Dyspepsia: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment


Dyspepsia, commonly known as indigestion, is a common digestive disorder that affects millions of people worldwide. Dyspepsia refers to a group of symptoms that occur in the upper abdomen, often associated with discomfort, pain, or a feeling of fullness during or after a meal. While dyspepsia is usually not a serious condition, it can significantly impact an individual’s quality of life. In this article, we will delve into the causes, symptoms, and treatment options for dyspepsia.

Causes of Dyspepsia

Dyspepsia can have various underlying causes, and often it is a result of multiple factors. Some common causes include:

  1. Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD): Dyspepsia can be a symptom of GERD, a condition in which stomach acid flows back into the esophagus, causing heartburn and other digestive discomforts.
  2. Peptic Ulcer: Ulcers, which are open sores that develop on the lining of the stomach or the upper part of the small intestine, can lead to dyspepsia.
  3. Helicobacter pylori Infection: This bacterial infection can cause inflammation of the stomach lining, leading to dyspeptic symptoms.
  4. Medications: Certain medications, such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), aspirin, and antibiotics, can irritate the stomach lining and trigger dyspepsia.
  5. Functional Dyspepsia: In some cases, no specific cause can be identified, and dyspepsia is classified as functional, indicating that it is not related to any structural or biochemical abnormality.

What is functional dyspepsia?

Functional dyspepsia is a digestive disorder characterized by recurring or chronic symptoms of indigestion, without any identifiable structural or biochemical abnormalities that can explain the symptoms. It is also known as non-ulcer dyspepsia or idiopathic dyspepsia.

In functional dyspepsia, the digestive system appears normal upon examination, but individuals experience persistent symptoms that can significantly affect their quality of life. The exact cause of functional dyspepsia is not fully understood, but it is believed to involve a complex interplay of factors, including abnormal gastrointestinal motility, heightened sensitivity to stomach contractions, alterations in the processing of sensory signals in the gut, and psychological factors such as stress and anxiety.

Functional dyspepsia is a diagnosis of exclusion, meaning that other potential causes of dyspeptic symptoms, such as peptic ulcers, GERD, or gallbladder disease, need to be ruled out before making a diagnosis of functional dyspepsia.

Symptoms of Dyspepsia

The symptoms of dyspepsia can vary among individuals, but commonly reported symptoms include:

  1. Abdominal pain or discomfort: A dull or burning pain in the upper abdomen is a hallmark symptom of dyspepsia.
  2. Feeling of fullness: Individuals with dyspepsia often experience early satiety, feeling full after eating only a small amount of food.
  3. Bloating and belching: Excessive gas in the stomach can lead to bloating and frequent belching.
  4. Nausea and vomiting: Some people with dyspepsia may experience nausea and occasional vomiting.
  5. Heartburn: Dyspepsia can be accompanied by a burning sensation in the chest, known as heartburn.

Diagnosis and Treatment of Dyspepsia

Diagnosing dyspepsia involves a thorough medical history, physical examination, and sometimes additional tests, including:

  1. Endoscopy: A procedure where a flexible tube with a camera is inserted through the mouth to examine the esophagus, stomach, and upper small intestine.
  2. Blood tests: These can help identify the presence of H. pylori infection or other underlying conditions.
  3. Stool tests: These tests may be conducted to check for the presence of blood in the stool or signs of infection.

The treatment of dyspepsia aims to relieve symptoms and manage the underlying cause. It may include:

  1. Lifestyle modifications: Certain dietary and lifestyle changes, such as avoiding trigger foods, eating smaller meals, quitting smoking, and managing stress, can help alleviate symptoms.
  2. Medications: Antacids, proton pump inhibitors, H2 blockers, and prokinetic agents may be prescribed to reduce acid production, relieve pain, and improve gastric motility.
  3. Treating underlying conditions: If dyspepsia is caused by an underlying condition like H. pylori infection or GERD, specific treatments targeted at those conditions may be necessary.
  4. Psychological interventions: In cases where stress or anxiety contributes to dyspepsia, psychological interventions like cognitive-behavioral therapy or relaxation techniques may be recommended to address the emotional component.
  5. Follow-up and monitoring: Regular follow-up with a healthcare provider is important to assess the effectiveness of treatment and make any necessary adjustments. In some cases, further diagnostic tests or referrals to specialists may be required.

Prevention of Dyspepsia and Self-Care

While dyspepsia cannot always be prevented, certain measures can help reduce the frequency and severity of symptoms:

  1. Maintain a healthy diet: Avoid foods that trigger symptoms, such as spicy or fatty foods, caffeine, alcohol, and carbonated beverages. Instead, opt for a balanced diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins.
  2. Eat smaller, frequent meals: Consuming smaller portions of food more frequently throughout the day can help prevent overloading the stomach and alleviate symptoms of fullness.
  3. Practice mindful eating: Chew food slowly and thoroughly, and avoid eating too quickly or while under stress. This allows for proper digestion and reduces the likelihood of dyspeptic symptoms.
  4. Manage stress: Engage in stress-reducing activities such as exercise, yoga, meditation, or deep breathing exercises. Stress can exacerbate dyspeptic symptoms, so finding healthy coping mechanisms is crucial.
  5. Maintain a healthy weight: Excess weight can put pressure on the stomach and contribute to dyspepsia. Maintain a healthy weight through regular exercise and a balanced diet.

Herbal remedies for dyspepsia

While herbal remedies are sometimes used to alleviate symptoms of dyspepsia, scientific evidence supporting their effectiveness is limited. Additionally, herbal remedies may interact with medications or have side effects, so consult with a healthcare professional before using them. Here are a few herbal remedies that have been traditionally used for dyspepsia:

  1. Peppermint (Mentha piperita): Peppermint has a long history of use for digestive issues. It may help relax the muscles of the gastrointestinal tract, reducing spasms and relieving symptoms of indigestion. Peppermint tea or enteric-coated peppermint oil capsules may be used. Peppermint is contraindicated in patients with gastroesophageal reflux disease and/or constipation, as it may worsen these symptoms.
  2. Ginger (Zingiber officinale): Ginger has been used for centuries to aid digestion. It may help reduce nausea, bloating, and other dyspeptic symptoms. Ginger can be consumed as tea, in capsule form, or fresh ginger can be added to meals or prepared as a beverage.
  3. Chamomile (Matricaria chamomilla): Chamomile has soothing properties and may help reduce inflammation in the digestive system. It is often consumed as a tea and may help relieve indigestion symptoms.
  4. Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare): Fennel seeds have been used to alleviate digestive discomfort and bloating. They can be chewed directly or consumed as a tea.
  5. Artichoke (Cynara scolymus): Artichoke extract has been studied for its potential benefits in dyspepsia. It may help stimulate bile flow, improve digestion, and alleviate symptoms like bloating and discomfort.
  6. Licorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra): Licorice root has been used traditionally for gastrointestinal issues. It may have anti-inflammatory and protective effects on the stomach lining. However, long-term or excessive use of licorice can have adverse effects, so it should be used cautiously and under the guidance of a healthcare professional.

Remember, herbal remedies should be used as complementary approaches and not as a substitute for medical advice.

Concluding remarks

Dyspepsia, or indigestion, is a common digestive disorder characterized by upper abdominal discomfort, pain, and other related symptoms. Dyspepsia can have various causes, ranging from underlying medical conditions to lifestyle factors. The treatment of dyspepsia focuses on relieving symptoms, managing underlying causes, and making necessary lifestyle modifications.

By understanding the causes, symptoms, and treatment options for dyspepsia, individuals can work towards managing the condition effectively and improving their overall well-being. It is always recommended to consult a healthcare professional for proper diagnosis and personalized treatment.

How can I contact gastroenterologist Dr. Zavos to arrange an appointment?

Dr. Chris Zavos is a board-certified gastroenterologist and hepatologist, located in Thessaloniki Greece, and specifically in Kalamaria suburb, about 7 kilometres (4 miles) southeast of downtown Thessaloniki. His private office is at: Fanariou 8 street (near Aigaiou and Adrianoupoleos avenues), Kalamaria (Thessaloniki), Greece.

Thessaloniki International Airport is only 10 km away from his private office in Kalamaria and can be reached by taxi within 13 minutes from the airport.

Dr. Chris Zavos performs endoscopies at Bioclinic private hospital in downtown Thessaloniki (Mitropoleos 86 street).

You can contact Dr. Zavos at phone numbers: (+30)-6976596988 and (+30)-2311283833, or you can email him at czavos@ymail.com. Dr. Zavos responds to Greek and English languages.

Last update: 21 April 2024, 22:14


Gastroenterologist - Hepatologist, Thessaloniki

PhD at Medical School, Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, Greece

PGDip at Universitair Medisch Centrum Utrecht, The Netherlands

Ex President, Hellenic H. pylori & Microbiota Study Group