Crohn's or Upset Stomach?

Gastroenteritis, or upset stomach, shares many symptoms with Crohn's disease. Many different factors can cause or contribute to an upset stomach, including: viruses, parasites, and foodborne illnesses. Therefore, it’s important to eliminate these factors before a proper diagnosis of Crohn's can be made.

The Stomach

The stomach is an organ located in the upper abdomen between the esophagus and the small intestine. Its tasks include taking in, breaking down, and containing food; aiding in digestion; and sending a signal to the brain when you’re full. The stomach also helps to prevent infections by secreting an acid from its lining that acts on harmful bacteria that you may have consumed with a meal. 

Although most absorption of nutrients occurs in the small intestine, the stomach helps break down amino acids and absorbs simple sugars such as glucose and certain medications, such as aspirin. A sphincter, or valve, at the bottom of the stomach regulates how much food enters the small intestine.

What Causes an Upset Stomach?

Gastroenteritis is an inflammation of the stomach lining and intestines. An upset stomach is usually caused by a virus, although it may also be due to a parasite or bacteria like salmonella and E. coli.

In some cases, an upset stomach is the result of an allergic reaction to a certain type of food. It also may be caused by an irritation from consuming too much alcohol or caffeine, for example.

Symptoms Associated With an Upset Stomach

Common symptoms of gastroenteritis may include one or more of the following:

  • abdominal pain and/or cramping
  • nausea (with or without vomiting)
  • an increase in bowel movements
  • loose stool or diarrhea
  • headache and/or body aches
  • chills (with or without fever)


Treatments for an Upset Stomach

Fortunately, most gastroenteritis can be successfully treated without a trip to the doctor. Treatment should focus on fluid replacement and dietary management. If the stomachache is caused by bacteria, antibiotics may be used as well.

Clear Liquids

For the first 24 to 36 hours of an upset stomach, avoid solid foods, caffeine, and alcohol. Make sure to drink plenty of water or other clear liquid (two to three liters per day).

If vomiting accompanies the upset stomach, wait for one to two hours before attempting to drink a small quantity of water or suck on ice chips. If those are tolerated, you may move on to other clear liquids, including non-caffeinated sodas—such as ginger ale or 7-Up, decaffeinated tea, clear broth, and diluted juices—such as apple or grape. Avoid citrus juices like orange juice.


If clear liquids are tolerated, you may attempt to eat bland foods such as soda crackers, toasted white bread (plain or with honey), boiled potatoes, white rice, applesauce, bananas, baked or broiled skinless poultry or fish, and cultured dairy products such as cottage cheese or yogurt. If symptoms improve after 24 to 48 hours, you may begin to resume a normal diet, although spicy foods, non-cultured dairy products such as milk or cheese, high-fiber foods such as whole grains and raw vegetables, greasy or fatty foods, caffeine, and alcohol should be avoided until the digestive tract has recovered. Usually this takes one or two weeks.


Acetaminophen can be taken to control symptoms such as fever, headaches, and body aches. Aspirin and ibuprofen should be avoided, as they may cause stomach irritation.

An over-the-counter bismuth subsalicylate—such as Pepto-Bismol, or loperamide hydrochloride—such as Imodium A-D, may be taken to control diarrhea and loose stool as well.

When to be Concerned About an Upset Stomach

If you follow the above treatment regimen, most symptoms of an upset stomach should subside within 48 hours. If they don't, Crohn's disease is only one of a number of possible conditions that may be the culprit.

In addition, a physician should be consulted if any of the following symptoms are present along with an upset stomach:

  • abdominal pain that doesn't improve after either a bowel movement or vomiting
  • diarrhea or vomiting that persists for more than 24 hours
  • diarrhea or vomiting more than three times per hour
  • fever of over 101°F that doesn't improve with acetaminophen or shaking chills
  • blood in stool or vomit
  • no urination for eight or more hours
  • lightheadedness
  • rapid heartbeat
  • severe dehydration
  • inability to pass gas or complete a bowel movement
  • pus drainage from the anus