10 Gut-Wrenching Causes of Stomach Pain

Everyone has been there at some point: Your stomach starts to hurt, and you aren’t particularly sure why… which means you’re taking a shot in the dark when it comes to treating your pain.

What are common causes of stomach pain?

Knowing how to treat the root cause of your stomach pain is the single-best treatment method. So, just are some common causes of stomach pain anyway? The first cause will blow you away…

10. Gas

Did you know that most people will toot about 20 times a day? While gas is a normal bodily function, it can be embarrassing. In extreme cases, it can also be painful.

What is Gas?

Digestive gas is exactly what it sounds like: gases produced during the normal digestive process. When there is a buildup of gas, it needs to be released. This release typically occurs as burping or flatulence.

What Causes Gas?

Gas is a normal side effect of the digestive process. Specifically, digestion requires that bacteria ferment carbohydrates in your large intestine. In turn, this process produces hydrogen, carbon dioxide, and methane. This gas is often released through the anus.

How does food influence gas?

Gas is largely influenced by the foods we eat and the particular enzymes and bacteria in your gut.

Which foods are known for causing gas?

Common foods that produce gas include fibrous foods, some starches, and some sugars. Specific foods include:

  • Beans
  • Fruits
  • Whole grains
  • Vegetables like Brussels sprouts

The more you eat of these particular foods—assuming there is no underlying intolerance or allergy—the more your system acclimates to them. This acclimation means digestion produces less gas over time.

How Does Gas Cause Stomach Pain?

Excess gas in the gut causes distention (swelling, bloating), which in turn causes pain. Specifically, the amount of distention affects the amount of pain experienced; the greater the distention, typically the greater the pain.

Symptoms of Gas

Gas pains can range from minor to severe. Symptoms of gas include:

  • Pain or cramping
  • Burping
  • Feeling full
  • Swelling of the abdomen

When to be Concerned

Call your doctor or seek medical attention if your symptoms do not improve in a day or two, or if your pain is accompanied by a high fever or bloody stool. These can be signs of something more serious going on.

9. Constipation

Like gas, bowel movements are the butt of many jokes (pun intended). However, what happens in our bowels affects so many processes in the body. That means constipation isn’t just annoying; in severe cases, it can cause lots of unpleasant and even severe complications.

What is Constipation?

Constipation is when you experience less frequent bowel movements than normal or it is more difficult to have those bowel movements.

Now, what is considered “normal” will vary by individual, as people have incredibly different bowel-movement schedules. When there is an uncomfortable shift in personal bowl movement habits, that is when it is considered a problem.

What Causes Constipation?

There are many causes of constipation. These causes can include:

  • Dehydration
  • High dairy diet
  • Lack of fiber
  • Stress
  • Pregnancy
  • Some medications
  • Certain cancers
  • Some neurological conditions
  • Hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid, low thyroid)

How Does Constipation Cause Stomach Pain?

Much like gas, constipation causes distention (bloating, swelling) of the digestive tract. Further, constipation can cause movement through the tract to slow and stop, which also causes stomach pain.

Symptoms of Constipation

What is the Pain Caused by Constipation Like?

Constipation can cause pain throughout the digestive tract, depending on the severity. It most commonly starts in the lower abdomen and moves up to the lower left side of the stomach. The pain can range from mild to severe, much like gas.

Other Symptoms

Other symptoms of constipation include:

  • Hard or lumpy stools
  • Difficulty passing stool
  • Fewer than 3 bowel movements a week
  • Feeling a blockage in the rectum
  • Feeling as if you cannot completely empty the rectum

When to be Concerned

You should seek medical attention if you have not had a bowel movement in 3 days or more.

Why?

Because the toxic buildup in the system can cause other bacterial problems. Even if severe complications do not occur, prolonged constipation means backed-up excrement will only continue to harden, which is even more difficult to pass.

Constipation or something else?

Occasionally constipation will be symptomatic of something else happening in the body. These root causes can range from reactions to certain medications to the onset of some neurological conditions (like Parkinson’s disease), all of which may prevent the bowel muscles from working. A qualified medical professional will help you determine what is happening.

8. Food Allergies

Most people think of anaphylaxis when it comes to food allergies, which can certainly be dangerous. However, the body has many different ways of telling you when something is wrong, and stomach pain is one of those ways.

What are Food Allergies?

Food allergies happen when the immune system has an unnecessary response to a food substance. In other words, the immune system mounts an attack against food as if it is a dangerous foreign invader (like disease-causing bacteria).

What Food Allergies are Common?

Most food allergies are caused by one of eight foods:

  • Cow milk
  • Nuts
  • Eggs
  • Tree nuts
  • Fish
  • Soy
  • Shellfish
  • Wheat
  • Peanuts

How Do Food Allergies Cause Stomach Pain?

When histamine (one of the chemicals produced in an allergic reaction) is released in the gut, it causes stomach pain, cramps, and diarrhea.

What are the Symptoms of Food Allergies?

The specific symptoms will depend on where the histamine reaction takes place. Generally, these are the symptoms to watch out for:

  • Tingling or itching in the mouth or throat
  • Hives or itching
  • Eczema
  • Swelling, especially of the tongue, lips, face or throat
  • Wheezing or congestion
  • Abdominal pain or cramping
  • Diarrhea
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness
  • Fainting
  • Anaphylaxis

When to be Concerned

If you experience stomach pain after eating certain foods, be sure to talk with your doctor. Leaving an allergy untreated can lead to more severe complications, such as anaphylaxis.

Food Allergies or Something Else?

Now, food allergies are related to the immune system. The following cause of stomach pain is related to specific digestive issues, although it is often confused for food allergies…

7. Food Intolerance

Though sometimes people use the two terms interchangeably, food intolerance is completely different from a food allergy.

What is a Food Intolerance?

Intolerance deals with the digestive tract, rather than the immune system (as is the case with allergies). When the digestive tract is unable to break down a certain food properly, it can lead to a host of symptoms. This inability to break down certain foods properly is known as food intolerance.

Food Allergy or Food Intolerance?

A big difference between true allergies versus intolerance? How quickly symptoms start. Typically, an allergy will start within minutes of consuming a reactive allergen. Intolerance, on the other hand, tends to take longer to show up. How long? Usually between 30 minutes to 1 hour after eating.

What Causes Food Intolerance?

Currently it is believed that intolerance is actually caused by an enzyme deficiency. Specifically, experts believe that there aren’t enough specific enzymes in the digestive system to break down certain foods. Importantly, enzymes are crucial to the digestive process.

What Foods Commonly Cause Issues?

Food intolerance is caused mainly by dairy, grains with gluten, and some foods that cause excess gas like cabbage and beans.

How Does Food Intolerance Cause Stomach Pain?

Stomach pain associated with food intolerance is usually caused by excess gas produced during digestion.

Symptoms of Food Intolerance

Other symptoms of food intolerance include:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Migraines
  • Bloating
  • Congestion
  • Irritable bowels

When to be Concerned

If you are concerned about your stomach pain—and are unsure whether you may have an allergy—it is best to speak with your doctor to be on the safe side. A simple blood test will look for markers of an allergy, such as blood histamine levels, to help determine what is going on.

Food Intolerance or Something Else?

Of course, sometimes stomach pain isn’t the result of something we ate. Instead, it could be due to conditions caused by bacteria…

6. Gastroenteritis

Aside from simple gas, digestive infections are some of the most common causes of stomach pain.

What is Gastroenteritis?

Gastroenteritis, or stomach flu or stomach virus, is the general medical term for infections of the digestive tract.

What Causes Gastroenteritis?

Gastric infections are caused by a number of viruses and bacteria. Unless the specific bacteria is caused by tainted food (food poisoning), it falls into the realm of gastroenteritis.

How Does Gastroenteritis Cause Stomach Pain?

This condition causes stomach pain in a number of ways.

  • First, there is inflammation of the gastric system. Why? Because inflammation is one of the first reactions of the immune system in response to an infection. This inflammation alone can cause stomach pain.
  • The infection can also cause a change in the gas produced during digestion. This change can increase abdominal pressure, which also causes pain.

Symptoms of Gastroenteritis

Symptoms of this condition include:

  • Watery diarrhea, usually not bloody
  • Abdominal cramps and pain
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Low-grade fever

When to be Concerned

The biggest risk of gastroenteritis? Dehydration. Dehydration can easily occur due to vomiting and diarrhea, especially among children. Call your doctor if your symptoms last for more than 2 days, you have a high fever, or are showing signs of dehydration.

Gastroenteritis or Something Else?

Now, gastroenteritis is caused by a specific virus or bacteria ingested through contaminated food and water or by coming into contact with contaminated surfaces. The following condition can cause similar symptoms, although it is caused specifically from eating spoiled foods…

5. Food Poisoning

Everyone has heard the term food poisoning and knows it can be extremely uncomfortable. Most people have even experienced it at one time or another, but may not have a good idea of what this condition actually is.

What is Food Poisoning?

Food poisoning is simply a bacterial infection of the digestive tract. How do the bacteria enter the body? From something you eat or drink.

What Causes Food Poisoning?

Certain foods grow specific bacteria, parasites, or viruses when not stored or refrigerated properly. Contaminated foods can also lead to poisoning, including foods contaminated with fecal matter. Eating spoiled and/or contaminated food can bring dangerous substances, bacteria, and even viruses into the body.

Which Foods Commonly Cause Food Poisoning?

Spoiled foods that commonly cause food poisoning include:

  • Meats
  • Eggs
  • Dairy
  • Seafood
  • Shellfish

Which Bacteria Commonly Cause Food Poisoning?

The bacteria commonly at fault for poisoning include:

  • E. coli
  • Salmonella
  • Listeria
  • Botulism

How Does Food Poisoning Cause Stomach Pain?

Food poisoning results in inflammation of the gastric tract, which can cause stomach pain. It can also cause excess gas, which can cause swelling and, therefore, stomach pain.

Symptoms of Food Poisoning

Symptoms include:

  • Stomach pain and cramps
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Mild fever
  • Loss of appetite
  • Weakness
  • Nausea
  • Headaches

When to be Concerned

Fortunately, food poisoning usually lasts about 24 hours or less. However, food poisoning should not be taken lightly. In severe cases, where the bacteria have run rampant throughout the body, it can be dangerous, even life-threatening.

Just like gastroenteritis, the primary concern for food poisoning is dehydration associated with vomiting or diarrhea. So, those with food poisoning should be sure to drink plenty of clear fluids.

What are Signs of Severe Food Poisoning?

The following are signs of a severe issue that require medical treatment immediately:

  • Severe gut pain
  • Bloody or black stools
  • Muscle weakness
  • Blurry vision
  • Confusion
  • Jaundice
  • Tingling in the extremities

4. Ulcers

Ulcers are what many people think happen as a result of high stress and fast food. That is not necessarily the case, however.

What is an Ulcer?

Ulcers are holes that form along the upper part of the small intestine (duodenum) as well as in the stomach. In more rare cases, ulcers may form in the esophagus.

What Causes Ulcers?

Doctors have found that ulcers are usually caused by either H. pylori bacteria or through long-term use of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs).

How Does Ulcers Cause Stomach Pain?

The stomach pain associated with an ulcer is often caused by stomach acid seeping through the holes in the stomach lining. This seepage causes a burning sensation, usually in the mid-abdomen.

Symptoms of Ulcers

Other symptoms include:

  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Easily feeling full
  • Bloating
  • Indigestion
  • Acid reflux

When to be Concerned

See your doctor if you think you may have an ulcer. While easily treated, left unchecked ulcers can lead to severe complications like anemia and significant bleeding.

3. Hernia

Hernias are something most people have heard of and associate with strenuous activity.

What is a Hernia?

A hernia is when an organ starts to squeeze through a weak point in the muscle tissue. The result? A “bulging out” of tissue.

Where Do Hernias Commonly Occur?

The most common areas for hernias to occur are in the:

  • Inner groin
  • Outer groin
  • Belly button
  • Upper stomach
  • Surgical Site

What Causes Hernias?

There are many causes of hernias, the most common of which include:

  • Congenital (present-at-birth) defects
  • Complications of surgery
  • Chronic coughing
  • COPD
  • Pregnancy
  • Obesity
  • Aging

How Do Hernias Cause Stomach Pain?

When a hernia causes pain, it is usually because it has started strangulating the organ involved. This situation is an emergency, as it can cause significant organ damage if left untreated.

Symptoms of a Hernia

Symptoms may vary depending on the type of hernia. These symptoms can include:

  • A bulge around the area of the hernia
  • Discomfort and pain around the hernia
  • Heartburn
  • Trouble swallowing
  • Chest pain

When to be Concerned

You should seek the advice of your doctor if you think you may have a hernia. In severe cases, hernias can lead to severe infections and organ or tissue damage due to a lack of blood flow.

2. Appendicitis

Appendicitis is considered a medical emergency. If you think you may have it, you should seek medical attention right away.

What is Appendicitis?

Appendicitis is an inflammation of the appendix. In addition to inflammation, pus will accumulate in the there. Both the pus buildup and inflammation can cause pain.

What Causes Appendicitis?

This condition occurs when there is a blockage to the appendix. Common causes of blockage include feces or cancer.

How Does Appendicitis Cause Stomach Pain?

The pain associated with appendicitis comes from inflammation as well as swelling produced by the accumulation of pus. In severe cases where the appendix has burst, you may experience severe abdominal pain caused by infection spreading throughout the abdomen.

Symptoms of Appendicitis

Aside from abdominal pain, symptoms of appendicitis include:

  • Loss of appetite
  • Vomiting
  • Mild fever
  • Swollen stomach
  • Inability to pass gas
  • Constipation

When to be Concerned

If you think you may have appendicitis, you should seek immediate medical attention. If your appendix is inflamed, you will likely have emergency surgery to remove it. Why? Because the appendix can burst, meaning potentially life-threatening toxins are released into the abdomen.

1. Diverticulitis

Diverticulitis only affects people suffering from diverticulosis. Estimates suggest about 35% of those over the age of 50 suffer from diverticulosis. In some cases, people do not know they are dealing with this condition until they develop diverticulitis.

What is Diverticulosis?

Diverticulosis occurs when the digestive tract forms small pouches; these small pouches are called diverticula.

What is Diverticulitis?

Diverticulitis occurs when diverticula become inflamed and/or infected.

What Causes Diverticulitis?

Most commonly, diverticulitis results from a tear in diverticula, leading to inflammation and infection.

How Does Diverticulitis Cause Stomach Pain?

The stomach pain is caused by the pressure of the inflamed diverticula pushing on the colon wall.

Symptoms of Diverticulitis

Symptoms of this condition include:

  • Severe abdominal pain
  • Nausea
  • Fever and chills
  • Bloating
  • Constipation
  • Diarrhea
  • Thin stools

When to be Concerned

Consult your doctor if you think you may have diverticulitis. Treatment may range from rest to antibiotics to a modified diet to even surgical intervention in more severe cases.

What’s next?

What is most important to remember when experiencing stomach pain?…

Know Your Body & Pay Attention to the Messages It Sends You

As you can see, there are many causes of stomach pain, and treatment will vary based on these causes.

The best way to deal with stomach pain?

The best way you can deal with stomach pain? Pay attention to what you have experienced in the past and what may be new. In other words, know your body. Note when something unusual happens, and if this unusual occurrence is chronic (long term) or acute (short term) as well as if it results in sharp pain or a dull ache.

Never dismiss a new type of stomach pain as meaningless. If you are unsure if what is going on is unusual or severe, it’s always best to play it safe and see a healthcare professional.

Causes for Alarm

Generally, you should give your pain more attention if it lasts more than a day or if it worsens. If you are experiencing other symptoms along with stomach pain, keep an eye on it. See your doctor if you do not start to improve within a day or two.

What Symptoms Indicate a Medical Emergency?

You should seek immediate medical attention if you experience any of the following:

  • Signs of severe dehydration, such as dry mouth, dark colored urine, or less frequent urination
  • Severe pain localizing on the right side of your stomach
  • Your skin or eyes are turning yellow
  • You have abdominal swelling
  • If your stool is bloody or black

(This list is not complete. In other words, these symptoms are just a few that may indicate a severe problem.)

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