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What causes stomach pain after eating?

12 May 2020 in Health

If your tummy hurts after eating this may be due to a number of digestive problems.

Indigestion or irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) may be to blame, but there are times when pain after eating can be a sign of something more serious.

Here are 4 common causes of stomach pain after eating, and guidance on how to treat and manage any discomfort.

Indigestion

Indigestion is a common condition that affects up to 41% of people in the UK and 1 in 4 people in the US.

Symptoms vary from person to person, but it often causes discomfort after eating, and can feel like a burning pain in the tummy.

Other symptoms may include feeling uncomfortably full (bloating), nausea, having excess gas and a burning pain in the chest (heartburn). You may also bring up a small amount of food or bitter-tasting fluid.

Indigestion can usually be treated at home, by:

  • cutting down on caffeine, fizzy drinks and alcohol
  • eating less rich, fatty or spicy food
  • maintaining a healthy weight to reduce pressure on your stomach
  • giving up smoking (if you smoke)
  • sleeping in a more upright position -- by putting an extra pillow behind your head and shoulders when you go to bed

For fast relief, antacid medicine may help. This neutralises acid in the stomach which can cause indigestion and should ease your symptoms.

If your indigestion doesn't respond to any of these treatments, see a doctor. They will be able to prescribe stronger medications and run checks to rule out a medical condition like gastro-oesophageal reflux disease, where acid from the stomach leaks up into the oesophagus.

You should also see a doctor if you have indigestion and you are:

  • feeling a lump in your tummy
  • in a lot of pain
  • aged 55 or older
  • losing weight without trying to
  • having difficulty swallowing (dysphagia)
  • vomiting
  • suffering from iron deficiency anaemia
  • noticing blood in your vomit or poo

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)

IBS is a long-term or chronic condition where you experience bouts of tummy pain or cramps that are often worse after eating. The pain can be sharp, but may ease after doing a poo.

Other IBS symptoms include constipation, diarrhoea, bloating, backache, nausea and feeling tired. Occasionally, you may find that you can’t control when you poo (incontinence) or have problems peeing.

The exact causes of IBS are unknown, but the symptoms can be treated by making small changes to your diet and lifestyle. If you think you have IBS, a doctor can help to diagnose your symptoms.

However, you should see a doctor quickly if you’ve:

  • lost a lot of weight without trying to
  • noticed bleeding from your bottom or blood in diarrhoea
  • got a hard lump or swelling in the tummy area
  • got shortness of breath and pale skin

Stomach ulcers

Stomach ulcers are open sores that form when the layer that protects the stomach lining from stomach acid breaks down -- damaging the lining of your stomach.

They can occur as a result of an infection or from taking non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as aspirin or ibuprofen.

If you have a stomach ulcer, you may experience pain in the upper abdomen. This may get better or worse after eating (depending on the location of the ulcer).

You may also have symptoms of indigestion, heartburn or nausea.

You may find you can reduce some of your symptoms by:

  • losing weight (if you’re overweight)
  • avoiding foods that may trigger symptoms, like coffee, chocolate or tomatoes
  • eating smaller meals
  • eating your evening meal 3 to 4 hours before you go to bed
  • drinking less alcohol
  • giving up smoking (if you smoke)

It may be best to avoid NSAID medications such as ibuprofen if you think you have a stomach ulcer, but If you take it regularly under prescription first discuss this with a doctor.

If you think you have a stomach ulcer you should see a doctor as they may prescribe a treatment.

You should get medical help urgently if you:

  • vomit blood
  • pass dark-coloured poo
  • feel a sharp pain in your tummy that gets worse

Gallstones

Gallstones are small stones that form in your gallbladder. It’s estimated that 1 in 10 people may have them, though not everyone will experience symptoms.

Gallstones are usually harmless but they can cause tummy pain if they get stuck in one of the passageways (or ducts) that lead to your gallbladder.

This pain can come on suddenly, be severe and last for up to 5 hours. The pain may also get worse when you eat a heavy meal.

If you think your pain may be caused by gallstones, you should see a doctor as you may need to have them removed.

Painkillers can help to ease your symptoms, but try to avoid foods that make your symptoms worse, such as foods high in saturated fat.


References:

Introduction | Dyspepsia and gastro‑oesophageal reflux disease in adults | Quality standards | NICE [Internet]. Nice.org.uk. 2020 [cited 20 March 2020]. Available here.

Indigestion symptoms and treatments [Internet]. Nhsinform.scot. 2020 [cited 20 March 2020]. Available here.

Dyspepsia: What It Is and What to Do About It [Internet]. Aafp.org. 2020 [cited 20 March 2020]. Available here.

Indigestion [Internet]. nhs.uk. 2020 [cited 20 March 2020]. Available here.

Indigestion symptoms and treatments [Internet]. Nhsinform.scot. 2020 [cited 20 March 2020]. Available here.

Tidy D. Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) Symptoms, Causes and Treatment [Internet]. Patient.info. 2020 [cited 20 March 2020]. Available here.

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) - Symptoms [Internet]. nhs.uk. 2020 [cited 20 March 2020]. Available here.

IBS U, Us C. Pain in IBS [Internet]. Aboutibs.org. 2020 [cited 20 March 2020]. Available here.

Stomach ulcer [Internet]. nhs.uk. 2020 [cited 20 March 2020]. Available here.

Tidy D. Stomach Ulcer (Gastric Ulcer) | Symptoms and Treatment [Internet]. Patient.info. 2020 [cited 20 March 2020]. Available here.

Ramakrishnan K, Salinas R. Peptic Ulcer Disease [Internet]. Aafp.org. 2020 [cited 20 March 2020]. Available here.

Gallstones [Internet]. nhs.uk. 2020 [cited 20 March 2020]. Available here.

Gallstones | Health Information | Bupa UK [Internet]. Bupa.co.uk. 2020 [cited 20 March 2020]. Available here.

Definition and facts of indigestion [Internet] niddk.nih.gov 2020 [cited 5 May 2020] Available here.

Important: Our website provides useful information but is not a substitute for medical advice. You should always seek the advice of your doctor when making decisions about your health.

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