“Stomachache” is a term that describes pain or discomfort in the general area of your stomach or abdomen. If your stomach hurts, it could simply be a result of eating something that did not agree with you. However, it could be something else entirely.
Between 60 to 70 million people in the U.S. suffer from digestive diseases, and these issues are responsible for 51 million doctor and ER visits. Therefore, if you have a stomachache that you suspect may be something more, it is important to see your doctor to rule out a more serious condition.
Common Causes of a Stomachache
Many things besides occasional indigestion can cause discomfort or pain in the general area of your stomach. Some common causes include:
- Food allergies
- Taking antibiotics for an extended period
- Stomach flu
- Acid Reflux Disease or GERD (Gastroesophageal reflux disease)
Tips to Help Relieve Common Indigestion
- gulp your food
- watch TV or perform other tasks while eating
- eat foods you know will cause indigestion
- eat when you are feeling intense emotions
- eat smaller portions more often
- drink liquids at room temperature
- limit caffeine and alcohol
- make mealtime a pleasant experience
- maintain good posture during eating – and after
- take a short walk after eating to help digestion
- exercise regularly
When to Seek Emergency Medical Care
If you experience any of the following symptoms in addition to stomach or abdominal pain, seek medical help immediately:
- Any stomach pain in a child that does not seem “right”
- Sudden, sharp pain, especially in the lower right part of the abdomen
- High fever
- Green vomit
- Blood in the urine, stool, or vomit
- Unexplained symptoms such as dizziness, swelling, a severe cough, or hives
Conditions that Cause Abdominal Pain
Pain in the lower right part of the abdomen, accompanied by nausea and fever, could indicate appendicitis. If caught early enough, antibiotics may be effective, but surgical removal of the appendix is usually necessary. Acute appendicitis can be fatal, so it is critical to seek emergency care immediately if you suspect appendicitis.
Diverticulitis is a condition where normally benign small pockets in the lining of the colon become inflamed or infected. Infected pockets can cause digestive obstruction or a rupture of the bowel. Mild to medium diverticulitis can be treated with changes in your diet and lifestyle, antibiotics, and rest.
Severe abdominal pain accompanied by nausea, fever, and a sudden change in bowel movements requires immediate medical attention.
Excess gas causes uncomfortable bloating but is usually harmless and resolves itself over time. Eating too many gas-causing foods like leafy green vegetables and beans, or carbonated drinks, can cause excess gas release in the digestive tract. Seeking treatment is usually unnecessary, and a change in diet along with daily exercise can be helpful.
If you experience severe stomach pain after eating a high-fat meal, it could indicate a gallbladder attack. Women in their 40’s who are overweight and eat a poor diet are at the greatest risk. Symptoms worsen over time and are worse after a meal and may come and go until they become constant and more painful.
Sharp pain in the upper right abdominal area could indicate the presence of gallstones. Some gallstones can pass unnoticed, but more often, they are quite painful. Medication may be used to dissolve the gallstones, but in some cases, surgery may be required. A poor diet and not drinking enough water can contribute to the formation of gallstones.
Also known as, the stomach flu, gastroenteritis is a condition where the stomach and intestines are inflamed due to a viral or bacterial infection. Other symptoms of gastroenteritis include diarrhea, vomiting, cramping, fever, headache, and nausea. Dehydration is a serious concern.
Usually occurring in older patients, vague pain in the middle or upper abdominal area can be a sign of a heart attack when it is accompanied by burping and nausea, much like indigestion or heartburn. Additional symptoms may include shortness of breath, vomiting, and back or jaw pain. Seek emergency medical help immediately.
IBS (Irritable bowel syndrome)
IBS affects 15 percent of the people in the U.S. If you are experiencing painful cramps in the lower area of your abdomen, along with bloating and either constipation or diarrhea, you may have IBS. Fortunately, IBS symptoms can often be controlled by diet, stress, and lifestyle management, although medication may be helpful in some cases.
IBD (Inflammatory bowel disease)
Both Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis fall under the IBD umbrella and affects two to six percent of all Americans. While the official cause is unknown, it is important to understand that the immune system has been compromised and triggered an inflammatory response in the intestinal wall in response.
Persistent abdominal pain in the colon and small bowel may be accompanied by fever, weight loss, diarrhea, and intestinal bleeding. Treatment usually involves managing symptoms along with medication, although sometimes part or all of the colon may need to be surgically removed.
If your body cannot fully digest the lactose (sugar) in milk, you can experience discomfort in the stomach area such as gas, bloating, and diarrhea after consuming dairy products. The condition is usually manageable, and you may not have to give up all dairy products.
In either side of the lower abdominal area, sudden pain can indicate either a ruptured ovarian cyst or a twisted ovary. In both cases, immediate medical treatment is necessary.
Pancreatitis is inflammation of the pancreas, located behind the stomach. Pancreatitis displays symptoms that can appear suddenly (acute) and last for days, or it can be chronic, lasting many years.
Symptoms can vary, but both forms of pancreatitis include upper abdominal pain. Acute pancreatitis symptoms can include fever, rapid pulse, nausea or vomiting, and tenderness to the touch. Chronic pancreatitis may include oily, smelly bowel movements or unexplained weight loss.
Pain or a burning sensation in the upper stomach area can be an indication of a peptic ulcer. Ulcers occur when the stomach lining is damaged. A healthy stomach has a layer of thick mucus that protects the lining itself from strong digestive juices. Without that protection, painful sores occur, and the digestive juices eat away at the protective lining, often causing bleeding.
Poor diet, heavy drinking, smoking, aspirin, or an infection can cause ulcers. The cause of the ulcer will determine treatment.
Cancer can occur in the stomach or other internal organs. Symptoms rarely show during the early stages, but when there are symptoms, they may include:
- belly pain or vague discomfort in the upper abdominal area
- feeling full after eating a small amount
- unexplained weight loss
- blood in the stool
- and more.
UTI (Urinary Tract Infection)
The medical term for inflammation of the bladder is Cystitis. The inflammation is most often caused by a bacterial infection and is better known as a urinary tract infection. It is usually treated with antibiotics. Symptoms can include:
- a sensation of pressure in the lower part of the abdomen
- a strong and persistent urge to urinate
- a burning sensation during urination
- passing cloudy or strong-smelling urine
- a low-grade fever
Tips for Better Health
Regular exercise is critical for every system in our bodies to function correctly. The lymphatic system, the body’s defense system, depends entirely on the body moving for it to do its job.
The closer we can come to mainly eating natural, fresh foods, the healthier we can be. If you have diabetes or other health concerns or dietary restrictions, be sure to follow your doctor’s recommendations. In general, however, you want to eat lots of fresh vegetables, fruits, and whole grains and limit overly processed, nutrient-deficient foods. Eat from a rainbow of foods and get your protein and fiber from healthy sources.
Lots of water! Healthy adult bodies contain 55-60% water, and some organs contain more than 80 percent water. To maintain adequate water levels in the body, an adult male needs about 3 liters (3.2 quarts) per day, while an adult female needs about 2.2 liters (2.3 quarts) per day.
Sometimes we think of sleep as a waste of time, but that could not be farther from the truth. Sleep is when all the body’s systems and organs, including the mind, recharge and repair. Without adequate and proper sleep (7-9 hours for healthy adults), we are more susceptible to illness and even weight gain.
The bottom line? A stomachache is usually a temporary, although uncomfortable, inconvenience resulting from poor health habits. However, given the number of serious health conditions with symptoms that also present with stomach pain, you should check with your doctor if you are experiencing any additional symptoms.
Please note, the information provided throughout this site is not intended or implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. All content, including text, graphics, images, and video, on or available through this website is for general information purposes only. If you are experiencing related symptoms, please visit your doctor or call 9-1-1 in an emergency.