Causes of Stomach Pain

Different Causes of Stomach Pain

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Stomach pain is fairly common. Most of the time, you can identify the cause of your own stomach pain as something you ate, an infection, or a recurrent experience, such as indigestion or bloating. Other times, your stomach pain may be unexplained, severe, sudden, recurrent, or persist for months.

There are a number of different causes of stomach pain, and your doctor will need to take a careful medical history, examine you, and possibly order diagnostic tests to identify the root of your problem.

Describing Stomach Pain

Stomach pain is a type of visceral pain, and it is hard to pinpoint whether your pain is truly coming from your stomach, or from another area of your abdomen.

Location

Your pain can be caused by a condition of your upper gastrointestinal (GI) tract, which includes your esophagus, stomach, and small intestines. It may be caused by a condition involving your lower GI tract, which includes your large intestine (colon), rectum, and anus. And sometimes, stomach pain is caused by an illness involving both the upper and lower GI tract.

Type of Pain

Your stomach pain may feel as if it is burning, stabbing, deep, cramping, or aching. Your discomfort may be associated with other symptoms such as fevers, nausea, vomiting, bloating, and gas. Your detailed description of the sensations, including whether there are triggers or exacerbating factors, how long it lasts, and whether it comes and goes, can all give your doctor a better idea of the cause.

Causes of Stomach Pain

There are several common causes of stomach pain that generally resolve on their own. You may have already experienced some episodes of stomach pain at some point in your life. There are also some causes of stomach pain that may recur over time and a few that require emergency medical or surgical treatment.

Usually caused by eating something spoiled or contaminated with a bacteria, virus, or parasite, food poisoning can cause a range of symptoms, including stomach cramps, diarrhea, and vomiting. It may resolve on its own or it may persist or worsen, requiring antimicrobial treatment, and possibly, intravenous (IV) fluids.

Allergy/Food Sensitivity

You may have a negative reaction to some types of food, either due to an allergy, a sensitivity, or an intolerance. This can cause pain, diarrhea, cramping, or other associated symptoms, such as a rash, swelling, or flushing.

Often associated with a bitter taste or bloating, indigestion is the decreased ability to digest certain foods. It can occur with any type of food but is more common with foods that are very fatty.

Infection

A contagious GI infection can be transmitted by touching contaminated objects or by eating contaminated food. Food poisoning is one type of infection that generally causes vomiting, while GI infections such as the stomach flu can cause pain, cramping, nausea, diarrhea, and fevers.

Peptic Ulcer

A peptic ulcer is an open sore in the stomach or duodenum (upper part of the small intestine). The symptoms can vary, and often include pain, indigestion, nausea, vomiting, and excessive gas. Most peptic ulcers are caused by the bacterium Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori), the use of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory (NSAIDs), or chronic alcohol use, which may irritate and alter the protective mucosal layer of the digestive tract.

Gastritis

Gastritis is inflammation in the lining of the stomach. It can be caused by a variety of triggers, including alcohol, smoking, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory (NSAID) use, or a chronic infection with the bacteria H. pylori. Gastritis can also be idiopathic, meaning that the cause cannot be identified. Besides pain, other symptoms of gastritis include feeling bloated, early satiety (feeling full early), decreased appetite, nausea, and vomiting.

Gastroparesis

Gastroparesis is a condition in which the stomach is slow to empty its contents into the small intestine. This condition can result from diabetes, but may also occur idiopathically. Besides abdominal pain, other symptoms of gastroparesis include nausea, a feeling of fullness, and vomiting after eating. Severe gastroparesis can result in weight loss.

Esophagitis

Your esophagus is the tube that carries food from your mouth to your stomach. Esophagitis is irritation and inflammation of the lining of the esophagus, which may occur for many reasons including:

  • Infections such as Candida or the herpes simplex virus
  • Taking medications such as clindamycin or aspirin
  • Eosinophilic esophagitis, an allergy

Besides heartburn and pain, a person with esophagitis may notice difficulty swallowing and/or pain with swallowing.

Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease

Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), also known as acid reflux, is a condition in which stomach acid leaks up into the esophagus, causing a burning sensation in the chest or throat that is described as heartburn. Besides heartburn, some other symptoms of GERD include regurgitation, trouble swallowing, stomach pain, hoarseness, cough, or feeling like there is a lump in the throat.

Gallstones

Gallstones are caused by the crystallization of bile in the gallbladder which forms jagged, little particles. Acute cholecystitis occurs when the stones block the bile duct, causing severe pain in the upper right abdomen. Complications of gallstones, such as pancreatitis or acute cholangitis, may worsen your pain and cause fevers, jaundice (yellow color of the skin and eyes), and fevers.

Pancreatitis

Pancreatitis is inflammation of the pancreas, a small gland that releases insulin to regulate your blood sugar levels and also aids in the digestion of fat. Alcohol and gallstone disease are the two most common causes of pancreatitis. Acute pancreatitis causes severe, constant pain in the upper abdominal region.

Celiac Disease

Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder in which the consumption of gluten triggers inflammation in the small intestine. In addition to abdominal discomfort, other symptoms of celiac disease include diarrhea, weight loss, and excessive gas.

Lactose Intolerance

Lactose intolerance is a condition in which a person lacks lactase, the enzyme needed to digest lactose, a sugar found in dairy products. People with lactose intolerance typically experience diarrhea, gas, and/or bloating soon after eating foods like milk, cheese, or ice cream.

Constipation

Constipation is very common and is characterized by infrequent, hard stools, and straining with bowel movements. It may be associated with uncomfortable or painful abdominal bloating.

Diverticulosis

Diverticulosis refers to the development of little pouches within the lining of the colon. Infection and inflammation may lead to symptoms that include lower abdominal tenderness and severe pain, fever, nausea, and vomiting.

Appendicitis

The most common symptom of appendicitis is abdominal pain, which usually begins around the belly button. Over time, the pain moves to the right, lower part of the abdomen. Other associated symptoms include a loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, and fever. Appendicitis can be life-threatening if left untreated, and a ruptured appendix may rapidly become fatal.

Abdominal Hernia

An abdominal hernia, which may cause stomach pain and a visible bulge, occurs when a weak area within the abdominal wall tears, allowing protrusion of fat or a section of one of the abdominal organs through the abdominal wall. There are different types of abdominal hernias—an umbilical hernia occurs around the belly button while an epigastric hernia occurs above the belly button.

Inflammatory Bowel Disease

Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), which includes Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis, manifests with a wide range of gastrointestinal and non-gastrointestinal symptoms. The hallmark symptoms of Crohn's disease include crampy abdominal pain along with non-bloody diarrhea, while the cardinal symptoms of ulcerative colitis include colicky abdominal pain and bloody diarrhea.

Crohn's disease may affect any area throughout the entire GI tract, from mouth to anus. Ulcerative colitis only affects the lower GI tract, which is the colon and rectum.

Irritable Bowel Syndrome

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.

Cancer

Abdominal pain may be a sign of cancer of the GI tract or metastatic cancer from elsewhere in the body. Unusual symptoms, such as a change in bowel habits, blood in your stool or urine, excessive fatigue, or unexplained weight loss, can signal cancer.

A Non-GI Disease

Sometimes, the sensation of stomach pain is caused by a problem involving the lungs, heart, bladder, uterus, or kidneys. Your doctor may recognize symptoms pointing to these causes based on your history or may detect signs on your physical examination or diagnostic tests.

A Word From Verywell

When a stomach problem develops rapidly, it is best to get medical attention right away. More often than not, there will be an explanation that is not particularly worrisome or troubling. Depending on the cause of your stomach pain, you may require short-term treatment, chronic treatment, a significant change in your diet, and possibly even surgical intervention. While there are numerous causes of stomach pain, they typically can be diagnosed and treated effectively.

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