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Functional dyspepsia (FD) is a chronic symptom complex characterized by epigastric pain or burning, bothersome postprandial fullness, or early satiation without a definitive organic cause.1 Many patients with FD also experience other troublesome symptoms, including bloating,2 nausea after eating, and excessive belching. FD has been subdivided into meal-related dyspepsia, or postprandial distress syndrome (PDS), and meal-unrelated dyspepsia, or epigastric pain syndrome (EPS); however, overlap between the two conditions has been reported.3
FD is one of the more common functional disorders, and prevalence estimates vary worldwide, with higher rates noted in Western countries, including the United States.4 Since dyspepsia may present with a multitude of symptoms, FD is a diagnosis of exclusion, and clinicians are encouraged to look for red flags that are clinical indicators of a possible serious underlying condition.1,5 The pathogenesis of FD is unclear but may be associated with:6-8
- Sociopsychological factors such as stress, anxiety, depression, and stressful interpersonal relationships.
- Biological mechanisms such as gastroduodenal dysfunction and inflammation, impaired duodenal mucosal integrity, and visceral hypersensitivity.
Treatment Strategies – Modifiable Lifestyle Factors
The impaired quality of life experienced by patients with this condition implies the need for a definitive diagnosis followed by treatment for the duration of the symptomatic interval. However, the causes of FD are varied and complex, resulting in nonstandard, limited, and potentially inefficient pharmaceutical-based therapeutic options.3,7 Potential adjunctive or alternative non-pharmacologic therapies include psychotherapy, herbal supplementation, lifestyle modification, dietary interventions, acupuncture, and electrical stimulation.9
Consideration of a patient’s lifestyle patterns and habits is critical for a successful treatment strategy. Sleep dysfunction and disorders are common in patients with FD,6 which may exacerbate other symptoms and reduce quality of life. Psychiatric comorbidities such as depression and anxiety are another feature of functional gastrointestinal (GI) disorders like dyspepsia.10 Research suggests that psychological interventions may benefit patients with FD,11 and implementing adjunctive mind-body or relaxation therapies may also help reduce FD symptoms.12,13
Stress and social support
Research suggests that anxiety often precedes the onset of FD, specifically PDS rather than EPS,14 and that FD may lead to an increase in anxiety levels, regardless of the type of disease. A 2019 cross-sectional study compared depression and anxiety levels of patients diagnosed specifically with either PDS or EPS with healthy volunteers and found increased anxiety for both EPS and PDS patients.15 In addition, those with PDS showed significantly lower rates of general health and social functioning as well as elevated depression levels compared to patients with EPS.15
A 2019 prospective randomized controlled single-blind study with 100 patients investigated the effects of comfort care on FD symptoms, gastric motility, and mental state of patients.7 The study’s results suggested that comfort care reduces FD symptoms, increases gastric emptying rate, improves gastric motility, relieves patients’ depression and anxiety, and promotes the rehabilitation of the disease. In this study, comfort care was implemented as medical care that:7
- Identified the patient’s stressors.
- Alleviated those stress responses.
- Provided psychological and social support.
Nutrition and Exercise
Nutrition and dietary patterns are also important components when implementing treatment strategies based on modifiable lifestyle factors. A 2021 systematic review and meta-analysis found that the consumption of ultraprocessed food was associated with a range of chronic diseases, including functional dyspepsia in adults.16 In addition, a 2018 screening of 200 patients discovered food hypersensitivity in 4% of those with a functional GI disorder,5 and a strong association was found between wheat sensitivity and FD in a 2018 population-based study.17 Since certain foods may trigger increased dyspeptic symptoms for some patients, a diet low in FODMAPs may be helpful for FD patients.18,19 Further, eating small, frequent meals may be an accessible lifestyle-based strategy to help some patients initially find relief from dyspeptic symptoms.20,21
For patients with FD, normal exercise routines and physical activity may be negatively impacted. In a 2020 population-based study, subjects with FD reported significantly less walking and lower frequency of exercising.22 Of interesting note, those with PDS reported less vigorous exercise, but not those with EPS.22 Studies suggest that treatments that include moderate exercise routines may benefit some patients with FD.13,23 A 2021 randomized controlled trial (n=112 patients with FD) found that engaging in aerobic exercise for six weeks (five times per week; 30 minutes per session) improved dyspepsia symptom severity scores as well as symptoms of depression and anxiety to a greater extent than conventional treatment alone.23
The functional medicine model emphasizes the necessity for personalized treatment strategies and for considering modifiable lifestyle factors in addressing potential underlying causes of FD. Tools such as the matrix and timeline are used to map out a patient’s health journey, organize their clinical imbalances, and help develop an individualized intervention. These strategies may include identifying and reducing potential food and stress-related triggers, applying therapeutic food plans, and providing support as the patient continues on their health journey.
Functional medicine teaches clinicians the foundational background, insight, and in-depth clinical thinking to confidently work-up and treat patients who may present with conditions, signs, and symptoms indicative of GI dysfunctions such as FD. Learn to recognize and treat the most important antecedents and triggers of GI dysfunction and implement therapeutic strategies at IFM’s GI Advanced Practice Module (APM).
- Mounsey A, Barzin A, Rietz A. Functional dyspepsia: evaluation and management. Am Fam Physician. 2020;101(2):84-88.
- Lacy BE, Cangemi DJ. Updates in functional dyspepsia and bloating. Curr Opin Gastroenterol. 2022;38(6):613-619. doi:1097/MOG.0000000000000882
- Tack J, Masuy I, Van Den Houte K, et al. Drugs under development for the treatment of functional dyspepsia and related disorders. Expert Opin Investig Drugs. 2019;28(10):871-889. doi:1080/13543784.2019.1673365
- Francis P, Zavala SR. Functional Dyspepsia. StatPearls Publishing; April 21, 2022. Accessed July 11, 2023. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK554563/
- Ramanayake RPJC, Basnayake BMTK. Evaluation of red flags minimizes missing serious diseases in primary care. J Family Med Prim Care. 2018;7(2):315-318. doi:4103/jfmpc.jfmpc_510_15
- Li Y, Gong Y, Li Y, et al. Sleep disturbance and psychological distress are associated with functional dyspepsia based on Rome III criteria. BMC Psychiatry. 2018;18(1):133. doi:1186/s12888-018-1720-0
- Xiong Y, Xing H, Hu L, Xie J, Liu Y, Hu D. Effects of comfort care on symptoms, gastric motility, and mental state of patients with functional dyspepsia. Medicine (Baltimore). 2019;98(25):e16110. doi:1097/MD.0000000000016110
- Wauters L, Talley NJ, Walker MM, Tack J, Vanuytsel T. Novel concepts in the pathophysiology and treatment of functional dyspepsia. Gut. 2020;69(3):591-600. doi:1136/gutjnl-2019-318536
- Wang YP, Herndon CC, Lu CL. Non-pharmacological approach in the management of functional dyspepsia. J Neurogastroenterol Motil. 2020;26(1):6-15. doi:5056/jnm19005
- Esterita T, Dewi S, Suryatenggara FG, Glenardi G. Association of functional dyspepsia with depression and anxiety: a systematic review. J Gastrointestin Liver Dis. 2021;30(2):259-266. doi:15403/jgld-3325
- Rodrigues DM, Motomura DI, Tripp DA, Beyak MJ. Are psychological interventions effective in treating functional dyspepsia? A systematic review and meta-analysis. J Gastroenterol Hepatol. 2021;36(8):2047-2057. doi:1111/jgh.15566
- Teh KK, Ng YK, Doshi K, et al. Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy in functional dyspepsia: a pilot randomized trial. J Gastroenterol Hepatol. 2021;36(8):2058-2066. doi:1111/jgh.15389
- Ali Ismail AM, Saad AE, Fouad Abd-Elrahman NA, Abdelhalim Elfahl AM. Effect of Benson’s relaxation therapy alone or combined with aerobic exercise on cortisol, sleeping quality, estrogen, and severity of dyspeptic symptoms in perimenopausal women with functional dyspepsia. Eur Rev Med Pharmacol Sci. 2022;26(22):8342-8350. doi:26355/eurrev_202211_30367
- Aro P, Talley NJ, Johansson SE, Agréus L, Ronkainen J. Anxiety is linked to new-onset dyspepsia in the Swedish population: a 10-year follow-up study. Gastroenterology. 2015;148(5):928-937. doi:1053/j.gastro.2015.01.039
- Svintsitskyy A, Solovyova G, Maliarov S, Alianova T. Peculiarities of psychological status in patients with functional dyspepsia: postprandial distress syndrome. Wiad Lek. 2019;72(10):1872-1877. doi:36740/WLek201910103
- Lane MM, Davis JA, Beattie S, et al. Ultraprocessed food and chronic noncommunicable diseases: a systematic review and meta-analysis of 43 observational studies. Obes Rev. 2021;22(3):e13146. doi:1111/obr.13146
- Potter MDE, Walker MM, Jones MP, Koloski NA, Keely S, Talley NJ. Wheat intolerance and chronic gastrointestinal symptoms in an Australian population-based study: association between wheat sensitivity, celiac disease and functional gastrointestinal disorders. Am J Gastroenterol. 2018;113(7):1036-1044. doi:1038/s41395-018-0095-7
- Staudacher HM, Nevin AN, Duff C, Kendall BJ, Holtmann GJ. Epigastric symptom response to low FODMAP dietary advice compared with standard dietetic advice in individuals with functional dyspepsia. Neurogastroenterol Motil. 2021;33(11):e14148. doi:1111/nmo.14148
- Goyal O, Nohria S, Batta S, Dhaliwal A, Goyal P, Sood A. Low fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides, and polyols diet versus traditional dietary advice for functional dyspepsia: a randomized controlled trial. J Gastroenterol Hepatol. 2022;37(2):301-309. doi:1111/jgh.15694
- Pesce M, Cargiolli M, Cassarano S, et al. Diet and functional dyspepsia: clinical correlates and therapeutic perspectives. World J Gastroenterol. 2020;26(5):456-465. doi:3748/wjg.v26.i5.456
- Cleveland Clinic Staff. Functional dyspepsia. Cleveland Clinic. Reviewed January 10, 2022. Accessed July 13, 2023. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/22248-functional-dyspepsia#management-and-treatment
- Koloski NA, Jones M, Walker MM, Holtmann G, Talley NJ. Functional dyspepsia is associated with lower exercise levels: a population-based study. United European Gastroenterol J. 2020;8(5):577-583. doi:1177/2050640620916680
- Rane SV, Asgaonkar B, Rathi P, et al. Effect of moderate aerobic exercises on symptoms of functional dyspepsia. Indian J Gastroenterol. 2021;40(2):189-197. doi:1007/s12664-021-01174-8