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Stomach Pain: Causes, Symptoms & Treatment

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What is Stomach Pain?

Stomach pain is a very common condition (x).  More often than not, it is a result of something the patient has eaten (like food poisoning), caught (such as stomach flu) or it may be something the patient suffers from regularly (like gastritis). Sometimes, it may seem sudden. If this occurs and the symptoms are persistent and severe and if they get worse, the patient may need medical attention to find out the cause. Stomach pain may be burning, sharp, aching, etc. and the problem is often related to other symptoms such as excessive gas, nausea and vomiting.

Accompanying Symptoms of Stomach Pain

Stomach pain may be associated with one or more issues.

Bloating

Bloating can be moderate and simply make the patient feel as though they have eaten too much, or severe, with an uncomfortably enlarged or hardened stomach. When someone is bloated, they may experience unpleasant and excessive flatulence or burping (x).

Indigestion

This may cause an acidic feeling in the stomach or heartburn. It is also known as dyspepsia (x).

Sore Muscles 

Patients may experience sore muscles with a stomach ache from injury, infections or stress. Some diseases may cause stomach pain as well as sore muscles (x).

Digestive Problems

Many times patients experience sore muscles along with various digestive issues, such as constipation, diarrhea, vomiting and nausea (x).

Other Accompanying Symptoms

  • Pain after meals (x)
  • Bloody stool (x)
  • Bloody vomit (x)
  • Ongoing diarrhea or vomiting
  • Chest pain, shoulder pain or back pain (x, x, x)

Causes of Stomach Pain

Many patients complain of stomach pain. There are several factors that can cause the feeling or make it worse.

Constipation

When the bowel collects too much waste, this adds to the pressure on the large intestine, which can cause pain (x). Constipation may happen for various reasons including too little fluid or fiber in the diet, low physical activity or certain medicines. Constipation may also indicate an obstruction in the intestine or a neurological condition (x). If it persists and is uncomfortable, seek medical attention.

Gas

Gas forms when bacteria in the small intestine digest food or when the body cannot tolerate certain food. Increased gas pressure in the intestine may cause sharp pain. It can also cause obstruction or a tight feeling in the stomach. The body releases gas with burping or flatulence (x).

Acute Appendicitis

This condition causes severe swelling in the appendix. Acute appendicitis typically causes discomfort around the middle of the stomach that radiates to the right lower quadrant of the stomach. The pain can increase as the patient walks, coughs or makes jolting movements. Vomiting and nausea may occur and the patient may have a loss of appetite (x).

If the appendix bursts, the infection can spread all over the abdomen, causing potentially life-threatening peritonitis. An abscess (a pocket of pus) may also develop at the location of the appendix. Acute appendicitis is typically treated with an appendectomy that surgically removes the appendix. If you are experiencing pain in this area or any of the other symptoms of appendicitis, seek medical attention (x).

Irritable Bowel Syndrome

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a functional digestive system disorder with several symptoms that affect the large intestine with no known cause. IBS is quite common and affects about 12 percent of people in the United States. IBS symptoms include intestinal cramping, abdominal pain, gas, bloating, constipation and diarrhea. Diagnosis requires a physical examination after the doctor asks for complete medical history (x).

Gastroenteritis

Gastroenteritis (stomach flu) is an intestinal disorder. The main symptom is diarrhea, but it also causes abdominal cramps, vomiting, nausea and occasionally fever. Symptoms may be mild or severe and usually last just one or two days (x). Bacterial gastroenteritis is caused by viral, bacterial or parasitic infections, such as Salmonella and Campylobacter (x, x).

Since most cases of gastroenteritis are not infectious, medical care is mainly supportive. The body usually gets rid of the infection on its own. It is vital to eat food with electrolytes and complex carbohydrates and drink plenty of fluids to replace nutrients. If the patient needs to be hospitalized, they may need to have fluids administered intravenously (x).

Food Intolerances

When the body cannot digest food items, the stomach and intestinal bacteria break them down, releasing gas. It is different than a food allergy because it does not stimulate the immune system. In addition to stomach pain, food intolerances may cause irritable bowels, cough, runny nose, migraine, headaches, hives and bloating (x, x).

Peptic Ulcers

An ulcer is a sore on the stomach lining and it usually causes severe and persistent stomach pain. They can also cause indigestion, bloating and weight loss. H. pylori bacteria are one common cause of peptic ulcers. Other common causes include long-term use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDs) and tumors in the stomach, duodenum or pancreas (x).

Urinary Tract Infections (UTI)

Urinary tract infections most often occur due to E. coli bacteria that colonize in the bladder and urethra, causing inflammation in the bladder. Symptoms include strong-smelling and cloudy urine, painful urination, nausea, vomiting and stomach pain (x).

Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD)

Also called GERD, gastroesophageal reflux disease is a long-term disorder that causes constant acid reflux when stomach contents back up from the stomach into the esophagus (x). It may cause abdominal pain, nausea, bad breath and difficulties swallowing. Over time, it can cause complications like esophageal inflammation. GERD is a treatable and controllable condition (x, x, x).

Pancreatitis

The pancreas produces enzymes and hormones that digest food. Pancreatitis is a progressive condition that causes inflammation in the pancreas. Symptoms include severe abdominal pain, vomiting and nausea. The discomfort is typically steady and dull, usually sudden at the beginning and gradually getting more serious until it becomes a persistent ache. It occurs most often in the upper abdominal area and may spread out directly to the back. The major causes of acute pancreatitis are binge drinking and gallstones. Very high triglyceride levels in the blood can also contribute to pancreatitis (x, x). 

Gastritis

When the lining of the stomach becomes swollen or inflamed, it may cause pain. Other common gastritis symptoms include gas, vomiting, nausea, and bloating (x).

Kidney Stones

Kidney stones may be both large and small. Some stones remain in the kidney without causing any problems. Calcium makes up most kidney stones (80 percent). Kidney stones made of uric acid are less common (5 to 10 percent) (x). In some cases, the kidney stone travels down the ureter. If it enters the bladder, it may pass through urine.

If it gets stuck in the ureter, it blocks urine flow from the kidney, which causes serious, intense pain. It’s typically a cramping, sharp pain in the side and back, often spreading to the groin and lower abdomen. The pain usually starts out of nowhere in waves. There can also be a strong urge to urinate. The urine might be red or dark with blood (x).

Cancer

A number of gastrointestinal cancers may cause abdominal pain and discomfort. Examples include stomach cancer (gastric cancer), colorectal cancer and pancreatic cancer (x, x, x).

Acid Reflux

Stomach acids can sometimes travel backward, reaching the throat. This almost always results in a painful burning sensation. Acid reflux causes stomach pain symptoms too, such as cramps or bloating (x).

Stress

Stress is also a very common cause of stomach pain. Research has identified a connection between the brain and the gut (x). When a patient is stressed or anxious, the brain releases chemicals that can enter the digestive system and interfere with digestive bacteria, triggering symptoms like diarrhea, loss of appetite, unnatural hunger and stomach pain.

Some natural remedies for managing stress include eating a healthy diet with a range of minerals, vitamins, healthy fats, amino acids, antioxidants and electrolytes. Exercise, whether it is mild—such as yoga or walking—or more active—such as running—may help relieve stress. Meditation, journaling and relaxing with friends may also help (x).

Diverticulitis

Diverticulitis is caused by inflammation or infection in the colon. It may cause tenderness and pain in the left lower abdomen. Other symptoms can include mild fever, constipation, diarrhea, fatigue, nausea and loss of appetite (x).

Stomach Pain Remedies and Supplements

Natural remedies for stomach pain and indigestion have existed for centuries. Be sure to speak to a doctor before using a supplement or herb. Herbal products may not be right for everyone and they might interact with other medications. Also, don’t stop taking prescription medications or change the dosage without discussing it with a doctor first.

Maintaining Bowel Health

Preventing constipation and diarrhea can help prevent stomach pain. Many things trigger these conditions.

Preventing Constipation

Constipation is usually caused by dehydration, a low-fiber diet or even stress (x). Hydration, a high-fiber diet and exercise to keep the body moving may ease constipation and also improve mood (x).

Follow these diet tips to control constipation (x):

  • Drink more water
  • Eat raw fruits (figs and dried plums are beneficial), vegetables, nuts, seeds and leafy greens
  • Ditch fried foods, processed fruits, caffeinated drinks and alcohol, which can cause dehydration
  • Avoid pasteurized dairy items if you’re lactose intolerant
  • Take supplements, such as magnesium and flaxseed oil

These tips also work effectively for children, particularly focusing more on fiber, fruits and fluids, as well as probiotic foods like milk products and yogurt (x).

Preventing Diarrhea

Diarrhea may also be caused by food allergies, dehydration, a virus or infection, certain medications or stress. It’s often linked with stomach flu. A plain, simple diet called the BRAT diet can help ease diarrhea. It consists of bananas, rice, applesauce and toast (BRAT). Other bland foods include saltine crackers, sweet potatoes, oatmeal, watermelon, chicken or vegetable broth and steamed, baked or grilled chicken without skin or fat (x).

Here are other suggestions for controlling diarrhea:

  • Add ginger root and raw honey to herbal teas (x, x)
  • Stay well hydrated with water
  • Include flaxseed in your diet (x)
  • Avoid strenuous exercises and get more rest
  • Try supplements such as glutamine powder and probiotics to repair and re-colonize the digestive tract (x, x)
  • Make simple, easy-to-digest foods like steamed vegetables after the diarrhea subsides

Supplements for Stomach Pain

Ginger Root Extract

With natural antibacterial, anti inflammatory and anti-ulcer properties, ginger root may help treat stomach pain. As a supplement, take 1,000 milligrams of ginger root extract once a day or as directed by a doctor.

Peppermint Extract

Taking mint leaves or having a sniff of peppermint extract or oil may help ease any abdominal discomfort. Take 700 milligrams of peppermint extract powder once or twice daily or as instructed by a doctor. It’s best to take peppermint with food.

Cinnamon Bark Extract

A combination of bitters like cinnamon, mint, ginger and fennel with a cup of ginger ale, tonic or club soda can help relieve stomach pain. Take 650 to 1,350 mg of cinnamon bark extract three times a day. It’s best to take it with food and water.

Chamomile Extract

Teas with chamomile, ginger or peppermint, chopped and steeped, can be useful for soothing abdominal comfort. Take 800 milligrams of chamomile extract powder with water one to two times daily, unless a doctor recommends a different dosage.

The Bottom Line

Stomach pain is a common symptom caused by several different illnesses and conditions. It is a broad term that can include many parts of the body besides the stomach. In some cases, the pain you feel in your tummy may involve the bowels, esophagus, kidneys, liver or gallbladder. Keep in mind that stomach pain can often resolve itself or ease in a short amount of time. Plenty of natural remedies exist, such as herbal remedies, stress management, maintaining bowel health and controlling your diet.

Diet plays an important role in digestive health. Food, medications and beverages—including daily water intake—can significantly impact gut health. However, sometimes stomach pain may be the result of an internal problem, like blockage, inflammation, infection or stress. Consider how long the stomach pain lasts or whether it has a come-and-go pattern. Also notice where the pain is—right side, left side, upper abdomen or lower abdomen—which may indicate a clue about the cause of the pain.

Patients with severe stomach pain may need medical attention. Sometimes stomach pain can be life-threatening if it is related to a serious disease or condition. But if there are minor underlying causes for the stomach pain, it is possible to help support the digestive system with supplements such as ginger, peppermint, cinnamon and chamomile. However, supplements are not a sufficient medical treatment. Always follow a doctor’s advice and always consult with a doctor before starting a supplement regimen.

About the author

Haron Omaita


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