Causes of Stomach Problems

10 Conditions That Are Often Missed or Overlooked

Older woman holding stomach
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Stomach problems—including gas, cramping, constipation, and diarrhea—are unpleasant but not all that uncommon. In most cases, they are related to something we either ate (such as with food poisoning), caught (like the stomach flu), or experience routinely (such as bloating during the menstrual cycle).

At other times, a problem can appear out of the blue and for no apparent reason. If this happens and the symptoms are either severe, persistent, or worsening, you will need to see a doctor to investigate the cause.

Typically speaking, symptoms that occur in the abdomen nearer to the ribs involve the upper gastrointestinal (GI) tract including the esophagus, stomach, and small intestines. Symptoms occurring in the lower abdomen tend to be related to the lower GI tract comprised of the anus and large intestine (including the appendix, cecum, colon, and rectum).

While the symptoms may originate in the GI tract itself, there are times when a stomach problem is secondary to a larger systemic disorder such as an infection, hormonal imbalance, or autoimmune disease.

10 Common Digestive Disorders

When a stomach problem develops fast and furiously, our minds will often go the worst possible cause, such as cancer. More often than not, there will be less a troubling explanation, although it may require chronic treatment and/or a significant change in diet.

Among the ten most common causes of a stomach problem:

  1. Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), also known as acid reflux, is a condition in which stomach acid leaks back into the esophagus, causing a burning sensation in the chest or throat. It is typically treated with over-the-counter and prescription drugs that neutralize the acid or inhibit its production. If left untreated, ongoing exposure to stomach acid can cause damage to the esophagus.
  2. Peptic ulcer is a term used to describe an open sore in the stomach or duodenum. The symptoms can vary but often include pain, indigestion, nausea, vomiting, and excessive gas. Most peptic ulcers are caused by a bacterium Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) which may be eradicated with a course of antibiotic drugs.
  3. Gastritis is the medical term for the inflammation in the lining of the stomach. Gastritis is a far-ranging condition caused by everything from medications to cancer. In many cases, the condition will be idiopathic (meaning of no known cause). While gastritis is not associated with GERD, it can mimic many of the symptoms. Because of this, gastritis is often treated in the same way with acid-reducing drugs.
  1. Gastroparesis is a condition in which the stomach is slow to empty its contents into the small intestine. The symptoms of gastroparesis include nausea, a feeling of fullness, and vomiting after eating. Medications and dietary changes may be used to relieve and control the symptoms.
  2. Gallstones are caused by the crystallization of bile in the gallbladder. This can lead to the formation of jagged, little stones that block the bile duct and cause severe pain by in the upper abdomen. Surgery is sometimes required to remove larger stones.
  3. Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder in which the consumption of gluten causes the immune system to attack the small intestine. Diarrhea is one of the more common symptoms of the disease. A ​gluten-free diet is the first and most effective method of treatment.
  4. Lactose intolerance is a condition in which a person lacks the enzyme needed to digest the sugars found in dairy products. People with lactose intolerance will typically experience diarrhea, gas, or bloating soon after eating foods like milk or cheese. Avoidance of dairy is the best form of treatment.
  1. Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), which includes Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis, manifest with a wide range of gastrointestinal and non-gastrointestinal symptoms. Treatment of Crohn's disease may involve steroids and immunosuppressants to slow the progression of the disorder, while ulcerative colitis may be treated with medications and surgery.
  2. Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is characterized by a cluster of symptoms (including stomach pain, constipation, or diarrhea) for which there is no evidence of underlying damage. Treatment is primarily focused on the alleviation of symptoms.
  3. Diverticulosis is characterized by the development of the little pouches within the lining of the colon. Infection and inflammation can lead to symptoms ranging from lower abdominal tenderness to severe pain, fever, nausea, and vomiting. Medications may be used along with a carefully planned diet.

A Word From Verywell

If you ever have sudden and severe stomach pain, seek immediate medical treatment.

This is especially true if the pain is accompanied by a high fever, severe chills, vomiting, difficulty breathing, blurred vision, bluish skin (cyanosis), drowsiness, or the loss of muscle control. These may be the signs of poisoning requiring emergency care. Do not delay.