Conditions & Investigations

Indigestion (Dyspepsia)

Indigestion (Dyspepsia)

Indigestion (also called dyspepsia) is usually used to describe unpleasant or painful sensations in the top of the abdomen, usually after eating or drinking. It is extremely common, but also can mean different symptoms to different people.  For example, some people may feel a burning sensation rising up into the chest, called heartburn. After a hot or spicy meal, others experience a more general feeling of fullness and discomfort. Sometimes, a more localised painful sensation just below the tip of the breastbone is felt.

Indigestion can occur by itself or may be accompanied by other symptoms, such as nausea, and sometimes by vomiting. A common cause of indigestion is a bacteria called Helicobacter pylori, which is found in the stomachs of approximately 30% of the population. This probably affects the acid production in the stomach that occurs after eating a meal. Sometimes, this causes an increase in sensitivity of the stomach even though the stomach lining looks normal. Other times, the stomach lining becomes inflamed (called gastritis). Very occasionally, persistent symptoms of dyspepsia can be due to an ulcer or even the early stages of gastric cancer.

People who have to take anti- inflammatory drugs for arthritis and similar conditions are at particular risk having symptoms of dyspepsia. An increasing number of people get indigestion because the acid in their stomach can reflux back up into their oesophagus (gullet). 

Indigestion is very common, and most people are able to take care of their symptoms by purchasing over-the-counter remedies from the pharmacy. However, if symptoms are persistent, in middle age or later or do not improve in response to over the counter remedies, it is important to seek medical advice

In addition, if you feel generally unwell, losing weight or have any other reason to think that there is a serious problem with your health, then of course you should arrange to see your doctor.

Will I need tests?

The most important thing is to first take a careful history and examine the abdomen. You will often have blood tests, and will be tested for the presence of a bacteria called helicobacter pylori which is commonly found in the stomach, and is associated with causing indigestion. This is usually perfomed by checking a stool sample, and if present, then you will be prescribed a course of antibiotics and antacid treatment, which gets rid ot the bacteria in over 90% of cases.

If people have persistent symptoms of indigestion, or if there are any other symptoms such as vomiting, weight loss then an examination called a gastroscopy (endoscopy) is performed