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What’s Causing My Stomach Pain at Night?

Is this normal?

Key points

  1. Stomach pain is a common symptom of many conditions.
  2. In rare cases, symptoms of some cardiac events can include stomach pain.
  3. If you experience stomach pains more than once or twice a week, see your doctor.

Waking up to pain and discomfort is certainly something that no sleeper wants. Although it may not be common to wake up to stomach pain, what’s causing the stomach pain might be considered common. Use the symptoms you’re experiencing in addition to the stomach pain, to help you identify possible causes and find the treatment you need.

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Causes

What can cause stomach pain at night?

Stomach pain is a common symptom of many conditions. If you want to find out what’s causing your stomach pain, and possibly how to treat it, you need to identify any other symptoms you may be experiencing.

Gas

Most people are familiar with gas and symptoms of gas. Stomach pain is one such symptom. Many people will experience sharp, stabbing pains in their stomach and upper abdomen.

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)

Each person’s experience with IBS is very different, but many experience occasional stomach pain or abdominal pain.

In addition to stomach pain, you may also experience:

Stomach ulcer

A stomach ulcer, which is sometimes called peptic ulcer, often causes burning stomach pain. The pain may grow worse when your stomach is full or when stomach acid is present. That means the pain is often worse between meals and at night.

Diverticulitis

This condition causes small, bulging pouches of tissue to develop on the lining of your digestive system.

In addition to stomach pain, diverticulitis can also cause:

Acid reflux

Occasional acid reflux is likely the result of:

  • eating too much
  • drinking too much
  • lying flat too quickly after a meal
  • eating a food that is more likely to cause acid reflux

This includes foods that are spicy, tomato-based, and sweet, among others. Chronic acid reflux, or acid reflux that occurs more than once a week, can cause bigger problems. These problems include inflammation and scarring of the esophagus, bleeding, and esophageal ulcer.

Gallstones

Stones that develop in your gallbladder can cause stomach pain if they block your gallbladder duct. They’re more likely to do this after a big or an especially fatty meal, which often occurs at dinnertime. That may mean you experience a gallstone attack at night, or while you’re asleep.

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Sudden-onset conditions

Sudden-onset conditions that may cause stomach pain at night

Occasionally, stomach pain can begin suddenly. In some cases, this pain might be severe. These four causes may explain sudden-onset stomach pain at night:

Kidney stones

Once a kidney stone starts moving around and enters your ureter, you may experience sudden, sharp pain in your back. That pain may quickly spread to the stomach and abdominal region. Pain caused by a kidney stone shifts and changes in location and intensity as the stone moves through the urinary tract.

Viral gastroenteritis

If you've picked up this contagious virus from another person, you may experience stomach pain, vomiting, diarrhea, nausea, and fever, among other symptoms.

Food poisoning

Many people with food poisoning experience vomiting, nausea, diarrhea, or abdominal pain. Most people experience these signs and symptoms within a few hours of eating the contaminated food.

Cardiac event

It may seem unlikely, and it’s very rare, but the symptoms of some cardiac events may include stomach pain. Specifically, people who have myocardial ischemia may experience stomach pain.

In addition to more classic cardiac symptoms like neck and jaw pain, quick heartbeat, and shortness of breath, some experience gastrointestinal symptoms like stomach pain with this cardiac event.

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Treatment

How to treat this

Treatment depends entirely on the cause. For example, acid reflux may be eased with an over-the-counter (OTC) antacid, and gas pains may clear up after the gas passes.

For other conditions, however, treatment from a doctor may be necessary. In addition to needing a definitive diagnosis, your doctor will need to determine a treatment that is most likely to ease your symptoms. Most common causes of unexplained stomach pain will require treatment from a doctor.

Learn more: Is it bad to sleep on your stomach? »

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Seeking help

When to see a doctor

If you’re experiencing stomach pains more frequently, more than once or twice a week, you may be experiencing a symptom of a different condition. Try over-the-counter treatments like antacids and pain relievers.

However, if they aren’t successful or don’t provide enough relief after several days of symptoms, you should see a doctor. Many causes of stomach pain are easily treated, but you’ll need a doctor’s prescription and diagnosis.

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Outlook

What you can do now

Waking up at night because of pain isn’t a life-long sentence. You can and likely will find relief easily and quickly. But to get there, you need to make diagnosing the issue a bit easier for yourself and possibly your doctor.

Keep a journal

If you’ve been waking up with stomach pain frequently lately, start a nighttime journal. Write down what you had to eat, what symptoms you experienced during the day, and how you felt when you woke up. Keeping notes will help you and your doctor notice any patterns or detect any symptoms you might overlook in your sleepy state.

Try first-line treatments

OTC treatment options include antacids and upset stomach medications. Try those first. If they fail, it’s time to look for a different option.

Make lifestyle changes

If your stomach pain is the result of acid reflux, take stock of your behaviors that might be causing it. Overeating or drinking too much can contribute to the problem, as can being overweight or lying down to sleep too soon after a meal.

See a doctor

If the symptoms remain despite your treatments and lifestyle changes, it’s time to see your doctor. Likely whatever is causing your issues is easily treated, so don’t be afraid to get on your doctor’s calendar. The sooner you do, the sooner your nighttime stomach pain goes away for good.

Keep reading: How to recognize and react to signs of appendicitis in children »

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