Don’t just pop another antacid: Regular indigestion can indicate serious illness

Do you find yourself reaching for an antacid anytime you feel sensations of heartburn, nausea or stomach pain? For many people, this is such an automatic response that we don’t think much about it. However, doctors say, one should think twice about it if the symptoms come regularly, as the everyday indigestion could be hiding something more chronic or serious.

“If you are feeling discomfort on an everyday basis, that is a cause for concern. You should not ignore it,” warns Dr Mahadevan B, HoD and Senior Consultant of Gastroenterology and Endosonography at Gleneagles Global Health City, Chennai.

What is digestion?

Indigestion commonly refers to a series of symptoms or sensations of discomfort in the upper digestive system. Some of the common symptoms of indigestion include acid reflux, bloating or a feeling of fullness after eating a small amount of food, early satiety, feeling too full after a meal, belching, pain, burning sensations or nausea and regurgitation (swallowed food coming back up to the mouth). While heartburn can sometimes accompany indigestion, it is not in itself a symptom of indigestion.

Indigestion is an extremely common occurrence and can affect people of all ages and sexes. In most cases, it is a temporary problem related to diet patterns, lifestyle habits or certain kinds of medication.

“In 70-80% of cases, digestion is not related to any disease but is related to diet and lifestyle,” explains Dr Mahadevan. “If a person’s diet involves too much fatty foods and fried items, if we eat out too much or eat at untimely hours or if a person does not have a proper sleep routine or sufficient physical activity or suffers from too much stress, indigestion can occur .”

Having coffee or tea before meals or having too many snacks in the day are also common causes of indigestion, adds the doctor. “Snacking is actually a common problem leading to digestion that most patients don’t tell us about. We usually have to ask their partners or family members to get a proper history,” says Dr Mahadevan.

In some cases, indigestion can also be brought on by certain kinds of medication such as cardiac or diabetes medicines, iron pills, antibiotics or antipsychotics.

When should you worry?

In some cases, more serious illnesses could be producing indigestion or some symptoms that mimic indigestion, says Dr Mahadevan. Some such diseases include peptic ulcers or stomach ulcers, cancers of the digestive system and gallbladder diseases.

To evaluate the risk of these, doctors consider factors such as the age of the patient, the duration of persistence of the symptoms, and the family history of diseases such as cancer in order to clarify the patient as high risk or average risk.

However, there are a few symptoms specific conditions that doctors note as red flags that should be investigated immediately. “If the patient has had a sudden onset of symptoms, if there is blood in the stools or other symptoms of bleeding, if there is a global loss of appetite (difficulty eating all three meals of the day), if there is significant weight loss , then we don’t wait to see if the symptoms pass. We immediately evaluate the patient for other diseases,” says Dr Mahadevan.

Tips to prevent digestion from common causes

Eat regulated meals at set hours of the day.

Avoid or reduce foods or beverages containing caffeine.

Learn techniques to manage stress better.

Quit smoking.

Reduce alcohol consumption as this can irritate the stomach lining.

Don’t lie down soon after eating.

Avoid fried or fatty foods.

If you find yourself having indigestion symptoms despite maintaining a regular and healthy diet and if the symptoms occur frequently, get evaluated by a doctor as soon as possible to rule out more serious illnesses.

This article was published in association with Gleneagles Global Health City, Chennai.

For Appointments: 044 – 4477 7000

Dr B Mahadevan
MBBS, MD (Paediatrics), DM (Gastroenterology)
Senior Consultant & Head of Department – ​​Medical Gastroenterology & Therapeutic Endoscopy
Department of Medical Gastroenterology & Endoscopy

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