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4 Common Causes of Stomach Pain

Posted 06-11-2013 at 11:45 AM by ChristaIB
Updated 10-17-2013 at 11:55 AM by ChristaIB

Stomach pain is one of the top reasons why people miss work or school. Why do so many people suffer from stomach pain and what are the causes?

If you suffer from chronic or severe stomach or abdominal pain, you should be evaluated by your doctor to rule out any serious underlying cause. If your stomach pain is less frequent or not so severe, you may be able to figure out on your own what is causing it. Here are some of the more common causes of stomach pain:

1. Heartburn
This type of stomach pain is most typically characterized by a burning sensation that begins in your stomach and moves up into your chest. This could be caused by your diet -- poor food and beverage choices. The prime offenders are usually foods that are more acidic: citrus and tomato-based foods and sauces, or foods that are spicy. Even rich, heavy meals can overload your stomach and cause heartburn.

People who drink a lot orange juice, soda or coffee (more than one cup a day) can be more prone to heartburn since these drinks are acidic. Look at what you are eating and drinking, and consider cutting back and making some adjustments to relieve your stomach upset.

A basic over-the-counter antacid could be the remedy for you if you don't suffer from heartburn very often. If you have symptoms of heartburn on a more frequent basis, you may suffer from chronic acid reflux (gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD). In this case, you should be evaluated by a doctor who may prescribe stronger medication to help manage the problem and prevent damage to your esophagus.

2. Stress
Stress is a common cause of stomach pain, because the nerves in the digestive tract are sensitive to your mood changes. You may feel stress-induced stomach pain as general indigestion, or a burning, aching sensation in your stomach or abdomen.

Over-the-counter antacids may help in the short-term, but finding a way to let off steam and relax on a daily basis is the best way to decrease stomach pain caused by stress. You may have to find some simple breathing or meditation exercises that help you relax. Exercise daily, even for twenty minutes, and make a point of breathing deeply to help decrease your stress levels.

Has it been a while since you took some time off from work or participated in a hobby or exercise program? Consider taking an extra day off to unwind, signing up for a yoga class or picking up a new hobby that engages your mind.

3. Ulcer
An ulcer is typically experienced as a steady, dull pain that is sometimes accompanied by nausea. An ulcer can occur in the stomach or the intestinal tract. According to Men’s Health Magazine, men are more likely than women to have an intestinal ulcer (duodenal ulcer).

If you are experiencing symptoms of an ulcer, take over-the-counter antacid medications for your pain until you can be evaluated by your doctor. Don’t let the symptoms go on too long. An ulcer may require antibiotics to eliminate the underlying cause and, if untreated, can lead to complications.

4. Gas
Your stomach may not be able to tolerate certain foods, such as gluten or dairy. Eating these foods may cause you to feel bloated and gassy, and may even lead to sharp, stabbing pains in your stomach. If these symptoms tend to occur after you’ve eaten certain foods, try eliminating the potential offenders to see if your symptoms subside.

Is it possible you are gluten or lactose intolerant and never realized it before? If eliminating one or more of these food categories seems to relieve your stomach symptoms, you may have to accept the fact that a low-carb diet or one that excludes dairy is your “new normal.” You might need to consult with your doctor to explore other possible food allergies and how to manage them.

Some other common causes of stomach pain include, but are not limited to:

  • Constipation
  • Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
  • Stomach virus
  • Food poisoning
  • Pelvic inflammatory disease
  • Endometriosis
  • Kidney stones
  • Gallstones
  • Appendicitis

When to See a Doctor

Sometimes with stomach pain it is hard to know if you should "wait it out" or if your symptoms merit a trip to your doctor or the urgent care clinic. If your stomach or abdominal pain is very sharp or severe, lasts for several days, and/or is accompanied by fever, vomiting, painful or frequent urination, the inability to keep food down or pass a stool, you should be evaluated by a health provider. You will also need to see a doctor if you have stomach or abdominal pain as the result of an injury, and/or the pain lasts for several days. You will need to be evaluated immediately if you are vomiting blood, have bloody stools, difficulty breathing or if any pain occurs during pregnancy.
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