At some point in our life, we have all fallen victim to a dreadful condition called indigestion. While it goes by many names like dyspepsia, constipation, heartburn, and acidity, the discomfort remains the same. When the condition continues over a prolonged period of time, it causes gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).
What causes indigestion?
A muscular tube that connects the mouth and the stomach, the oesophagus has an important role to play in the digestive process. The lower oesophageal sphincter (LES) is a minute bundle of muscles, situated at the low end of the oesophagus, where it meets the stomach. When we eat, the LES muscles relax to allow food to travel into the stomach. Soon after, they shut off to prevent food from travelling back into the oesophagus.
When the LES becomes dysfunctional, food may abruptly travel to the mouth causing GERD. GERD is a chronic indigestion disease that affects other organs of the body like the nervous system and intestines. This severe form of indigestion can be caused by sedentary lifestyle habits and practices. If you’re prone to frequent indigestion, it may help to understand the seven most common reasons for the condition.
Smoking causes an overproduction of acid in the stomach. This causes GERD, which means that it flows backwards into the oesophagus. This can cause an irritating heartburn sensation, burning taste in throat, and trouble with swallowing. Smoking also leads to inflammation of oesophagus which can cause this burning sensation, adversely impacting the digestive enzymes in the body. This hinders the breakdown of food in the body, thus causing acidity. It also leads to a loss of appetite and deteriorates health.
Anxiety and indigestion share a symbiotic relationship. Anxiety adversely affects our natural digestive enzymes and stomach acid which slows down the breakdown of energy in the body. Under tension, we may not be able to chew properly. This can cause pain, inflammation, and bloating. On the other hand, studies show that people experiencing indigestion are more likely to suffer from anxiety. This happens because in an anxious state they engage in smoking, binge eating and drinking alcohol, all of which contribute to indigestion.
The diaphragm has a small orifice called hiatus, through which the oesophagus passes. When the upper part of the stomach bulges, it puts inordinate pressure on the oesophagus. This autoimmune disorder is called hiatal hernia. Hiatal hernia causes indigestion by causing stomach acid to reflux into the oesophagus, causing severe indigestion (GERD). The symptoms of hiatal hernia aren’t obvious. Only when the stomach bulges out abnormally can anything be detected. Hiatal hernias require a variety of treatments, from watchful waiting in mild cases to surgery in severe cases.
Connective tissue disorder- scleroderma
Characteristically, scleroderma affects the skin, causing it to thicken and decay. A severe form of scleroderma, however, can cause stomach disorders. In fact, people with scleroderma often suffer from indigestion. Scleroderma incites the immune system to produce an excessive amount of a protein - collagen. The extra collagen gets accumulated and thickens the walls of the oesophagus and lower oesophageal sphincter (an opening that keeps stomach acid from refluxing back to the mouth). This makes these organs dysfunctional, causing GERD or indigestion.
Consuming caffeinated beverages like coffee impacts the lining of the stomach, thus delaying muscle relaxation. This can hinder gastric emptying and cause constipation. Such acidic beverages have the opposite effect on the intestine, if not constipated already. It acts as a laxative and causes loose bowel movements. To avoid indigestion from caffeinated beverages, one must steer away from consumption of caffeine in any form. Such beverages can be replaced with decaffeinated beverages like a de-caf-cappuccinos, Italian sodas, and tea.
Alcohol gastritis is a result of excessive drinking. Alcohol erodes the stomach lining and results in regurgitation of food, vomiting, stabbing pain in the abdomen or a bloated sensation. These are all symptoms of dyspepsia or indigestion. If left untreated, it can form ulcers in the stomach lining and internal bleeding in the intestine. Alcohol gastritis can also lead to stomach cancer, kidney problems, and anaemia. Therefore, abstinence from alcohol should be practiced to prevent indigestion and graver diseases as well.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, hard drugs like cocaine, heroin, and prescription opioids cause bowel tissue decay-causing gastrointestinal diseases like GERD. Besides, prescription drugs like proton pump inhibitors-cimetidine (Tagamet), esomeprazole (Nexium), famotidine (Pepcid), lansoprazole (Prevacid), omeprazole (Prilosec) and ranitidine (Zantac) have been known to trigger indigestion trigger indigestion when overprescribed by doctors. On the other hand, over-the-counter prescription antacid drugs can trigger indigestion instead of treating it.
Indigestion can be a recurring and distressful condition. It can be prevented by avoiding bad habits and eating healthy and easily digestible food. If not tackled in time it can become permanent like GERD which cannot be fully cured, only treated.
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