Stomach pain

Medical quality assurance by Dr. Albrecht Nonnenmacher, MD at December 5, 2015
StartSymptomsStomach pain

Stomach pain occurs in most people at some time in their lives. A variety of lifestyle habits can contribute to stomach problems. In most cases, the discomfort is mild and temporary, and it can generally be treated with home remedies. However, chronic or severe stomach pain can be a symptom of a serious underlying condition that requires medical care. Problems in other parts of the body can sometimes exhibit as stomach pain, so a good diagnosis is critical to effective treatment. Here is some information on stomach pain that can help you understand its causes and possible treatments:

Contents

Definition & Facts

The stomach is a bean-shaped organ that lies behind the lower ribs. It produces hydrochloric acid and enzymes that break down food to prepare it for digestion, which will then carry nutrition to all the cells of the body.

These stomach chemicals also help to kill microbes that could be dangerous to consume. It also produces mucus that helps to protect the lining of the stomach. When these chemicals become unbalanced, the effect can produce stomach pain. A variety of illnesses can cause stomach pain, which can be felt in any part of the abdomen.

High levels of stress can often be expressed as stomach pain because of the chemical and neurological connections between the brain and the digestive system. Lifestyle habits can also contribute to stomach pain, with smoking, alcohol and spicy foods being the chief offenders.

Causes

Stomach pain can be a symptom of many different medical conditions. The pain may be a result of an obvious incident, such as an injury, or it may be from some unknown cause. The degree of pain does not necessarily indicate the severity of the illness. However, the exact position where the pain is located can indicate the underlying cause of the problem: Common causes of stomach pain include:

When to see a doctor

Medical professionals advise seeing a physician if stomach pain lasts for more than a few hours, if it is severe enough to be disabling, if the pain continues despite the use of normal remedies or if nausea and vomiting occur. Any blood in vomit or feces should trigger immediate medical care to determine the cause.

Fever or inability to pass stools should also cause you to seek medical attention. If you have stomach pain on a regular basis, in spite of careful attention to your diet, you should see a gastrointestinal specialist for tests to determine the underlying cause.

Treatment & Therapy

To diagnose stomach pain, the physician will generally do a physical examination to determine the exact site of the stomach pain. Testing on urine and stool can tell the doctor if infection or bleeding is occurring internally.

Blood tests can also determine the general condition of the patient. X-rays after drinking barium can allow visual inspection of the gastrointestinal system to find any blockages or other problems in structure. An endoscopy, in which a narrow tube is inserted to allow the physician to view the inside of the stomach, can also provide detailed information. CT scans or ultrasound can also be used to find specific types of problems. In cases of suspected stomach cancer, a biopsy may be done to collect cells for examination in the laboratory.

Because stomach pain can be caused by a great number of different conditions, the treatment of the problem can extend to a variety of remedies:

  • Minor stomach discomfort can be treated with over-the-counter antacids or other medications.
  • In some cases, such as stomach viruses, withholding solid food for a few days will allow the stomach to rest until the virus passes through the body. Clear liquids like jello or broth can provide nourishment until the pain subsides.
  • Special medications that help to strengthen the valve that holds contents in the stomach may be needed for reflux problems
  • Food allergies must be pinpointed with a series of dietary tests that exclude foods, one by one, to find the offending substance.
  • The physician may advise lifestyle changes to ensure better gastrointestinal function.
  • Stomach pain from an injury, such as a blow during sports or an auto accident, may require surgery to repair the damage.

Prevention & Prophylaxis

To prevent stomach pain and distress, individuals can take a number of measures to reduce incidents of stomach pain by taking a few practical measures:

  • Check expirations dates on refrigerated foods before eating. Throw out any foods of questionable safety. Wash raw fruits and vegetables before eating.
  • Eat regularly. If three large meals give you stomach problems, try eating six smaller meals throughout the day.
  • Avoid overeating. Stop eating before you feel uncomfortably full.
  • Avoid gas-producing foods like beans, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, fried foods, cream sauces and carbonated beverages,
  • Try eliminating dairy products, which can cause discomfort in individuals who are lactose intolerant.
  • Avoid fried or spicy foods that can irritate the lining of the gastrointestinal system.
  • Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables each day to provide fiber that keeps stomach and intestines functioning normally.
  • Drink plenty of water each day to aid normal digestion.
  • Exercise regularly to increase blood flow to the gastrointestinal system.
  • If you smoke, talk to your doctor about ways to stop.
  • Keep your alcohol consumption down to one or two drinks each day.
  • Go to the bathroom when you need to. Avoid holding it for long periods of time.
  • See your doctor for recurring stomach pain or sudden, unusual pain.