If you’ve never had stomach pain, you’re one of the few who can make that claim. Most children and adults have experienced some type of stomach pain. Many things cause stomach pain, but the causes described below are among the most common.
It’s normal for a woman to have occasional sharp stomach pain during pregnancy. The pain can also be dull in some cases. During pregnancy as your baby is growing, your uterus is expanding, organs and ligaments are constantly shifting. This may cause cramps and uncomfortable stomach pain. Also during pregnancy, constipation can result from changes in hormones, eating habits and lack of exercise. Therefore, it is important to include fibrous foods, exercise and plenty of fluids during pregnancy. However, if the stomach pain feels sudden, constant or concerning, it is important to consult your physician.
- Eat small, frequent meals
- Exercise regularly, in moderation
- Choose fiber-rich foods (including fruits, vegetables, and bran)
- Drink plenty of water
- Empty your bladder often
- Rest as often as you can
Doctors typically diagnose constipation when you have fewer than three bowel movements a week. The problem is often related to a change in diet, not enough fiber, exercise or water. However, if constipation is ongoing, a number of more serious problems could be the cause, including bowel obstruction, colon or rectal cancer, diabetes or an underactive thyroid.
- Gradually increase the amount of high fiber foods in your diet. Eat fresh fruits and vegetables, whole-grain cereal, and whole-grain breads.
- Increase the amount of water you drink each day.
- Increase the amount of physical activity you get each day.
- Don’t put off a bowel movement or rush a bowel movement. Go to the bathroom as soon as possible when you feel the urge. Take your time to allow all of the stool to pass.
3. Gas and Bloating
Gas and bloating can be extremely uncomfortable, causing sharp stomach pain or cramps. The most frequent causes are constipation, high-fiber foods and fiber supplements, intolerance to things such as the lactose in milk, or artificial sweeteners. Gas can also be mistaken for a heart problem, gallstones or appendicitis. If you can’t manage gas by changing your diet, it may indicate a problem like irritable bowel syndrome.
- Drink plenty of water or other clear fluids to help reduce abdominal pain and bloating.
- Avoid pain medications such as aspirin, ibuprofen, and other nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications until you know your pain isn’t due to abdominal conditions such as a gastric ulcer or an intestinal obstruction.
- Avoid solid foods for a few hours in favor of softer, bland foods such as rice or applesauce.
- Try taking over the counter gas-reducing medications, such as simethicone drops or digestive enzymes, to help relieve bloating.
4. Lactose Intolerance
If you have sharp stomach pain, stomach upset, gas and/or bloating after drinking milk or milk products it's likely that you're lactose intolerant. Lactose is the sugar in milk, and if you can’t completely digest that type of sugar, you’re considered to be lactose intolerant. Many people can identify the type of milk products that cause discomfort and remove them from their diet. Others may need to avoid milk products that contain lactose, or use a lactase supplement.
- Milk and heavy cream
- Condensed and evaporated milk
- Ice cream
- Cottage cheese
- Ricotta cheese
- Sour cream
- Cheese spreads
Some milk substitutes you could try:
- Soy milk -- it’s high in protein, potassium and antioxidants
- Rice beverages
- Lactose-free milk -- it’s high in calcium and protein and contains many other vitamins, such as A, B, and K, zinc, potassium and magnesium
- Almond milk
Try a lactose-free diet for 2 weeks. After 2 weeks, add foods with lactose back into your diet gradually and watch your results. This can give you a clearer idea of what and how much of certain foods and beverages you can consume without problems.
Talk to your doctor about taking a dietary supplement that contains lactase.
5. Acid Reflux: Stomach Pain After Eating
Acid reflux occurs when the acid in the stomach flows up into the esophagus. It is caused when the muscle at the bottom of your esophagus, which should remain closed, relaxes too much or weakens. The symptoms include a taste of sour liquid at the back of the throat and heartburn that can goes to the chest. Acid reflux can usually be treated with over the counter antacids. If the condition worsens, it turns into Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). GERD can usually be managed with prescription drugs.
To lessen your symptoms, try avoiding:
- Citrus fruits
- Caffeinated drinks or alcohol
- Spicy, fatty, or fried foods
- Garlic and onions
6. Gallstones: Stomach Pain After Eating
The gallbladder provides digestive fluid to your small intestine. Gallstones form when your liver produces too much cholesterol, when the bile contains too much of a chemical called bilirubin, or when your gall bladder doesn’t empty completely. When gallstones cause pain in the top right area of your stomach, medical intervention is necessary. Surgery to remove the gallbladder is a common approach, and in some cases, medication can be used to dissolve the gallstones.
- Dietary changes to decrease fat intake may reduce the frequency of biliary colic but has not been shown to dissolve gallstones.
- Coffee and regular exercise may reduce the incidence of gallstone disease and its associated gallbladder pain.
- Some health-care professional recommend decreasing dairy and grains in the diet after surgery; again, individuals should discuss such changes with their doctor.
7. Stomach Pain and Diarrhea / Gastroenteritis
This condition is also known as stomach flu, caused when you have a viral infection in your intestines. It’s not the same as influenza, which attacks your respiratory system. There is no cure for the stomach flu, so the best strategy is to avoid it. Wash your hands well, avoid people who have the virus, disinfect hard surfaces in your home, and don’t share things like towels, bathrooms, and drinking glasses.
Avoid consuming solid food or liquids for up to two hours to allow your stomach to settle and cramping to subside. You may resume fluid intake of clear liquids only, such as water or sports drinks, after two hours. Avoid caffeinated drinks and acidic fruit juices.
8. Diverticulosis and Diverticulitis
When the inner lining of your digestive tract pushes through weak spots in the outer lining, pouches are formed. This condition is called diverticulosis and many people don’t experience any negative effects. When the pouches, also known as diverticula, become infected or inflamed, that condition is called diverticulitis. Antibiotics are effective in treating many cases of diverticulitis. More severe cases require draining the abscesses, or surgery. Diverticular disease commonly affects older adults and the pain in lower left abdomen.
The leading theory is that a low-fiber diet causes diverticular disease. Fiber is the part of fruits, vegetables, and grains that the body cannot digest. Some fiber, called soluble fiber, dissolves easily in water. You get soluble fiber from oats, barley, and fruits such as oranges and apples. Insoluble fiber passes almost unchanged through the intestines. Sources of insoluble fiber include whole wheat flour, nuts, beans, and vegetables such as carrots. Both kinds of fiber help prevent constipation by making stools soft and easy to pass.
9. Urinary Tract Infections
A Urinary Tract Infection, or UTI, occurs when bacteria enters the urinary tract. Most infections are in the bladder and urethra and cause pain right above the pubic bone. Antibiotics are usually effective in treating the infections, but prevention is the best strategy. Complications can be serious if treatment is delayed, including permanent kidney damage, sepsis and low birth weight for babies delivered by women who are infected.
- Use a hot-water bottle to ease pain.
- Drink plenty of water.
- Avoid coffee, alcohol, and spicy foods, all of which irritate the bladder.
- There are some indications that cranberry juice can help fight a urinary tract infection.
10. Gluten Intolerance/Celiac Disease
When someone with celiac disease eats a food that contains gluten, the immune system creates antibodies to fight the gluten. Over half of the adults who have celiac disease experience symptoms that go far beyond simple stomach pain because of impaired nutrient absorption. Those symptoms can include losing bone density, damage to the nervous system, and joint pain.
People with the disease need to avoid foods containing gluten such as wheat, barley and rye.
Stress causes stomach pain because your body robs blood flow from your digestive tract to send to your brain and limbs. As a result, digestion slows, causing constipation, cramping and diarrhea.
Using stress relieving techniques can prevent the stomach pain caused from stress.
Healthy eating in those that get stomach pain with anxiety is important. Make sure you're getting:
- Whole-Grain Carbohydrates
12. Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
The exact cause of IBS isn’t known, but it seems to be connected to abnormalities in the intestine and nervous system. Other factors include severe infections and changes in bacteria in the gut. The three types of IBS are: constipation-predominant, diarrhea-predominant or mixed.
Some people can manage IBS with diet changes and stress reduction.
- Avoid caffeine
- Add more fiber & probiotics into diet
- Drink at least three to four glasses of water per day.
- Don't smoke.
- Learn to relax, either by getting more exercise or by reducing stress in your life.
- Limit how much milk or cheese you eat.
- Eat smaller meals more often instead of big meals.
- Keep a record of the foods you eat so you can figure out which foods bring on bouts of IBS.
In many situations, stomach pain doesn’t indicate a serious problem. However, you shouldn’t ignore it because sometimes it can signal an illness that requires medical treatment. It can also be an indication of a more serious problem that could have a negative effect on your long-term health. With any condition, it is best to consult with your physician for a thorough diagnosis and treatment