A gut feeling

by Karen Bowen

Like most people, you probably experience an occasional upset stomach: indigestion. Although uncomfortable, indigestion (a condition during which a group of gastrointestinal symptoms occur at the same time) can usually be successfully treated with lifestyle changes.

Indigestion is usually not serious, but can impact your quality of life, bringing pain, a burning feeling, discomfort, tightness or bloating in your upper abdomen (between your breastbone and navel) and causing you to feel too full too soon while eating, uncomfortably full after eating, and/or nauseous. Rarely, indigestion causes belching or vomiting.

For a trucker, attacks of indigestion can be triggered by the food, drink, medication, and/or lifestyle choices common to trucking. You may eat too much or too quickly; eat overly spicy, fatty, or greasy foods; drink beverages with too much caffeine and/or carbonation; eat chocolate; smoke; feel anxious; and/or exert yourself right after a meal. Antibiotics, pain relievers, and iron supplements can also cause indigestion. The hours of bouncing in your rig, traveling the roads can certainly exacerbate this uncomfortable condition.

However, making some simple lifestyle changes can help reduce symptoms. Monitor the foods that trigger indigestion and then avoid them. Instead of eating three large meals a day, have five or six smaller meals.

Chew with your mouth closed to avoid swallowing air. Drink fluids after a meal, rather than with your meal. Reduce beverages with caffeine or alcohol. Maintain proper posture while driving to avoid compressing your stomach or esophagus. Use an air or memory foam seat cushion to reduce bouncing. Avoid eating just before going to bed. Sleep with your head slightly elevated to prevent digestive juices from flowing into your esophagus. Use relaxation techniques to control and reduce stress. If possible, replace medications, such as certain pain relievers: ASA (Aspirin), ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB, others) and naproxen sodium (Aleve), etc.

If your indigestion persists after making these lifestyle changes, try over-the-counter antacids. Your doctor may also recommend one of the following options: proton pump inhibitors (PPIs), which can reduce stomach acid. PPIs are often recommended if you experience both heartburn and indigestion at the same time. Another option is H-2-receptor antagonists (H2RAs), which can also reduce stomach acid. Prokinetics can help your stomach empty quickly and efficiently.

Antibiotics can treat H. pylori bacteria if it’s causing your indigestion. As well, anti-depressants or anti-anxiety medications may ease your level of discomfort by decreasing your pain sensitivity.

Alternatively, you may consider trying the following alternative and complementary treatments, successfully used by many people to reduce indigestion: peppermint and/or caraway herbal therapies or teas can settle your stomach. Relaxation techniques and meditation can help relax your digestive system. Acupuncture may successfully block the nerve pathways from your stomach to the brain. A liquid supplement, STW 5 (Iberogast), comprised of bitter candytuft, caraway, peppermint leaves and licorice root may reduce your gastric acid.

Before trying these alternative treatments, confirm that they won’t interact with any of your other medications.

Although mild indigestion is usually nothing to worry about, occasionally the symptoms indicate a more serious, underlying condition. So, seek medical attention if the discomfort lasts more than two weeks, and if your pain becomes severe or is accompanied by: unintentional weight loss or loss of appetite; repeated vomiting or vomiting with blood; black, tarry stools; difficulty swallowing that gets progressively worse; fatigue or weakness (may indicate anemia from internal bleeding); shortness of breath, sweating or chest pain radiating to the jaw, neck or arm; chest pain on exertion or with stress.

Possible underlying conditions that may be confused with indigestion include: peptic ulcers, irritable bowel syndrome, stomach cancer, constipation, GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease), gastritis, gastroparesis (stomach does not empty properly), gallstones, gastric infection, celiac disease, pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas), stomach cancer, thyroid disease, intestinal blockage, or intestinal ischemia (reduced blood flow in the intestine) and/or heart attack.

To resolve your indigestion – consider your symptoms and consider changes to your lifestyle. Then, go with your gut.


Karen Bowen is a professional health and nutrition consultant, and she can be reached at karen_bowen@yahoo.com.

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