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Dyspepsia, defined as painful and difficult digestion, is better known as heartburn. Despite the abdominal discomfort, there are no lesions in the gastrointestinal tract. Dyspepsia represents 15 to 20% of all gastroenterological disorders and mainly affects adults.
The most common causes of heartburn are inflammation of the stomach lining, excessive stomach acid (gastric hyperacidity) and air in the gastrointestinal tract. Certain aggravating factors such as stress, poor diet and lack of exercise worsen the situation.
The most common symptoms are:
Those most likely to suffer from dyspepsia are anxious persons and those with a family history of heartburn. Pregnant women are also more at risk. Other than hormonal changes, another reason why dyspepsia affects pregnant women is because of the added pressure on the stomach.
Should you experience more severe signs such as unexplained weight loss, blood in stool or vomit, persistent vomiting, difficulty swallowing or chest pain, we recommend that you seek medical treatment. A family physician can usually determine whether the pain you are experiencing is truly dyspepsia or if it is associated with another disorder (angina, gastrointestinal reflux or ulcer, for example), simply by palpating your abdomen. Your family physician will also be able to refer you to a specialist (gastroenterologist) who will, if necessary, perform a gastroscopy (insertion of a camera into the gastrointestinal tract).
The first treatment approach involves making certain lifestyle changes by doing away with anything that may predispose sufferers to heartburn.
The second treatment approach involves the use of medications to prevent or relieve the symptoms of dyspepsia. There are four different classes of medications designed to treat heartburn:
Antacids and certain medications that reduce acid production are available without a prescription. More powerful medications however, require medical monitoring. Given that the underlying causes of dyspepsia vary greatly from one person to another and that people react differently to medication, treatment must be tailored. To truly benefit from these medications, regardless of whether they are prescription or over-the-counter, it is important that they be taken as indicated and according to a set schedule. Pharmacists will be able to provide you with the most comprehensive advice. Don’t hesitate to ask them for their opinion. If you have made lifestyle changes and your symptoms still persist or if your over-the-counter medication does not relieve your symptoms after 2 to 4 weeks, it is recommended that you consult a physician.