What is stomach pain?

Your stomach may hurt after every meal due to irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), functional dyspepsia (FD), acute pancreatitis, or other conditions.
Your stomach may hurt after every meal due to irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), functional dyspepsia (FD), acute pancreatitis, or other conditions.

The stomach is the organ responsible for most of your food’s digestion. Breaking down food swallowed through your esophagus and sending the resulting mixture onto the small intestine is the stomach’s primary function.

Most everyone has had a stomach ache after eating at some time or another. The causes are usually quite benign, ranging from overindulging to simply eating something that didn’t agree with you. However, frequent stomach pain after eating is a sign of a deeper problem and shouldn’t be ignored.

Stomach aches and pains can happen at almost any point during this process. While some of this is usually normal, see a doctor right away if you’re experiencing:

Symptoms of stomach pain after meals

Most of the time, the causes of digestive trouble after eating are not too much to worry about. But if the pain is very strong, sudden, or long-lasting, it should be examined by a doctor as soon as possible.

Some common warning signs of stomach pain after a meal are:

Bloating

Just because others can tolerate certain kinds of food well, does not mean you will too. Eating too fast, too much, or foods too high in fat can all trigger gas and bloating issues in the stomach. Try logging the foods you eat and tracking how your body responds to different things.

Constipation

Stomach pains after eating, coupled with constipation, can spring from various lifestyle and dietary factors. For example, the abdominal muscles and diaphragm are needed to aid digestion, and insufficient fiber in the diet can make it hard for food to pass through your system properly.

Heartburn

Heartburn often accompanies stomach pain and indigestion. Heartburn is often caused by acid reflux, the reverse flow of stomach acid up into the esophagus, causing burning and discomfort. Too much alcohol and fatty food are often to blame.

Nausea

Nausea is an important sign to look out for because it has several possible causes, anything from food poisoning to Crohn’s disease, a chronic inflammatory disease of the gastrointestinal tract. If you regularly feel nauseous after eating, see a doctor.

Other symptoms and warning signs associated with stomach pain after eating are:

SLIDESHOW

Super Tips to Boost Digestive Health: Bloating, Constipation, and More See Slideshow

Causes of stomach pain after eating

There are many conditions that can cause stomach or abdominal pain after eating. Some causes are routine, some are serious, and some are medical emergencies.

Causes of stomach pain include:

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)

As many as 20% of Americans live with some form of IBS. The condition often causes lower stomach pain, especially but not always after a meal. Doctors diagnose IBS based on the reported symptoms and will work with you to find an appropriate diet and treatment regimen for it.

Functional dyspepsia (FD)

Also called a “nervous stomach,” functional dyspepsia causes excess pain, discomfort, and feelings of fullness in people who have only eaten a modest-sized meal. Symptoms can last many hours after eating and are not relieved by using the bathroom, unlike IBS.

Acute pancreatitis

Pain following a meal is one of the primary symptoms of acute pancreatitis, an inflammation of the pancreas. Your pancreas produces enzymes needed for digestion. Pancreatitis is a medical emergency, so you should see a doctor to rule out pancreatitis as a cause for your stomach pain.

Other possible causes of stomach pain after eating include:

  • Appendicitis
  • Intestinal obstructions
  • Stomach Ulcers
  • Gallbladder inflammation

Diagnosis of stomach pain after meals

Your doctor will ask you a number of questions about your diet, lifestyle, and medical history. All of these can significantly affect the digestive system.

Doctors can use computerized tomography (CT) and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans to diagnose gastrointestinal pain, but it is not always easy to generate accurate images of the digestive system using these methods.

Treatments for stomach pain after meals

Mild cases are usually treated at home without too much trouble. Doctors recommend putting yourself on a light diet, eating in frequent but small amounts for 24 to 36 hours until you can tolerate more substantial foods. Sports drinks, soups and broths, and juices (no citrus) are highly recommended.

More serious cases are treated with a range of therapies. Doctors look for structural or functional problems in the digestive tract itself to identify and treat the problem at its source. Various interventions may be employed in that case, such as:

  • Intravenous drug infusion
  • Medications
  • Surgery to treat or even remove an infected organ

How can I improve my digestive system?

Your digestive system breaks down food into nutrients your body needs to function properly. And when it comes to a healthy gut, bacteria plays a huge role. Balanced levels of healthy bacteria create normal gut flora and line the entire digestive system, synthesizing vitamin K, and promoting blood flow and enteric nerve functions. 

Your diet and lifestyle can have a direct impact on your gut health. Here are signs of an unhealthy digestive system and what you can do to help it function efficiently and improve your overall health.

What are signs of an unhealthy digestive system?

Signs of an unhealthy digestive system may include:

  • Weight gain: Unintentional weight gain or loss is one of the most common signs of an unhealthy gut. When your gut is not working properly, it can interfere with your body’s ability to regulate blood sugar levels.
  • Increased stressAn unhealthy gut can impact hormonal balance and contribute to stressanxiety, and other mood disorders.
  • Skin irritation: Skin problems such as eczemarosaceapsoriasis, and acne have been linked to an unhealthy digestive system.
  • Bloating and gas: Even though gas is a normal part of the fermentation and digestion process in the body, improper digestion, and bad bacteria strains can lead to excessive gas. Gas trapped in the gut can cause uncomfortable or painful bloating and heartburn.
  • Diarrhea: An unhealthy gut can cause diarrhea, which can further worsen gut health by causing good bacteria to flow out of the gut.
  • ConstipationPeople suffering from constipation usually have a lower level of good gut bacteria, which impacts digestion.
  • Sleep problems: An unhealthy gut can lead to poor sleep or insomnia. As sleep problems begin to mount and extend over a period, chronic fatiguehigh blood pressure, and other health issues can set in and complicate things even further.

QUESTION

Pancreatitis is inflammation of an organ in the abdomen called the pancreas. See Answer

6 ways to improve digestive health

Some effective ways to improve gut health include the following diet and lifestyle changes:

  1. Consume fiber-rich and probiotic-packed foods: Fiber is a plant-based nutrient that reduces the risk of metabolic diseases by stimulating the growth and diversity of good bacteria in the gut. Sweet potatoes, spinach, beets, carrots, and fennel are full of natural gut-enhancing fiber.
  2. Take probiotic supplements: Probiotic supplements can further contribute to the growth of good gut bacteria and restore gut health.
  3. Exercise regularly: Regular exercise in combination with a healthy diet leads to the production of good bacteria that helps produce a fatty acid called butyrate. This can help prevent diseases such as diabetesobesity, and cancer.
  4. Get enough sleep: Lack of sleep and stress can negatively affect gut bacteria and overall gut health. Getting 7-8 hours of quality sleep is essential to a healthy digestive system.
  5. Avoid animal products: Red meat, high-fat dairy products, and fried foods reduce the growth of healthy bacteria and enhance the growth of bad bacteria linked to chronic disease.
  6. Avoid antibiotics when not necessary: Although it is often necessary to take antibiotics to combat bacterial infections, overuse can damage gut microbiota as well as lead to antibiotic resistance.

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Medically Reviewed on 3/3/2022
References
American Family Physician: "Diagnosis of Acute Abdominal Pain in Older Patients."

Cedars Sinai: "Acute Pancreatitis."

Duke University Health System: "Stomach Disorders."

Healthgrades: "Digestive Conditions."

Harvard Health Publishing: "Common Causes of Constipation."

Johns Hopkins Medicine: "Why Does My Stomach Hurt?"

MedlinePlus: "Stomach Disorders."

New Health Advisor: "Bloating After Eating."

UnityPoint Health: "What Your Upset Stomach Is Trying to Tell You."

University of Michigan Health: "Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) and Functional Bowel Disorders."

UW-Madison University Health Services: "Upset Stomach."