What is stomach pain?
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:
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.
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 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 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:
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.
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:
- Intestinal obstructions
- Stomach Ulcers
- Gallbladder inflammation
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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
- Surgery to treat or even remove an infected organ
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Duke University Health System: "Stomach Disorders."
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UnityPoint Health: "What Your Upset Stomach Is Trying to Tell You."
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Indigestion (Dyspepsia, Upset Stomach Pain)Indigestion (dyspepsia) can be caused by diseases or conditions that involve the gastrointestinal (GI) tract, and also by some diseases and conditions that do not involve the GI tract. Indigestion can be a chronic condition in which the symptoms fluctuate in frequency and intensity. Signs and symptoms that accompany indigestion include pain in the chest, upper abdominal pain, belching, nausea, bloating, abdominal distention, feeling full after eating only a small portion of food, and rarely, vomiting.
Stomach Flu (Gastroenteritis) Symptoms, Signs Treatment Remedies, DietStomach flu (gastroenteritis) is a term referred used to describe a variety of gastrointestinal problems. The most common signs and symptoms of gastroenteritis are nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and abdominal pain. The most common cause of gastroenteritis in the United States is Norovirus. Other causes of gastroenteritis include Rotavirus, Astrovirus, Adenovirus, and Sapovirus. There are bacterial causes of gastroenteritis such as Salmonella, Shigella, Campylobacter Aeromonas, E. coli, Clostridium, Vibrio, Campylobacter, and Yersinia spp. Parasites that cause gastroenteritis include Giardia, Cryptosporidium, Cyclospora, and Entamoeba. Treatment for gastroenteritis is generally home remedies such as keeping hydrated to prevent dehydration. At times, hospitalization may be necessary if dehydration occurs.
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IBS SlideshowWhat is irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)? Learn about symptoms, causes, and foods that trigger IBS. Get lifestyle tips for managing IBS through diet and with IBS medications.
IBS vs. IBD: Differences and Similarities
IBS (irritable bowel syndrome) and IBD (inflammatory bowel disease) are both problems with the digestive tract (gastrointestinal or GI tract), but they are not the same disease. IBS is a functional disorder (a problem with the way the GI tract functions), and IBD is a disease that causes chronic prolonged inflammation of the GI tract, that can lead to ulcers and other problems that may require surgery. The most common forms of IBD are Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis, or UC.
Researchers do not know the exact cause of either disease, but they believe that IBS may be caused and triggered by a variety of factors (foods, stress, and the nervous system of the GI tract), while IBD may be genetic or due a problem with the immune system.
Common symptoms of both diseases are an urgent need to have a bowel movement, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, and abdominal pain and cramping.
There are differences between the signs and symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome and inflammatory bowel disease, for example, symptoms unique to IBD are:
- Joint pain or soreness
- Skin changes
- Rectal bleeding
- Eye redness or pain
- Unintentional weight loss
- Feeling tired
Symptoms unique to irritable bowel syndrome include:
- Sexual problems
- Abdominal bloating
- Whitish mucous in the stool
- Changes in bowel movements and in the way stools look
- An urgent need to urinate
- Urinating frequently
Treatment for IBS is with diet recommendations from a doctor or nutritionist, medication, and lifestyle changes like stress management and avoiding foods that trigger the condition. Treatments for IBD depend upon the type of disease, its symptoms, and health of the patient. Surgery may be necessary for some individuals.
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Lehrer, J. "Irritable Bowel Syndrome." Medscape. Updated: Apr 04, 2017.
Rowe, W. "Inflammatory Bowel Disease." Medscape. Updated: Jun 17, 2016.
Romanowski, A, MS, RD. "Matching the Right Diet to the Right Patient." Medscape. Jan 27, 2017.
IBS-D (Irritable Bowel Syndrome with Diarrhea)
IBS-D or irritable bowel syndrome with diarrhea refers to IBS with diarrhea. Symptoms of IBS-D include
- intestinal gas (flatulence),
- loose stools,
- frequent stools,
- abdominal pain,
- diarrhea, and
New non-FDA approved IBS tests may help diagnose IBS and IBS-D. Treatment of IBS-D is geared to toward managing symptoms with diet, medication, and lifestyle changes.
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Low FODMAP Diet for IBS
FODMAPs are foods that contain sugar alcohols and short chain carbohydrates. The gut can't digest them very well. There are "low" FODMAP foods and "high" FODMAP foods. Foods high in FODMAPs lay in the gut and ferment, which causes symptoms of:
- Excessive gas
- Abdominal pain
Some people with digestive diseases and disorders, for example, IBS, microscopic colitis, IBD (Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis), and other functional bowel disorders often are placed on a low FODMAP diet to decrease the amount of high FODMAPs foods in the diet, which create uncomfortable symptoms.
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