Stomach Pain: 7 Causes (& How to Stop It)

Medical review: Dr. Clarisse Bezerra
Family Doctor
February 2022

Stomach pain is common and typically happens due to gastritis. Many times, stomach pain is also accompanied by other symptoms like vomiting, nausea, gas or a burning sensation in the stomach area. In addition to gastritis, other reasons for stomach pain include reflux, ulcers or gastroenteritis.

It is important to consult a gastroenterologist if your stomach pain is strong and persistent, if pain is accompanied with vomited blood, or if pain is present with black stools that have a strong odour. A gastroenterologist can assess you to confirm the cause of your pain and can indicate the most appropriate treatment.

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The most common causes of stomach pain are:

1. Gastritis

Gastritis, an inflammation of the stomach lining, is one of the most frequent causes of stomach pain. It is often accompanied by burping or flatulence, general malaise, a burning sensation in the stomach, or lower abdominal pain.

Stomach pain caused by gastritis is often due to the presence of Helicobacter pylori bacteria (or H. pylori). This bacteria can slow down normal digestion, which can lead to food remaining in the stomach for longer periods of time.

What to do: If you have any symptoms, you should consult a gastroenterologist or general physician for assessment. If the diagnosis is confirmed, medication to relieve symptoms and diminish stomach acid production (like omeprazole and esomeprazole, for example) may be indicated. 

2. Heartburn

Acid reflux, or heartburn, can cause stomach pain, as well as a burning or heavy sensation in the stomach, burping and dry coughing after meals. The symptoms of heartburn typically emerge a few minutes after finishing a meal and usually happen due to the back-up of stomach content toward the esophagus. This backward flow can also result in a bitter taste in the mouth.

What to do: In these cases, it is very important to seek the opinion of a gastroenterologist, who will assess your symptoms and indicate the most appropriate treatment. Usually, heartburn is treated with medication that inhibits stomach acid production, like omeprazole and ranitidine.

Certain changes to your diet can also help with preventing heartburn. You should avoid fatty foods, alcohol, and processed foods. You should also avoid eating at least 3 hours before sleeping, as lying down can regurgitate stomach content toward the esophagus.

3. Stomach ulcers

Stomach ulcers can form due to the presence of H. pylori, and can also form due to poor diet (e.g. frequent intake of fatty foods, processed foods and acidic foods). Common symptoms of stomach ulcers include stomach pain, nausea, vomiting and abdominal discomfort. 

What to do: The recommended treatment for stomach ulcers is antacid medication as directed by the doctor. This will protect the stomach's mucus lining from further damage. Analgesics may also be indicated to help relieve pain.

4. Gastroenteritis

Different from gastritis, which is an inflammation of the stomach, gastroenteritis presents as an inflammation of the stomach and intestines. It can be caused by foreign microorganisms and usually results in stomach pain, general malaise, diarrhea, and headaches.

What to do: It is important to maintain adequate fluid intake by drinking plenty of water or tea. This will help to prevent dehydration, which is a common side effect of gastroenteritis. If symptoms like fever, chills, or frequent vomiting emerge, you should seek prompt medical attention for treatment to prevent any further complications.

5. Anti-inflammatory medication

Frequent or long-term use of anti-inflammatory medication like ibuprofen can also cause stomach pain. Pain emerges because this type of medication can deteriorate the protective lining of the stomach, leaving the stomach walls prone to injury from stomach acid.

What to do: Anti-inflammatory medication can be taken in conjunction with stomach acid inhibitors, like omeprazole, or with antacids, like aluminum hydroxide. Inhibitors and antacids should be taken while fasting to increase their efficacy. It is also important to remember to take anti-inflammatories with food, particularly after meals.

6. After an endoscopy

It is normal to have stomach pain after an endoscopy. During this procedure, a long hose with an ultrasound tip is inserted into the mouth and travels down the throat to the stomach. This can cause some discomfort along the digestive tract for several hours after the procedure. However, if the pain lasts for longer than 48 hours, you should seek medical treatment from your gastroenterologist.

What to do: To relieve symptoms, antacid medication or stomach lining protectors can be taken. If vomiting and blood is present, then medical attention should be sought quickly.

7. Stomach cancer

Stomach cancer usually results as a complication of a stomach ulcer. Typical symptoms include persistent stomach pain, weight loss with no apparent cause, vomiting or stools with blood, and loss of appetite.

What to do: It is important to see a gastroenterologist as soon as possible if you have any of these symptoms. A diagnosis of stomach cancer is necessary to determine the severity of the cancer and to plan the best treatment. Treatment for some cases of stomach cancer involves surgically removing a part of the stomach, chemotherapy and/or radiation therapy.

How to relieve stomach pain

Additional ways to relieve stomach pain include:

  • Wearing loose clothing and resting in calm, quiet environments
  • Drinking Maytenus ilicifolia tea, an excellent herbal option that is typically used to treat stomach problems
  • Eating a boiled pear or apple
  • Eating a small sliver of raw potato, which is a known natural antacid with little-to-no contraindications
  • Applying a warm compress directly over the stomach
  • Drinking small sips of cold water, which will help with digestion and hydration

A light diet rich in salads, fruits and fruit smoothies can help to treat stomach pain. Intake of fatty foods and alcohol should generally be avoided. 

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Edited by Tua Saude editing team in February 2022. Medical review completed by Dr. Clarisse Bezerra - Family Doctor in September 2021.

References

  • Longo, DL et al.. Harrison’s Principles of Internal Medicine. 19th ed. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2015.
  • JBM. Gastroenterites infecciosas. 2013. Available on: <http://files.bvs.br/upload/S/0047-2077/2013/v101n2/a3986.pdf>. Access in 23 Apr 2020
Show more references
  • DISPEPSIA FUNCIONAL: DIAGNÓSTICO E TRATAMENTO. 2018. Available on: <http://docs.bvsalud.org/biblioref/2018/03/881599/dispepsia-funcional-diagnostico-e-tratamento.pdf>. Access in 10 Mar 2020
Medical review:
Dr. Clarisse Bezerra
Family Doctor
Dr. Bezerra possesses a medical degree and specializes in family medicine. She is licensed to practice under CRM-CE licence #16976.