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.

What drink helps an upset stomach?

An upset stomach, if not caused by infections, is most likely to get better with simple home remedies, such as herbal drinks and bland food.

Here are some of the most effective herbal drinks that help an upset stomach:

  • Ginger water, juice, or tea
    • Ginger water is available as ginger herbal water, tea, juice, and ale. You can buy them online or make one at home.
    • To make ginger water, boil four cups of water and add 1 to 1.5 teaspoons of freshly grated ginger to it. Let the water rest for 10 minutes and strain the liquid through a sieve. You can drink it warm or chilled and add a flavoring agent, such as honey or lemon, to the drink.
    • According to multiple scientific studies, ginger acts as an anti-inflammatory and antiulcer. It is an effective home remedy for nauseaflatulence, and bloating. It possesses a carminative effect and reduces stomach and intestinal cramping.
    • Alternatively, having ginger tea with or without milk helps with an upset stomach.
  • Peppermint tea
    • Brewing peppermint tea or sucking on mint candies relaxes the smooth muscle and acts as an antispasmodic. It is effective at reducing stomach cramps, bloating, and flatulence.
  • Chamomile tea
    • A cup of chamomile tea not only calms your mind and gives you a good night's sleep but also helps you soothe your upset stomach. This is due to its anti-inflammatory action, which can reduce the pain of cramping and spasms.

Other things that might help you include:

  • Give it time: When you are traveling overseas or have tried something new at a food joint, you may suffer from mild stomach aches, and that is okay if you do not feel dehydrated or too weak. You may just need to give it some time till it goes away on its own. While you are away from home, your body has to adjust to the new bacteria in the food and water.
  • Heating pad: Heating pads (hot water bag or electric) can soothe your stomachache by improving peristalsis in case of constipation. However, avoid it if you are having diarrhea because heating can aggravate the peristaltic movements and worsen your diarrhea.

Nutrition with liquids

Whenever you experience an upset stomach, you need to switch to a diet of clear liquids in frequent, small amounts until you start feeling better. To prevent yourself from getting dehydrated and get clear or pale yellow urine, make sure to drink enough fluids.

If you are not able to control your vomiting, try to take a few sips of water or suck on ice.

Once you feel better with this or after having these herbal drinks, you can start with the following things before shifting to your normal diet:

  • Clear soup broth, such as beef, chicken, or vegetable broth, or bouillon
  • Decaffeinated tea
  • Black coffee (avoid if you have watery stools)
  • Clear soft drinks, such as 7-Up, Sprite
  • Juices, such as apple, grape, cherry, or cranberry (make sure to avoid citrus juices)
  • Popsicles
  • Prune juice (only if you have constipation)
  • Fruit drinks, such as Tang and Gatorade

The BRAT diet

If you do not feel like throwing up after having liquids, you can start with having the following solid foods:

  • Bananas
  • Rice (white rice)
  • Applesauce
  • Toast (white toast)

The BRAT diet is recommended by many pediatricians or child specialists when children suffer from nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.

What symptoms are associated with an upset stomach?

An upset stomach is also called indigestion. It is a general term used to describe the feeling of discomfort felt in the upper abdomen.

You may experience other symptoms, including:

When should you contact a doctor?

Most of the time, at-home treatments can help you get rid of stomach upset. However, if it persists or worsens, you need to get medical help.

Contact your doctor if you suffer from one or more of the following signs and symptoms:

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Medically Reviewed on 4/5/2022
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."

National Institutes of Health: "Chamomile."

American Academy of Family Physicians: "BRAT Diet: Recovering From an Upset Stomach."

Nikkhah Bodagh M, Maleki I, Hekmatdoost A. "Ginger in gastrointestinal disorders: A systematic review of clinical trials." Food Sci Nutr. 2018;7(1):96-108.

Chumpitazi BP, Kearns GL, Shulman RJ. "Review article: the physiological effects and safety of peppermint oil and its efficacy in irritable bowel syndrome and other functional disorders." Aliment Pharmacol Ther. 2018 Mar;47(6):738-752.