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What causes Indigestion?

Updated on May 2, 2011

Indigestion is a nonmedical term commonly used to describe any discomfort following eating. Among the most common types of discomfort are heartburn (a burning pain in the middle of the chest), nausea, cramps, and diarrhea. Often these symptoms are due to insignificant causes, but sometimes they are signs of specific underlying diseases. If indigestion persists or worsens, its cause should be diagnosed by a physician.

Heartburn, for example, may be caused by a hiatus hernia, a trans-location of a part of the stomach into the chest, which allows a backup of stomach acid into the esophagus.

Stomach Disorders

Indigestion may be caused by various specific disorders of the stomach, the small intestine, and the large intestine. The three most common causes of indigestion arising from the stomach are the swallowing of large amounts of air, intolerance to drugs, and ulcers.

The swallowing of large amounts of air during eating causes a bloated feeling that is usually not completely relieved by belching. Intolerance to drugs, mainly aspirin, may cause pain due to an irritation and possibly a superficial ulceration of the stomach lining. Deeper ulcers in the stomach wall (as well as in the wall of the first segment of the small intestine) usually result from the production of excess acid in the stomach.

The discomfort produced by such ulcers often occurs about 1 hour after eating and it is relieved by eating again or by drinking milk.

Intestinal Disorders

Discomfort arising from the small intestine is often caused by viruses or bacteria entering the digestive system. Cramps, nausea, diarrhea, vomiting, and fever are often caused by such infections. Cramps and diarrhea after eating may be caused by a chronic inflammation of the small intestine (regional enteritis) and by an inability to digest milk (lactose insufficiency).

Sometimes the early stages of appendicitis may cause a vague, mid-abdominal crampy sensation that is mistaken for indigestion. Diverticulosis, the presence of outpouchings of the lining of the large intestine, may produce no symptoms at all, but if the pouches become inflamed (diverticulitis), they may cause fever and pain in the lower left section of the abdomen.

Spastic colon, a condition that is caused by excessive contractions of the large intestine and is often worsened by eating or by nervous tension, may produce cramps and nausea. Ulcerative colitis, a more serious condition, produces cramps and may also cause bloody diarrhea and fever.

Other Causes of Indigestion

In addition to disorders of the digestive tract itself, disorders of the accessory digestive organs may cause indigestion. Gall stones, for example, may lead to abdominal discomfort after the eating of fried or fatty foods, and if a stone lodges in the duct leading from the gallbladder, the inflammation of the gallbladder produces pain in the back and upper right section of the abdomen. Two diseases of the liver (cirrhosis and hepatitis) may cause nausea during their early stages.

Various generalized diseases may also affect any one of the digestive organs and produce discomfort, diarrhea, and other symptoms of indigestion.

These include malignant growths, the formation of scar tissue following surgery, and emotional tension, which may either worsen or be the primary cause of some of these symptoms of indigestion.

Have you ever suffered from indigestion?

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