Can You Get Stomachaches From Stress?

Medically Reviewed on 3/10/2022
Can you get stomachaches from stress
Stress can cause stomachaches and increase gastrointestinal distress and pain.

Yes, stress can cause stomachache, and with increased stress, existing stomachaches may worsen.

The suggested causes of stress-induced stomachaches are:

The body is well designed to deal with stress in tiny doses. When stress becomes long-term or chronic, it impacts the body and leads to various major health complications. Stress has an impact on all physiological systems, including the musculoskeletal, respiratory, cardiovascular, endocrine, gastrointestinal, neurological, and reproductive systems.

How does stress affect the stomach?

The gut has hundreds of millions of neurons that can work quite independently; they are called the enteric nervous system. These gut neurons are constantly in communication with the brain.

  • Stress often results in hyperacidity that can cause stomachache.
  • Stress and acidity can disrupt brain-gut communication.
  • Stress and fatigue decrease the pain tolerance; thus, slight pain, bloating, nausea, and other stomach discomfort become more noticeable.

Because the brain and gastrointestinal (GI) system are physiologically linked, your stomach or intestinal discomfort might be because of anxiety, stress, or depression.

This is especially true when your gastrointestinal distress has no clear physical reason. It is impossible to cure a troubled stomach for such functional GI illnesses without recognizing the effects of stress and emotion.

Stress during childhood can alter the development of the neurological system and the way the body responds to stress. These changes may raise the chance of developing gastrointestinal illnesses or malfunction later in life.

If stress is high, vomiting occurs. Furthermore, stress can induce an unnecessarily high or low appetite. Unhealthy diets affect mood negatively.

What is the effect of stress on the esophagus?

When people are worried, they may eat substantially more or much less than usual. Heartburn or acid reflux can be caused by eating more or different meals or consuming more alcohol or tobacco.

Stress or fatigue can exacerbate the severity of chronic heartburn. An uncommon occurrence of esophageal spasms can be triggered by acute stress and is usually misdiagnosed as a heart attack.

Stress can make it difficult to swallow foods or increase the amount of air swallowed, which causes burping, gassiness, and bloating.

What is the effect of stress on the bowel?

Pain, bloating, or discomfort in the intestines can be exacerbated by stress. It can influence how rapidly food travels through the body, causing diarrhea or constipation. Furthermore, stress can cause painful muscular spasms in the intestine. Stress can have an impact on digestion and the nutrients that the intestines absorb.

To prevent gut bacteria from entering the body, the intestines possess a strong barrier. Stress can weaken the intestinal barrier, allowing gut bacteria into the body. Although most of these germs are easily handled by the immune system and do not cause illness, the persistent demand for inflammatory response can contribute to chronic mild symptoms.

If you suffer from persistent bowel problems, such as inflammatory bowel disease or irritable bowel syndrome, then you are more vulnerable to stress. This could be related to:

  • More sensitive gut nerves
  • Changes in gut bacteria
  • Changes in how quickly food passes through the gut
  • Changes in gut immune responses

What are the symptoms of stress-related gastric distress?

Stress can present itself in a variety of ways, including:

These symptoms are associated with the fight-or-flight response, which usually occurs during potentially dangerous situations, both physical and mental. So, with increased stress, the blood in the digestive system is redirected to the muscular system, resulting in an upset stomach. Though it is a false perception of the fight-or-flight response, the effects generated are legit.


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4 ways to treat stress-induced stomach pain

  1. Stress management
    • Stress reduction is the ultimate treatment for stress-related stomachache. 
    • Meditation, cognitive behavioral therapy, and gut-directed relaxation training are effective methods that assist you to manage with:
      • Stress
      • Improve mood
      • Physical symptoms of digestive discomfort
      • Quality of life
    • Because the gastrointestinal system is so sensitive to your mental state, practicing mindfulness and tuning in to emotions can help ease unpleasant symptoms.
  2. Intake of probiotics
    • Probiotics and foods or beverages containing active cultures can help balance the bacteria in the gut. Your gut flora is influenced by the foods you eat. Research has shown that diversity contributes to a happier and healthier digestive tract.
    • A diet high in processed foods and high quantities of fat, sugar, and salt can cause digestive issues, such as constipation, diarrhea, and extreme bloating. Fresh vegetables and fruits, fermented meals, and omega-3 fatty acids can help reduce those unwanted side effects.
  3. Modifications in food
    • If your anxiety is causing regular bouts of diarrhea, you might try avoiding spicy meals, fatty food, dairy products, and caffeine.
    • Abdominal discomfort, diarrhea, and nausea usually go away on their own after a few days. However, it is a good idea to rest as much as possible and drink plenty of fluids to speed up your recovery. Electrolyte-containing beverages, as well as juices and clear broths, can be beneficial.
  4. Medications
    • Excess stomach acid, heartburn, nausea, and diarrhea are signs of digestive distress that can be treated with over-the-counter drugs. These can be useful on occasion but should only be used as directed.
    • According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), if your stomach discomfort lasts for more than two weeks, then you must consult a doctor. However, you should visit a doctor immediately if you encounter any of the following symptoms:
      • Excessive stomachache, which does not go away with over-the-counter medications
      • Persistent vomiting or vomit that contains blood or coffee grounds
      • Diarrhea for more than two days
      • Pain and burning in the chest, which may radiate to the neck and arm
      • Breathing difficulty
      • Pain and discomfort while swallowing
      • Dehydration
      • Unintentional weight loss
      • Bloody or black stools

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Medically Reviewed on 3/10/2022
Image Source: iStock Images

Gupta N. Stress and stomach pain: When should you see a specialist? The University of Chicago Medicine.

ADAA. Anxious Stomach: The Brain-Gut Connection.

Harvard Health Publishing. Stress and the sensitive gut.