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Article Type: Blog

When Is Your Stomach Pain Something More?

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Nearly everyone experiences stomach pain or abdominal discomfort at some point in their lives, but it’s hard to know when it could be a sign of something more serious — and if it’s time to see your doctor. In this blog, we’ll explore the common culprits, as well as soothing solutions your doctor can help provide.

Please note: If your stomach pain was caused by a recent injury or accident, or if your chest hurts in addition to having stomach pain, please call 911 immediately.

Common Causes of a Stomach Ache

There are many reasons why you experience stomach discomfort. Your digestive system can be very sensitive to changes and is very good at alerting you to problems that you may not otherwise recognize. Read on to discover some of the most common and benign reasons for stomach pain, and their remedies:

Menstrual Cramps and Endometriosis

If you’re a woman and experience stomach pain before or during your period, then you likely have normal and natural menstrual cramps. Although they’re not pleasant and can be very painful at times, an analgesic like aspirin, acetaminophen, ibuprofen or naproxen sodium can help ease the pain. 

Exercise can also be a big help, and a soothing cup of chamomile tea and a hot compress helps to relax the contracting muscles of your uterus.

Some women may have a more serious medical condition called endometriosis that can cause severe pain and cramping, especially during their periods. Other symptoms can include back pain, painful bowel movements or urination, abnormal or heavy bleeding during periods, painful sex and difficulty becoming pregnant. If you’re experiencing these types of symptoms, it’s time to give your gynecologist a call to find out if you have endometriosis. 

Indigestion

This is a broad term that covers everything from heartburn, nausea, gas and diarrhea to bloating, burping, farting and hiccupping. If you experience these symptoms, there are a few things you can do at home to help get rid of your pain.  


Try to:

  • Drink plenty of water
  •  Avoid laying down (this can cause acid reflux)
  • Take a hot bath 
  • Apply a heating pad to your abdomen 
  • Avoid alcohol and tobacco

You can also eat or drink foods that can help calm your indigestion like:

  • Bananas
  • Figs 
  • Rice 
  • Applesauce 
  • Toast 
  • Ginger
  • Mint or spearmint 
  • Yarrow 
  • Basil 
  • Cinnamon
  • Cumin 
  • Cloves 
  • Aloe juice 
  • Coconut water 

An over-the-counter medicine containing bismuth subsalicylate, like Pepto-Bismol, can also often provide relief.

Constipation

Being unable to have a bowel movement can be very uncomfortable and even very painful. It will happen to most of us at one time or another and there are many reasons for it. If you haven’t passed waste in three days or more, you should take the necessary actions to do so. It’s important because after that much time your poop starts to harden, and it becomes even harder to pass. 

If you’ve reached the three-day mark and laxatives haven’t provided you relief, an enema may be necessary. For normal constipation, drink plenty of water, eat fibrous foods, exercise and move your bowels when you feel the need.

Food Poisoning

Foodborne illness is fairly common and rarely pleasant. Symptoms typically include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain or cramps and fever. It usually sets in within a few hours after eating contaminated food, but it may also take weeks before you see symptoms. 

Most people can fight off the causes of this distress within a few hours to a few days, but sometimes it can be more serious and require help. If you’re experiencing bloody vomit or bowel movements, diarrhea lasting longer than three days, inability to keep down liquids, extreme pain or cramping, oral temperature of 100.4 F (38 C) or higher, dehydration or neurological conditions like blurry vision, muscle weakness or tingling in the arms, seek immediate medical attention at your local hospital’s emergency room. 

Food Intolerance

As cultures have evolved over thousands of years, some people can’t eat certain foods without experiencing discomfort or abdominal distress. Food intolerance, or sensitivity, is generally marked by gas, bloating, pain or diarrhea, and usually occurs after eating large amounts of the offending food within a few hours. Although it’s uncomfortable, food intolerance is rarely dangerous. 

Common foods causing sensitivities include lactose, gluten, fructose, sulfites and FODMAPs (fermentable oligosaccharides disaccharides monosaccharides and polyols), or carbohydrates that draw water into your intestine during digestion.

Food Allergies

If you have an allergy to a food, your immune system will release histamines that cause a wide range of symptoms. These usually occur within a few minutes to an hour of eating the allergenic food and can include itching in your mouth, vomiting, diarrhea and abdominal pain. 

Food allergens in your blood can cause low blood pressure. Contact with your skin can trigger hives or eczema, and if inhaled, can cause wheezing. Severe allergic reactions can occur in some people and cause dangerous reactions like swelling and closing of airways. 

If you have food allergies, make sure you always carry an antihistamine with you and be careful about what and where you eat.

Stomach Virus

Another common reason for stomach pain is catching a stomach bug. Viral infections can cause abdominal pain, vomiting, diarrhea and fever. They’re rarely dangerous, except for the very young, the very old and those with immune system deficiencies. But they should be monitored closely and treated by a medical professional if the fever gets too high or persists for too long, or if you’re unable to keep liquids down and become dehydrated. 

Treatment includes staying hydrated, taking an analgesic for the fever and when able, eating nutritious and fortifying food. Chicken soup is a classic remedy. 

See Your Doctor for These Serious Conditions

Some conditions that cause stomach pain won’t go away without help from your doctor.  Here are a few on that list, and symptoms you’ll see if you have one.

Ulcers

A peptic or gastric ulcer is a hole or break in the protective lining of the stomach, or the upper part of the large intestine that comes in contact with your digestive juices, which are powerful acids. Pain and discomfort are not unusual and may persist for several hours or longer. 

One in 10 Americans will have an ulcer at some point in their lives. While common and uncomfortable, they’re rarely dangerous and can be treated with some over-the-counter medicines as well as powerful prescription medicines.

Hernias

These are tears or weak spots in your muscle walls through which an organ or fatty tissue protrudes, causing pain and discomfort. Two common types of hernia that can cause stomach pain are hiatal (upper stomach) and umbilical (belly button). They generally require surgery to correct, so it’s important to speak with your physician if you believe you have a hernia. 

Gallstones and Kidney Stones

Gallstones are buildups of matter that form in the gallbladder, which is a small organ residing underneath your liver. You can have them and not even know it until they block a bile duct, causing severe pain and requiring immediate medical attention.

Kidney stones rarely require medical attention, but can be extremely painful. Kidney stones are hard masses made up of salt and minerals that form in the kidneys, eventually passing through your urethra and causing severe pain in both the abdominal region and lower back. Ultrasound treatments may be used to break them up and allow for easier passage. Staying hydrated will reduce your risk of having kidney stones, but if you’ve experienced them before, you’ll be more likely to have them again.

Appendicitis

The appendix is an organ that does not cause problems for most people. But if it becomes infected, it will need to be removed quickly. Appendectomies are one of the most common surgeries performed today and are very quick and easy using a laparoscopic procedure with minimal scarring. While this is an extremely common and easily treatable condition, the risk of death is very real if the appendix bursts and goes untreated. 

Symptoms of appendicitis include dull pain near the navel or the upper abdomen that becomes sharp as it moves to the lower-right abdomen, nausea and/or vomiting soon after abdominal pain begins, loss of appetite, abdominal swelling, fever of 99 to 102 F (37 to 39 C), inability to pass gas, painful urination or difficulty passing urine, vomiting that precedes abdominal pain, severe cramps and constipation or diarrhea with gas.

Crohn’s Disease

This is a chronic inflammatory condition of the digestive tract that causes abdominal pain and tenderness, with diarrhea. Other symptoms can include bloody diarrhea, chronic diarrhea, fever, rectal bleeding and weight loss. 

Unfortunately, there’s currently no cure for the condition, but it can be treated by certain medications and making changes to your lifestyle such as exercising and eating well. If you believe you may have Crohn’s disease, speak to a gastroenterologist that specializes in the disease and works with a team of other doctors like rheumatologists. 

Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)

This condition involves changes in the frequency of your bowel movements or changes in their consistency, plus abdominal pain. It’s estimated that between 6% and 18% of people worldwide are affected by it. There are many triggers, and everyone’s are slightly different, but stress, poor diet, lack of sleep and changes in your gut’s biome can set it off. 

The most common and first indicator associated with IBS is abdominal pain and cramping. Other symptoms can include constipation, diarrhea, alternating constipation and diarrhea, gas and bloating, food intolerance, fatigue or difficulty sleeping, anxiety and depression.

Treatment for IBS is similar to Crohn’s disease in that lifestyle changes will likely be necessary. Identifying and avoiding your trigger foods will be very important, as well as avoiding other digestive stimulants like caffeine, alcohol and sugary drinks.

If you believe that you may have IBS, consult your doctor who may refer you to a gastroenterologist.

When to Seek Medical Attention

If your stomach pain doesn’t go away or keeps returning, speak with a specialist near you. 
 

Please note: If your stomach pain was caused by a recent injury or accident, or if your chest hurts in addition to having stomach pain, please call 911 immediately.

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