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Dyspepsia is a chronic condition that is often confused with other stomach, bowel and intestinal disorders. In general, dyspepsia is not acid reflux disease, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), or stomach upset due to parasitic infection. The term means bad digestion, which really isn’t accurate, since the condition doesn’t involve the total digestive system. It’s often called a functional disease because it indicates that part of the digestive system is not functioning properly, from often indeterminate causes. The part of the digestive system most associated with this condition is the stomach and the upper part of the small intestine.
People who have dyspepsia tend to feel a burning feeling in their upper abdomen, which may be more intense after eating. Many call this feeling heartburn, but usually heartburn is associated with painful burning closer to the heart or in the throat. Other symptoms include bloating of the upper abdomen, excessive need to belch, nausea, and a feeling of fullness after eating only a little food. Symptoms may fluctuate but the condition may exist for years if not a lifetime. An estimated 20% of the US population suffers from the condition, but only about half of them seek treatment.
Diagnosing dyspepsia is all about eliminating the presence of other digestive tract conditions. Sometimes dyspepsia is created by the presence of ulcers, which are caused by bacteria. This can make treatment of the condition very easy, since antibiotic treatment can eliminate the bacteria creating ulcers, which will often gradually heal. Other times the condition defies explanation and no ulcers are present. It is not caused by reflux disease, where stomach acid regurgitates to the esophagus, and it is not caused by bowel function or spastic colon. Identifying what conditions don’t exist helps to pin down diagnosis.
Even though dyspepsia is not reflux disease, many people with the condition, when ulcers do not cause it, tend to feel much better when they take prescription strength antacids. In fact, one method of diagnosis is to prescribe antacids to see if the condition resolves. If the pain subsides as it does in about 70% of cases, dyspepsia may be considered a likely cause. Other people find that eliminating certain foods in the diet, like spicy foods can help calm the condition. People are usually asked to keep food journals when diagnosed, and then to note symptoms after eating certain types of food.
Often people attribute dyspepsia to food allergies or to celiac disease. This is most often not accurate, and people may mistakenly and unnecessarily eliminate a lot of foods from their diets. Frequently people eliminate milk products, which provide a vital calcium source. While there are certainly people with legitimate food allergies, dyspeptic conditions don’t generally result from allergies to milk. Diet may need to be modified, but not to the extent many think. A combination of healthful eating and antacids tends to help most people have fewer symptoms.