If you're like many Americans, you might occasionally overindulge on
high-fat foods, especially during the holidays, leaving you with indigestion,
abdominal pain or heartburn. But popping a handful of antacids may not
address what's really going on. According to
Dr. Waldo Avello,
St. Luke's Gastroenterology Associates, the symptoms of indigestion can be dangerously similar to those of angina-which
means that your chest pain could actually be a sign of coronary heart
disease. "First, we consider the possibility of heart disease, and
not until a cardiologist rules out cardiac problems will we look for gastrointestinal
causes," says Dr. Avello.
To determine the cause, Dr. Avello and his team explore the relationship
between the symptoms and meal times or types of foods. For example, if
fatty foods trigger discomfort an hour after eating, an ultrasound may
be used to examine the gallbladder. If symptoms indicate an ulcer, an
upper gastrointestinal (GI) endoscopy may be performed to view the stomach
and the duodenum (the first part of the small intestine).
An upper GI endoscopy is also used to monitor patients with a history of
heartburn or chronic acid reflux who are at greater risk for esophageal
cancer. "Often, reflux responds well to medication," says Dr.
Avello. "But in some cases, laparoscopic surgery may be the best
solution." Severe abdominal pain can also be caused by irritable
bowel syndrome (IBS), which often responds well to a combination of regular
exercise and dietary changes.
If you are experiencing severe indigestion and reflux, perhaps the best
rule of thumb is to trust your gut-and your symptoms-to a specialist who
can diagnose and treat your condition, and help prevent more serious health
For more information, call St. Luke's Gastroenterology Associates at