Indigestion, also called dyspepsia or upset stomach, is not a disease but rather a collection of symptoms that cause discomfort in the upper abdomen. Most people suffering from indigestion have one or more of the common symptoms: nausea, bloating, belching, a sensation of pain, heat, or burning in the upper abdomen, or feeling full early on in a meal or an uncomfortable fullness after a meal that lasts longer than it should. People with indigestion may also experience heartburn, although heartburn and indigestion are two separate conditions. Symptoms of indigestion might be felt occasionally or as often as daily.
There are many possible causes of indigestion. Some are related to how we eat, such as overeating or eating too quickly. Other causes relate to what we eat, such as eating greasy or spicy foods, or too much caffeine, alcohol, carbonated beverages or chocolate. Lifestyle causes can include smoking, nervousness, or stress. Indigestion can also be caused by other digestive conditions like peptic ulcers, pancreatitis, gallstones, or stomach cancer, or by medications, including antibiotics and some pain relievers. In some cases, a cause for indigestion can’t be found and it is labeled ‘functional dyspepsia’- a type of indigestion caused by the stomach's inability to accept and digest food and then pass that food to the small intestine.
Treatment for indigestion includes lifestyle changes, including avoiding offending foods, eating smaller and more frequent meals, managing stress, and getting regular exercise. Your doctor may change medications you are taking if they are causing indigestion, or other medications may be recommended to reduce stomach acid, reduce pain, or aid digestion.
In Chinese medicine, indigestion usually falls into the category of epigastric pain, because the symptoms are typically experienced in the epigastric region of the body, the area of the abdomen from the sternum to the navel. There are different patterns of disharmony that cause indigestion, which account for the very different ways in which people will experience the symptoms of indigestion. Indigestion can be caused by a number of factors, including our external environment such as being exposed to cold or damp conditions; our diet, including how much we eat, what type of food we eat, and when or how we eat; emotional upset such as frustration or worry; overwork; and a constitutional or genetic weakness that can make a person prone to digestive disorders. These factors can over time weaken the stomach and disrupt the digestive system’s normal functions.
When pinpointing the cause of indigestion and epigastric pain, we look at various symptoms. What is the nature of the pain- is it dull or severe, stabbing, burning, is it accompanied by a feeling of fullness? When does the pain occur: in the morning, afternoon, or at night? What relieves or aggravates the pain- is it better or worse after eating, with pressure, with heat or cold, with rest or exercise? Is there belching, nausea, vomiting, or regurgitation? Is there a feeling of bloating and if so, how does it feel? These questions help an acupuncturist to determine what aspect of digestion is not functioning properly and what imbalances need to be corrected.
Acupuncture can be very effective in helping to resolve the symptoms of indigestion. Treatment can help the stomach to better digest food and move it through the digestive tract, so that the stomach and other digestive processes are functioning properly again. It can also help to relieve pain, nausea, and bloating that often accompany this type of digestive condition. Indeed, like many digestive disorders, acupuncture is an excellent option for resolving indigestion and getting you back to your regular self.
James Kaufman is a Registered Acupuncturist at Okanagan Acupuncture Centre, 1625 Ellis St, downtown Kelowna. For more information visit www.okanaganacupuncture.com.