For many years indigestion has been considered the number one disturbance of American businessmen. Irvin Cobb told the story of the dyspeptic who hears the noon whistle: “Twelve o’clock,” he says. “I’m going home. If lunch isn’t ready, I’m going to raise Cain. If it is ready, I won’t eat a bite.” Heartburn, the belching of sour material, nausea, vomiting, a feeling of fullness or pressure, are the symptoms that trouble most.
While the symptoms listed may be relatively insignificant as far as any serious disease is concerned, the difficulty for both doctor and patient lies in the fact that the same symptoms in varying degree may be associated with exceedingly serious disorders. The severity of pain varies from one person to another, and the agony of the pain is not really a measure of the condition that is wrong. Most people digest their food and move the residue along towards elimination without much attention to what is going on. If the symptoms that have been mentioned come on one or two hours after eating, they may be due to uncomplicated ulcer of the stomach or duodenum and the doctor will have to make extra studies, including use of the X-ray to be sure of the diagnosis. Similar symptoms may occur in conditions related to the appendix or the gall bladder, or to blocking of the passage of the food, or to a weakness in the diaphragm, the large muscle of breathing which separates the abdomen from the thorax.
Indigestion may, moreover, be associated with psychologic problems, excessive use or abuse of tobacco, coffee, or alcohol, rapid eating with insufficient chewing, constipation with the cathartic habit, and many other errors of digestive hygiene.
When there is sensitivity or allergy to certain food substances, eating of such foods may arouse gastrointestinal distress.