What is stomach pain?

Cramping abdominal pain arises from hyperactivity of normal intestinal peristalsis, also known as muscle contractions, and can be caused by excess gas, irritation of the intestines from infection or inflammation, blockage, and even stress.
Cramping abdominal pain arises from hyperactivity of normal intestinal peristalsis, also known as muscle contractions, and can be caused by excess gas, irritation of the intestines from infection or inflammation, blockage, and even stress.

One of the worst feelings is to wake up in the middle of the night with a pain in your stomach. Not only does it affect your body, it interrupts your sleep, depriving you of the rest and energy you need to take on the challenges and opportunities of the next day. 

Research has shown that individuals with sleep abnormalities are at greater risk of all-cause mortality and serious adverse health and economic consequences. 

Stomach pain is common and almost everyone will experience some form of it during their lives. Understanding the pain symptoms you are experiencing can help you identify what is causing them, which can lead to finding an effective remedy to relieve and, ultimately, prevent stomach pain from coming back.   

While pain in the stomach can occur anytime, being woken up by stomach pain is not common. If this happens to you, it should be considered serious and you should seek medical attention.

Symptoms of stomach pain

There are two types of stomach pain. They are:

Cramping abdominal pain

This pain is sharp and cyclical. It comes on suddenly, increasing in intensity until it crests and subsides, only to come back later. The number of painful moments, how long they last, and their intensity vary significantly. This is also referred to as gas pain. The stretching or squeezing of the intestines causes this type of pain. 

Constant abdominal pain

The second type is known as constant abdominal pain, and while it can increase and decrease in intensity, it continuously hurts without relief. This pain has also been described as “aching, burning, gnawing, hunger, or sharp” pains. 

Causes of stomach pain

Cramping abdominal pain arises from hyperactivity of normal intestinal peristalsis, also known as muscle contractions, and can be caused by excess gas, irritation of the intestines from infection or inflammation, blockage, and even stress.

Constant abdominal pain can arise from an inflammation in any of the organs in the abdominal cavity, ulcers, blockage of the gallbladder by stone, and infections called abscesses.

There are many other causes of stomach pain that can wake you up at night. Some of them are listed below:

Acid reflux

Acid Reflux, or gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), is a condition where the acidified content of the stomach backs up into the esophagus. This can damage the esophagus and upset your stomach.

Food poisoning

Sometimes, stomach pain can occur when you eat raw or contaminated food, resulting in diarrhea, nausea, or vomiting. Most people experience these symptoms a few hours after eating the contaminated food.  

Gallstones

Stones developed in your gallbladder can block your gallbladder duct, causing constant abdominal pain. These tend to develop after a large, fat-heavy meal, and a gallstone attack can occur while you’re sleeping. 

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) 

Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) is defined as abnormal discomfort and pain associated with altered bowel habits for at least three days per month during the previous three months. Cramping abdominal pain is the most common symptom.

Menstrual cramps

Cramping, bloating, gas, and general discomfort of the abdominal area can occur when women are menstruating.

Stomach ulcer

A stomach ulcer, also known as a peptic ulcer, is an open sore that develops on the lining of your stomach. It can cause burning stomach pain, especially with a full stomach.

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When to see a doctor for stomach pain

Short bouts of stomach pain are common and normally pass after a short time. Stomach pain that wakes you up at night, or pain which lasts for hours or more than a couple of days, however, should be considered serious. If you experience this, you should go see a doctor.

Diagnosis for stomach pain

The doctor will perform a physical exam and ask you a series of questions that can include the following:

  • What does the pain feel like?
  • How long does the pain last and when did it first occur?
  • When does the pain occur?
  • Where is the pain located?
  • What causes pain?
  • What relieves the pain?
  • What other symptoms are associated with the pain?

In most cases, the doctor will be able to diagnose the cause of the stomach pain. If they discover that it might be something more serious, like kidney stones, appendicitis, a cardiac event, or stomach cancer, they will refer you to take further tests and see a specialist like a gastroenterologist.

Treatments for stomach pain

Treatments for stomach pain will depend completely on the cause and diagnosis. Non-serious causes like acid reflux or overeating can be relieved with over-the-counter antacids, while gas pains and cramping can be relieved by either belching, passing gas, and getting rest.

More serious causes will need to receive recommendations from your doctor. They might prescribe a change in diet or lifestyle, additional medications, physical therapy, or surgery, as needed.

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Medically Reviewed on 1/11/2021
References
American College of Gastroenterology: "Common Gastrointestinal Problems: Abdominal Pain."

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: "Food Poisoning Symptoms."

HHS Public Access: "Common Functional Gastroenteorologic Disorders Associated with Abdominal Pain."

Mayo Clinic: "Gas and Gas Pains."

U.S. National Library of Medicine, MedlinePlus: "Period Pain."

World Journal of Gastroenterology: "Sleep, Immunity, and Inflammation in Gastrointestinal Disorders."