Indigestion (Dyspepsia, Upset Stomach)

  • Medical Author:
    Jay W. Marks, MD

    Jay W. Marks, MD, is a board-certified internist and gastroenterologist. He graduated from Yale University School of Medicine and trained in internal medicine and gastroenterology at UCLA/Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles.

  • Medical Editor: William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR
    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.

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What is the course of dyspepsia (indigestion)?

Dyspepsia is a chronic disease that usually lasts years, if not a lifetime. It does, however, display periodicity, which means that the symptoms may be more frequent or severe for days, weeks, or months and then less frequent or severe for days, weeks, or months. The reasons for these fluctuations are unknown. Because of the fluctuations, it is important to judge the effects of treatment over many weeks or months to be certain that any improvement is due to treatment and not simply to a natural fluctuation in the frequency or severity of the disease.

What are the complications of dyspepsia (indigestion)?

The complications of functional diseases of the gastrointestinal tract are relatively limited. Since symptoms are most often provoked by eating, patients who alter their diets and reduce their intake of calories may lose weight. However, loss of weight is unusual in functional diseases. In fact, loss of weight should suggest the presence of non-functional diseases. Symptoms that awaken patients from sleep also are more likely to be due to non-functional than functional disease.

Most commonly, functional diseases interfere with patients' comfort and daily activities. Individuals who develop nausea or pain after eating may skip breakfast or lunch because of the symptoms they experienc. Patients also commonly associate symptoms with specific foods (for example, milk, fat, vegetables). Whether or not the associations are real, these patients will restrict their diets accordingly. Milk is the most common food that is eliminated, often unnecessarily, and this can lead to inadequate intake of calcium and osteoporosis. The interference with daily activities also can lead to problems with interpersonal relationships, especially with spouses. Most patients with functional disease live with their symptoms and infrequently visit physicians for diagnosis and treatment.

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