There’s nothing worse than stomach pain stomachache. If your tooth hurts, at least you know it’s because you didn’t get that cavity repaired. You can gulp down a common painkiller and see the dentist tomorrow. Injuries, cuts and bruises? Same thing. The cause of pain is evident, you can see it, and you can always avoid triggering the pain by not putting pressure on the affected area. But when it comes to stomach pain, it always feels more sinister, especially when you have no idea what’s causing it.
Stomach Pain Types and Causes
Stomach pain is one of the most common types of pain, but not all stomach pain is the same. Based on the severity and the type of pain, you can get a rough idea of what may be the cause and whether you should seek medical attention.
Dull Abdominal Pain
A dull stomach pain that occurs after meals can happen for a number of reasons. Sometimes it’s simply due to overeating, but if it happens repeatedly, it may be a symptom of gastritis. Gastritis occurs when the stomach lining becomes inflamed. It causes pain in the upper abdomen. Any type of burning pain may be an indication of gastritis, and the condition is usually accompanied by nausea and vomiting, as well as bloating and full feeling.
Sharp Abdominal Pain
Sharp pain after eating usually points to food poisoning or gastroenteritis, sometimes also called the “stomach flu”. It is caused by a bacterial or viral infection. Aside from pain, other symptoms include vomiting, watery diarrhea, nausea, fever and a headache.
Colicky pain is very severe abdominal pain caused by spasms, blockage or distension of the intestines. This type of pain comes and goes abruptly. Gallstones can be among the causes of colicky pain, in addition to the aforementioned gastroenteritis. In rare cases, it can indicate lead poisoning.
Burning Stomach Pain
Burning stomach pain points to ulcers or GERD, gastroesophageal reflux disease. Patients with GERD experience pain in the upper stomach and lower chest, commonly called heartburn. Luckily, the symptoms can be alleviated with proper diet and weight loss.
A gnawing pain in the upper or middle stomach, several hours after meals indicates duodenal ulcer.
Burning pain in the upper abdomen, especially if it feels like it sends shocks through to your back, may indicate pancreatitis. More on that below.
Upper Abdominal Pain
Pain in the upper abdomen that gets worse after eating may be a sign of acute or chronic pancreatitis, inflammation of the pancreas. Other symptoms include fever, nausea and vomiting, pain that spreads to your back and particularly smelly stools. Two of the most common causes of pancreatitis are heavy drinking and gallstones.
Stomach Pain – Left Side
This pain is termed as left lower quadrant pain. While it can sometimes indicate problems with the urinary tract or reproductive organs, the most common cause of lower left side abdominal pain is irritable bowel syndrome or IBS, a very common affliction. The pain is usually accompanied by other symptoms, such as bloating, gas, diarrhea and constipation.
Stomach Pain – Right Side
If you feel pain in the right side of the upper abdomen, particularly after eating fatty meals, you may have gallstones. Bile, a digestive fluid produced by the liver can sometimes form hardened deposits in the gallbladder, where it is stored.
The gallbladder contracts to release the digestive fluid, particularly after fatty meals (the bile disperses fats into tiny drops to make them easier to absorb). When the bile ducts are blocked by these tiny stones, you can feel a great deal of displeasure and pain. While most gallstones cause no symptoms and can pass naturally, you should consult with a physician if you experience these symptoms often, since there are many possible complications if the condition is left untreated.
Stomach Pain in Kids
Even when you are in pain, it is usually not that hard to figure out what went wrong and what may be the cause, especially when you have some prior knowledge or access to informative and well-written articles on the Internet (nudge nudge wink wink). It gets trickier when it’s not you personally who is experiencing the pain, but your little ones. Depending on the child’s age, finding out any additional information apart from the usual “my tummy hurts” can be quite challenging.
If you take a look at the possible causes of stomach pain above, they may not seem all that applicable when it comes to children. A child is not likely to suffer from GERD or gallstones. However, they can suffer from food poisoning.
Constipation is one of the more common causes of stomach pain in children, as well as food allergies or food intolerance.
You should avoid giving children foods or drinks that can irritate the stomach, like greasy and very fatty foods, carbonated beverages, caffeine, etc.
Contact your health care provider in case the pain lasts more than 24 hours. It is considered a medical emergency if the child:
- has a hard, rigid belly
- cannot breathe properly
- has recently suffered abdominal injury
- has blood in the stool or is vomiting blood
- is younger than 3 months and has diarrhea or is vomiting
- has sharp and sudden abdominal pain
- is being treated for cancer and experiences pain.
Stomach Pain Relief
In cases when your stomach pain is particularly severe and constant, you should definitely see a doctor. However, if you already know what’s causing the pain or if the pain is relatively mild there are numerous tried and tested home remedies to help you out.
- chamomile tea: popular since the ancient Romans, one of the best options, although it should be avoided by pregnant women
- ginger root tea and ginger in general
- rice water: leftover from cooking rice, can form a protective barrier and soothe upset stomach lining
- fennel seeds: in case the pain is caused by indigestion, they are an amazing choice
- BRAT diet: bananas, rice, applesauce and toast
- apple cider vinegar
- heating pad or hot water bottle
- alcoholic bitters (with soda)
Even when it’s bearable, stomach pain is still a huge distraction and can make it harder to concentrate, do your work or even enjoy anything. If it’s recurring, it can seriously affect your overall mood and well-being. So don’t hesitate to seek medical advice if none of these remedies help or if your symptoms indicate a serious condition. Even if the cause turns out to be benign, you will be happy once the pain goes away and you can once more enjoy your favorite food without worry.