Most people experience indigestion from time to time. It usually happens after a big or fatty meal, or after you have eaten something which usually gives you this kind of bloated and uncomfortable feeling in the upper stomach.
Occasional indigestion affects most people, and can usually be prevented by not eating huge meals, or by avoiding foods that make you feel uncomfortable.
Reflux into the oesophagus
But there are more serious complications than the occasional feeling of bloatedness. One of them is gastro-oesophagal reflux disorder (GORD) – when the one-way valve somehow becomes weak or faulty in some way, and allows liquidized food to go back up the oesophagus. The burning sensation this brings about, is caused by the stomach acid mixed up in the food.
Another of the stomach disorders, are peptic ulcers. In order to digest food, the stomach glands produce a mixture of acid and pepsin. Usually a layer of protective mucus prevents damage to the stomach lining. When the balance between the acids and the protective mucus is disturbed, the stomach is vulnerable to direct attack.
The helicobacter bacterium
The helicobacter bacterium was discovered in the 90's and, contrary to the long-held notion that stress and lifestyle caused peptic ulcers, proof was found that a large proportion of stomach ulcers were caused by helicobacter pylori infection. Generally, a one-week course of antibiotics were found to cure most peptic ulcers.
A third of the stomach disorders is called non-ulcer dyspepsia. The main symptoms of this condition are a burning, aching feeling in the upper part of the abdomen and nausea. At times of stress, the feeling of discomfort can become severe.
Doctors usually first rule out GORD, peptic ulcers and gallstones before making this diagnosis. The causes of non-ulcer dyspepsia are not clear and possibilities are many – from other intestinal tract disorders, a particular sensitivity to certain foods or to stomach acid, through to lifestyle choices.