, stress or food, even excess alcohol consumption can wreak havoc with your digestive tract.  Even eating quickly, thus swallowing excessive air while eating, may increase the belching and bloating symptoms, which are associated with indigestion.

Often the use of OTC or prescription pain pills can trigger GI woes – those meds classified as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory agents, or as NSAIDs, run the gamut from Advil to Motrin.  While they may relieve your arthritis pain, thus permitting you to move about freely, they will do a number on your stomach if you do not take precautions.  This is why the pill label, and your doctor, warn you to “take this medicine with food” … you are risking serious problems by taking such strong pain relievers on an empty stomach.

The presence of an ulcer can trigger intestinal woes like heartburn as well.  The solution for an ulcer would be a bland diet, such as eliminating caffeine, spicy or fried foods. Over-the-counter remedies like Pepcid or Prilosec contain proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) and help work magic on your sensitive stomach, but, although they help to mask the pain, that’s fine, but the underlying problem is still there.  Left untreated, heartburn or an ulcer, or any other type of abnormality in the digestive tract, can develop into GERD.

Consult with a gastroenterologist

If that pesky indigestion persists and is not the result of any of the above-named factors, then your type of indigestion is called functional, or non-ulcer dyspepsia, and it is time to contact a top GI doctor right here in Flushing.   Simple indigestion is one thing, but ongoing and painful indigestion can signal a more serious health problem.  If you experience symptoms like shortness of breath, sweating, or pain radiating to the jaw, neck, or arm, seek medical attention immediately as they could be precursors to a heart attack.

You should be prepared to give the doctor the site of your discomfort, and a precise description of the symptoms, so that he or she can rule out any underlying conditions based on your symptoms and perform a battery of tests, including blood draws, x-rays of the stomach and/or small intestine.  After examining the test results, the doctor may suggest that an upper endoscopy be performed.  For this procedure, your doctor will utilize an endoscope which is a  flexible tube that contains a light and a camera to produce images from inside the body.  With this tool, your doctor will be able to look at your stomach to hopefully determine the cause of your discomfort and discuss further action with you.

A gastroenterologist is your go-to doctor for indigestion woes – it is better to be safe than sorry and see an expert who can remedy your malady in its early stages.