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Digestive Disorders > Upper Abdomen

Stomach Pain: Causes, Diagnosis, and Treatment

Laura Fouquette

Laura Fouquette

Stomach pain has various causes and manifests in many forms. “Stomach pain” and “abdominal pain” are sometimes used interchangeably, yet they are distinctly different. Abdominal pain can generally refer to the entire abdomen, whereas stomach pain is limited to a certain area.

Stomach pain mainly occurs on the left side and can include the following:

  • Pressure
  • Jabbing pain
  • Stinging
  • Burning, as with heartburn
  • Cramping, occurring suddenly with short intervals, especially after eating

Depending on the cause, stomach pain can be short-term (acute) or long-lasting (chronic). If you experience stomach pain for a long time, consult a doctor.

Symptoms of stomach pain

In addition to the symptoms above, stomach pain is also often associated with:

Diarrhea commonly occurs after stomach pain. Diarrhea and vomiting can be symptoms of food poisoning or food intolerances, such as lactose tolerance or gluten intolerance (celiac disease).

Have you experienced these symptoms? The Cara Care app is designed to help people with recurring gut health issues. Try it out for yourself here.

What causes stomach pain?

Doctors divide the various causes of stomach pain into two main categories:

  • Illness
  • Lifestyle or diet

The following diseases can result in stomach pain:

Home remedies are often not enough to relieve stomach pain resulting from serious illnesses. After consulting a doctor, medication is often necessary and is tailored to the individual's needs.


Stomach pain after eating

An unhealthy diet can lead to stomach pain. Rich, fatty, or sugary foods often cause physical discomfort, especially when consumed in large quantities; this forces the stomach wall to stretch.

If stomach pain occurs after eating, changing your diet and eating healthier could help. Studies show that eating a high-fiber diet with healthy fats, vegetables, and non-citrus fruits can help ease stomach pain and heartburn symptoms. Drinking enough water is also important to counteract the acidity in the stomach.

Foods to avoid to minimize stomach pain

Certain foods are known to cause stomach pain or heartburn by irritating the stomach lining and/or increasing the production of stomach acid. The following are known to cause stomach pain or heartburn:

  • Greasy, fatty, or rich foods, especially before bedtime
  • Spicy foods
  • Citrus fruits
  • Tomato products
  • Peppermint
  • Onions and garlic
  • Chocolate
  • Alcohol
  • Caffeinated beverages, especially coffee
  • Cigarettes
  • Carbonated beverages
  • Poor eating habits, such as eating too quickly

Avoiding the foods in the list above could help reduce symptoms until you identify your trigger foods.

Stress and stomach pain

There is a significant connection between mental well-being, stress regulation, and gut health. Stress puts a strain on the entire body and can cause nausea, heartburn, or diarrhea. In extreme cases, it can even trigger stomach ulcers. Those with IBS self-report that their stomach pain and other symptoms worsen in response to stress and anxiety.

Because a healthy gut microbiome increases one's resilience to cope with stress, it can help to prioritize stress regulation as part of your treatment, for example, through physical activity or relaxation techniques.

Why does back pain occur alongside stomach pain?

If someone simultaneously experiences stomach pain and back pain, it does not necessarily mean the two are related; they can occur independently at the same time.

Damage to an organ, such as pancreatitis, can radiate pain to both the back and the abdomen since the pancreas is in the abdomen in front of the spine. If you are experiencing constant or disabling pain in these areas, consult your doctor.

Menstruation and stomach pain

During one's period (menstruation), back pain and stomach pain commonly occur together as symptoms of menstrual discomfort. Menstrual cramps result from contractions of the uterus, which wants to shed its lining (endometrium) to prepare for the possibility of a fertilized egg.

In the days leading up to menstruation, premenstrual syndrome (PMS) nausea or heartburn may occur. During one's period, the following gastrointestinal symptoms are common:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Diarrhea
  • Abdominal cramps
  • Bloating

Emotional symptoms, such as depression and anxiety, commonly occur alongside these gastrointestinal symptoms during one's period. This reflects the important mechanisms that connect the brain, gut, and hormonal regulation.

Pregnancy and stomach pain

During pregnancy, abdominal pain and stomach pain are also more common. The growth of a child increases the pressure on the abdominal cavity, and heartburn or acid reflux can occur as stomach acid flows back up to the esophagus.

The following symptoms are common and should not initially cause concern:

  • Heartburn
  • Feeling full, heavy, or bloated
  • Digestive problems
  • Possible uterine contractions

During pregnancy, mild stomach pain is generally harmless. Nausea, stomach pain, and vomiting are typical—especially in the morning (morning sickness)—but also at other times of the day. If your stomach pain is very severe or lasts for a long time, consult your doctor.

Children and stomach pain

Children often experience stomach pain because their stomachs are more sensitive than those of adults. Stomach pain among children is very common, especially among those with:

  • Intestinal infections
  • Digestive problems
  • Constipation
  • Poor nutrition: rich, sweet, fatty, or spoiled foods

If the stomach pain is mild and goes away after a while, there is usually no need to worry. In older children, psychological factors, such as stress and anxiety, can be important causes of stomach pain that are often overlooked.

If the child's symptoms continue for a long time and do not go away after a bowel movement, consult a doctor with your child. Stomach pain could be a sign of the following illnesses:

  • Urinary tract infection (UTI)
  • Appendicitis
  • Flu
  • Pneumonia
  • Food poisoning
  • Inflammation of the kidney (Pyelonephritis)

Home remedies for stomach pain

For stomach pain caused by diet or lifestyle, medication is often not necessary. The following home remedies may help alleviate symptoms:

  • Flax seeds can protect the stomach wall from acid, help reduce mild inflammation, and support the immune system
  • Herbal teas have anti-inflammatory and calming effects

    • Peppermint
    • Chamomile
    • Fennel
    • Caraway
  • Ginger stimulates digestion and helps absorb acids
  • A hot water bottle or heating pad relax your abdominal muscles and reduce muscle spasms
  • Relaxation practices can calm the mind, the body, and the gut
  • Take sufficient time between meals
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Laura Fouquette

Laura Fouquette

Laura Fouquette is a digital health enthusiast from California. She completed a Master of Public Health (MPH) in Epidemiology/Biostatistics and a Bachelor's of Public Health at the University of California, Berkeley. She currently works as a freelance writer/researcher in Berlin.

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