Stomach pain can be uncomfortable and maybe even frightening. Luckily stomach pain has some common causes, is usually self-limiting and in many cases can be self-treated at home. Firstly, it is important to rule out causes for concern. If you are suffering from severe debilitating pain, or experiencing any other serious symptoms such as large volumes of blood in your vomit, fever, or unable to stay hydrated – you should seek advice from your doctor.
Stomach pain can be caused by many things; these can include:
Indigestion, also known as dyspepsia, arises from disruptions in the digestive process. Overeating, consuming rich or fatty foods, or eating too quickly can overwhelm the digestive system, leading to discomfort and pain in the upper abdomen. Symptoms may include bloating, belching, and a feeling of fullness. Lifestyle modifications, such as eating smaller meals, avoiding trigger foods, and maintaining a healthy weight, can help manage indigestion. Antacids, which neutralise stomach acid, may provide relief. In persistent cases, medications to reduce stomach acid production or promote better digestion may be recommended.
Excessive gas in the digestive system can result from swallowing air, consuming gas-producing foods, or disrupting the digestive process. This accumulation can lead to bloating, belching, and abdominal pain. Avoiding carbonated drinks, chewing food slowly, and identifying and limiting gas-producing foods (like beans or cabbage) can help manage symptoms. Over-the-counter medications, such as simethicone-containing products (Wind-eze or WindSetlers), can break down gas bubbles, providing relief. Probiotics may also be beneficial in promoting healthy gut flora and reducing gas production.
Gastroenteritis refers to inflammation of the stomach and intestines, commonly caused by viral or bacterial infections and can affect children too. Symptoms include stomach pain, cramps, diarrhoea, nausea, and vomiting. Rest and adequate hydration are crucial for recovery. Antidiarrheal medications like loperamide may sometimes be recommended, but antibiotics are only used for bacterial infections. Maintaining good hygiene practices, such as frequent handwashing, is essential to prevent the spread of infectious agents.
Constipation involves infrequent bowel movements and difficulty passing stools. Factors contributing to constipation include a low-fiber diet, dehydration, and certain medications. Increasing dietary fibre, staying hydrated, and regular physical activity can alleviate constipation. Over-the-counter stool softeners or laxatives may be used under medical guidance. Establishing a regular bowel routine and addressing underlying causes, such as medication adjustments, are integral to long-term management.
Gastritis, or inflammation of the stomach lining, can result from various causes, including infections, NSAID use, excessive alcohol consumption, or stress. Symptoms include upper abdominal pain, nausea, and indigestion. Treatment involves addressing the underlying cause, for instance, antibiotics for bacterial infections or discontinuing NSAIDs. Acid-reducing medications, such as proton pump inhibitors (PPIs), help alleviate symptoms. Lifestyle modifications, including dietary changes and stress management, can aid in the healing process.
Gallstones are solid particles that form in the gallbladder and can cause pain when they obstruct the bile duct. Pain typically occurs in the upper right abdomen after consuming fatty meals. Treatment options may include medications to dissolve gallstones, but surgical removal of the gallbladder (cholecystectomy) is often recommended, especially if symptoms are recurrent or severe.
Stomach ulcers are open sores that develop on the stomach lining or the small intestine's upper part. Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) infection, NSAID use, or excessive acid production can contribute to ulcer formation. Symptoms include a burning sensation and pain. Treatment involves antibiotics to eradicate H. pylori, acid-reducing medications (PPIs), and lifestyle modifications. Recurrent or complicated ulcers may require long-term management.
Appendicitis is the inflammation of the appendix, a small pouch attached to the large intestine. It causes severe pain, typically starting around the navel and migrating to the lower right abdomen. Appendicitis is a medical emergency, and surgical removal of the inflamed appendix (appendectomy) is the standard treatment. Prompt diagnosis and intervention are crucial to prevent complications such as a ruptured appendix.
IBS is a chronic gastrointestinal disorder characterized by abdominal pain, bloating, and changes in bowel habits. Triggers may include stress, certain foods, and hormonal changes. Management involves dietary modifications, such as the low FODMAP diet, stress reduction techniques, and medications to alleviate specific symptoms (e.g., antispasmodics such as peppermint oil or laxatives).
Kidney stones are solid masses that form in the kidneys and can cause intense abdominal pain as the kidney stones pass through the urinary tract. Pain may radiate from the back to the lower abdomen. Treatment may involve pain management, hydration to facilitate stone passage, and, in some cases, medical interventions such as shock wave lithotripsy or surgical removal.
Food poisoning or diarrhoea and vomiting illness caused by a virus will get better on its own. Diarrhoea can last for up to 14 days, but many people commonly suffer from symptoms for a shorter time period. The most important thing you can do is to stay hydrated and drink plenty of fluids, like water or oral rehydration solutions for optimal hydration and recovery. Pain from stomach cramps may be eased with the use of paracetamol or Buscopan. Diarrhoea can be treated with loperamide, although use with caution if there is fever and severe tummy pains. General discomfort, nausea and diarrhoea may also be treated with Silicolgel or Pepto-Bismol; they both form a protective coating in the stomach.
Another common cause of stomach pain can also be heartburn or excess acidity in the stomach. You may experience a feeling of fullness, bloating or burning sensation which is commonly related to eating or drinking. Treating heartburn and early stomach ulcers is done in the same way. Antacids such as milk of magnesia and Rennie help to reduce excess acid in the stomach and relieve feelings of heartburn. The reduction in stomach acidity also relieves pain caused by irritation of stomach ulcer and helps it to start healing. Gaviscon is a form of antacid that also forms a raft on the stomach contents which help with heartburn symptoms. Acid suppressants such as esomeprazole are available to purchase over the counter and are effective at turning off the mechanism for stomach acid production. These medications (known as proton pump inhibitors or PPI’s) are more effective and longer acting than antacids and are particularly useful for treating ulcers. If you are suffering from heartburn, it’s important to avoid any medications from the group called non-steroidal anti-inflammatories, like ibuprofen, as they can make the symptoms worse.
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a condition that causes symptoms of abdominal pain, bloating, diarrhoea or constipation. IBS is a diagnosis of exclusion, so has to be investigated and have other conditions ruled out first. The painful cramps of IBS can be treated with antispasmodics hyoscine (Buscopan) or peppermint oil which helps to relax the large intestines and relieve cramping. Other lifestyle changes such as stress management or change of diet can also be modified to see what works best for you.
Was this helpful?
Was this helpful?
What can you find here?