Dyspepsia involves a malfunction of the gastrointestinal organs (usually the stomach and first portion of the small intestine). The condition is commonly known as indigestion which is among the most common ailments that involve the intestines. It is a long term disease wherein the symptoms fluctuate in regards to intensity and frequency. In fact, about 20% of Americans are affected by this condition. There are different theories on the causes of dyspepsia which includes abnormal stimulation of the intestines caused by the motor nerves, abnormal processing of input from sensory nerves, etc.
Causes of Dyspepsia
The common causes of dyspepsia are as follows:
- Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) or hiatal hernia which causes burped-up stomach juices/food along with gas (also called regurgitation or reflux).
- Any disorder which has an effect on the movement of food through the intestines. One example is irritable bowel syndrome.
- Duodenal or peptic ulcer.
- Lactose intolerance or the inability to digest dairy products.
- Anxiety and/or depression.
- Gallbladder problems like inflammation (cholecystitis).
- Side effects of alcohol, caffeine or medication. Common medications that may cause dyspepsia include aspirin, antibiotics and steroids.
- Cancer of the stomach.
- Swallowed air.
Symptoms of Dyspepsia
Dyspepsia is a term used for a condition that describes a group of symptoms which may include any of the following:
- Stomach pain or any discomfort
- An uncomfortable feeling after a meal
- Lowered or loss of appetite
- Regurgitation or burping up liquid and/or food
Take note that the majority of people will experience some of the symptoms of dyspepsia within their lifetimes. The different symptoms of dyspepsia are typically provoked by eating which is when most gastrointestinal functions work. This is the reason most experts believe that dyspepsia stems from an abnormality in the digestion of food.
How to Prevent and Relieve Dyspepsia
Lifestyle changes can help relieve the different symptoms of dyspepsia. In most cases, these can even prevent the problem from occurring in the first place.
- Improve your eating habits.
- Instead of big meals, eat several small meals.
- Wait at least 2 hours before lying down. On a similar note, avoid late night snacks near bedtime.
- Avoid certain foods that relax the valve between the stomach and esophagus. This includes mint, chocolate and alcohol.
- Avoid spicy foods or those that are acidic like oranges and tomatoes. Coffee and tea can also worsen dyspepsia in certain individuals.
- Take note of certain foods that worsen your symptoms.
- Stop smoking or chewing tobacco.
- To relieve night dyspepsia, raise the head of your bed around 6 to 8 inches.
- Avoid wearing tight clothing around your waist.
- Lose excess weight. Even 5 to 10 pounds can help relieve dyspepsia if you are overweight.
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Dyspepsia is diagnosed mainly on the basis of common symptoms that the patient experience. It also involves the exclusion of other gastrointestinal diseases like acid-related diseases, non-gastrointestinal diseases and psychiatric conditions. There are tests that can be used to identify abnormal gastrointestinal function immediately but these are limited when it comes to their ability to do so.
The treatment of dyspepsia is a complicated process because very few drugs have been studies extensively and proven to be effective. Also, certain drugs that have been shown to be useful are still not substantially proven to be effective. This is because of many reasons including the following:
- Life-threatening illnesses like heart disease and cancer are illnesses that get more research funding. Since dyspepsia is not life threatening, it doesn’t receive a lot of funding.
- Dyspepsia research is very difficult because it is defined by subjective symptoms which are more unreliable.
- There are a lot of subtypes of dyspepsia many of which can be due to physiologic processes.
- Subjective symptoms tend to respond to placebos.
Education: people with dyspepsia need to be educated about their illness. They need to understand the causes for the symptoms and most importantly understand the medical approach to the problem.
Diet: certain dietary factors are known to worsen the symptoms of dyspepsia. For such reason, dietary changes may relieve or even prevent certain dyspepsia symptoms. Creating a food journal is advisable for those who commonly experience symptoms of dyspepsia. This will help determine certain foods that trigger or worsen the symptoms.
Psychotropic Drugs: certain drugs for depression and anxiety are known to trigger or worsen dyspepsia symptoms. Adjusting the dosage or switching to another drug may help in treating dyspepsia. Thus, you need to inform your healthcare professional if you are suffering from any symptom of dyspepsia while taking psychotropic drugs.
Promotility Drugs: these are drugs that increase the activity of muscles which can help in the treatment of dyspepsia.
Smooth Muscle Relaxants: these are widely studied for treating abdominal pain. Many cases of dyspepsia can be treated effectively with these drugs.
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