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Stomach pain relief

Dr Karen Martin
Reviewed by Dr Karen MartinReviewed on 19.10.2023 | 6 minutes read
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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. Suppose 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. In that case, you should seek advice from your doctor.

Doctor’s advice

Causes of stomach pain

Stomach pain can be caused by many things; these can include:

Indigestion

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 neutralize stomach acid, may provide relief. In persistent cases, medications to reduce stomach acid production or promote better digestion may be recommended.

Gas

Excessive flatulence (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, can break down gas bubbles, providing relief. Probiotics may also be beneficial in promoting healthy gut flora and reducing gas production.

Gastroenteritis

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, diarrhea, 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

Constipation involves infrequent bowel movements and difficulty passing stools. Factors contributing to constipation include a low-fiber diet, dehydration, and certain medications. Increasing dietary fiber, 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

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

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

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

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.

Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)

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

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.

Treating food poisoning

Food poisoning, or diarrhea and vomiting caused by a virus, will improve on its own. Diarrhea can last up to 14 days, but many people commonly suffer from symptoms for a shorter 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 acetaminophen. Diarrhea can be treated with loperamide, although use caution if there is fever and severe tummy pains. General discomfort, nausea, and diarrhea may also be treated with PeptoBismol; it forms a protective coating in the stomach.

Treating heartburn and ulcers

Another common cause of stomach pain can be heartburn or excess acidity in the stomach. You may experience a feeling of fullness, bloating, or burning sensation commonly related to eating or drinking. Treating heartburn and early stomach ulcers are done in the same way. Antacids such as milk of magnesia and Rolaids help to reduce excess acid in the stomach and relieve feelings of heartburn. The reduction in stomach acidity also relieves pain caused by the stomach ulcer's irritation and helps it start healing. Gaviscon is a form of antacid that forms a raft on the stomach contents, which helps 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 PPIs), 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 nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories, like ibuprofen, as they can worsen the symptoms.

Treating irritable bowel syndrome

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a condition that causes symptoms of cramping, bloating, diarrhea, or constipation. IBS is a diagnosis of exclusion, so it has to be investigated and other conditions ruled out first. The painful cramps of IBS can be treated with peppermint oil which helps to relax the large intestines and relieve cramping. Other lifestyle changes, such as stress management or diet, can be tried to see what works best for you.

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This article has been written by UK-based doctors and pharmacists, so some advice may not apply to US users and some suggested treatments may not be available. For more information, please see our T&Cs.
Dr Karen Martin
Reviewed by Dr Karen Martin
Reviewed on 19.10.2023
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