There are many kinds of stomach pains and aches. Triggers and causes can sometimes be discerned based on the symptoms, location, or type of pain a person experiences. Regardless of the cause, it is wise to have stomach pain investigated by a doctor if it persists beyond a couple of days. Minor stomach upsets can usually be treated at home with rest or over-the-counter medication.
Stones in the Gallbladder
The gallbladder is a small organ that sits below the liver. It is responsible for storing and dispensing bile. Gallbladder stones are most common in women 40 or older who are overweight. When the stone moves from the gallbladder into the small intestine, or if the stone becomes stuck in the biliary duct, it can cause pain and other symptoms. High-fat foods often exacerbate gallbladder stones because a high volume of bile is needed to digest fat.
Heartburn Due to GERD
GERD or gastroesophageal reflux disease affects the lower part of the esophagus. It presents with a sharp pain in the lower chest and upper stomach. A weakening of the valve that separates the stomach from the esophagus causes stomach acid to splash back into the esophagus, causing a burning sensation, pain, and discomfort.
Diverticulitis is the result of inflammation within pockets in the colon called diverticula. The inflamed diverticula may fill with undigested food and waste, causing swelling and pain. Symptoms include cramping in the lower abdomen. Intestinal bleeding and tears may also occur. Depending on the severity of the condition, dietary and lifestyle changes, medication, or surgery can resolve the issue or prevent future flare-ups.
The thyroid gland is located in the neck and is responsible for the proper functioning of the digestive and many other systems. It regulates the release of hormones responsible for determining the speed of digestion. If a person has hyperthyroidism, their thyroid gland produces excessive hormones, speeding up the digestion process and triggering diarrhea and stomach aches. On the other hand, hypothyroidism slows down the entire process. This can cause constipation and gas, which can also lead to stomach and abdominal pain.
Appendicitis usually affects children and young adults, though it may occur in people of all ages. The most distinctive symptom is a sharp pain that begins in the middle of the abdomen and travels to the lower right; usually accompanied by fever and fatigue. Infection and inflammation of the appendix causes this condition, and surgery is almost always immediately necessary, as a burst appendix can lead to sepsis and be life-threatening.
Peptic ulcers are painful sores that affect the lining of the stomach or small intestine. Bacterial infections such as H pylori and long term use of certain anti-inflammatory drugs are the main causes of peptic ulcers. The sores cause dull stomach pain and other digestive symptoms like nausea and vomiting, bloating, changes in appetite, and heartburn. Treatment depends on the underlying cause — for example, antibiotics and acid-blockers treat H pylori infection.
Stress and Depression
Clinical depression can wreak havoc on the entire body. In addition to psychological issues, it also causes physical symptoms, such as headaches, stomach pain, and other digestive troubles. In severe cases, depression and other mental health disorders can aggravate pre-existing diseases such as irritable bowel syndrome, which is a common cause of abdominal pain. Loss of appetite and severe weight loss may be additional byproducts of clinical depression.
Bacteria, viruses, and other harmful microbes in food can cause food poisoning. Although there are different types of food poisoning, most create similar symptoms, including extreme stomach pain, diarrhea, vomiting, nausea, weakness, and fatigue. In most cases, symptoms are self-limited — they only persist for a few days while the body rids itself of the infection.
Bladder infections are the result of excess bacteria in the bladder. They are most common in women because the female urinary tract is much shorter than the male, making it easier for bacteria to reach the bladder. Symptoms include lower abdominal pain, difficulty or pain urinating, and blood in the urine. Prompt detection and treatment of these infections is essential to prevent the bacteria from spreading to the kidneys.
Some abdominal hernias cause pain in the stomach, beginning with sharp twinges or a pulling sensation that progressively worsens. Some people also feel a burning sensation at the site. If blood supply to the tissue is cut off, fever may accompany acute stomach pain, and this requires immediate medical attention.
The immune response to allergies, especially food allergies, can result in stomach pain. Even the smallest amount of a problematic food could trigger mild to severe symptoms when the offending ingredient finds its way to the intestines. The result is a flood of immunoglobulin E, IgE, antibodies, and histamine into the gastrointestinal tract. Histamine irritates the digestive tract, leading to stomach cramps and pain. Food allergies can also manifest with other symptoms, including itching, skin rash, difficulty breathing, and chest pain.
Because endometrial lesions are located near the uterus, women with the condition experience intense abdominal pain during their periods. Endometriosis pain can take effect at other times, as well. Endo belly is severe bloating that can place painful pressure on the back and abdomen and last anywhere from a few hours to weeks.
Appendicitis causes location-specific and migrating stomach pain. Many describe it as a sharp pain that worsens when they move or cough. For some, the discomfort starts and stays on the lower right side. For others, it starts at the navel and migrates to the right side. In pregnant women, appendicitis pain can even start higher, because their organs shift with the growing fetus. Other signs of appendicitis include fever, nausea, vomiting, and loss of appetite.
A bowel obstruction is a life-threatening event that occurs when the natural process of food flowing from the stomach to the rectum is completely blocked. Whereas constipation causes slow and uncomfortable bowel movements, an obstruction means that not even gas can pass to the rectum. Blocked intestines cause belly pain, cramping, and abdominal swelling, which worsens symptoms and increases the risk of rupture and complications like sepsis.
Seeing a Doctor About Stomach Pain
Most stomach aches go away on their own in a day or two. If the cause is a food that did not agree or a virus, most bodies are well-equipped to fend off the problematic factor, and the pain passes quickly. If, however, the stomach pain comes with more than a day of vomiting or diarrhea, dehydration is a possible complication and a doctor should be notified. Additionally, if the person discovers blood in their urine or stool, feels the pain spreading into their back, it hurts to urinate, or the pain decreases after a bowel movement, a more serious issue could be the cause and medical attention is required.