Everyone experiences stomach pain at some point. The pain can be a cramping sensation that leaves you curled up in a fetal position, or a dull, intermittent ache that comes and goes.
But while abdominal pain can be episodic and occur at anytime, you may experience pain primarily in the mornings. The underlying cause could be something you ate the night before, inflammation, or your intestines preparing for a bowel movement.
Even though morning stomach pain is probably nothing to worry about, you shouldn’t ignore a severe ache that doesn’t go away. Persistent pain could indicate a serious problem, so seek medical attention immediately.
Here’s a look at 10 potential causes of morning stomach pain.
A stomach ulcer is a sore that develops in the lining of your stomach. It can cause a burning or dull pain in the middle of the stomach, in the space between your chest and belly button.
Pain can happen any time, but you might have increased discomfort in the mornings because pain can occur when the stomach is empty.
An over-the-counter antacid or acid blocker can relieve symptoms, but you should see a doctor if symptoms worsen or persist.
If an ulcer causes a hole in the abdominal wall, emergency surgery may be needed.
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a condition that affects the large intestines. It can cause pain on the lower right or lower left side of the stomach. Other symptoms include:
- diarrhea or constipation
- excessive gas
- mucus in the stool
Certain foods and stress can trigger IBS, so you may experience worsening symptoms in the morning if you’re worried or stressed about school or work.
There’s no cure for IBS, but lifestyle habits may improve symptoms. Avoid trigger foods, including:
- carbonated drinks
- fried or fatty foods
Other good lifestyle habits are:
- getting regular exercise
- practicing stress management
- taking a fiber supplement or anti-diarrheal medication
Some medications are approved for people with IBS, so talk to your doctor if symptoms don’t improve with home remedies.
Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is an umbrella term for two conditions: Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. Both can cause stomach pain around the belly button or the lower right abdomen, and some people experience pain in the mornings.
Crohn’s disease can affect the entire digestive tract and causes other symptoms, such as:
- weight loss
Stress and certain foods and drinks can make symptoms worse, such as carbonated drinks and high-fiber foods.
Ulcerative colitis, on the other hand, affects only the colon, also known as the large intestine. Symptoms include:
- bloody diarrhea
- increased bowel urgency
- low energy
- weight loss
Since there’s no cure for IBD, the goal of treatment is reducing inflammation and improving symptoms. Your doctor may prescribe an anti-inflammatory medication, an immunosuppressant, or an antibiotic.
Keeping a food diary can also help you isolate foods and beverages that trigger flares.
Constipation refers to fewer than three bowel movements a week. Irregular bowel activity can lead to trapped gas in your intestinal tract, resulting in severe cramping in the lower abdomen in the morning and at other times of the day.
Other symptoms include straining to have a bowel movement or feeling as if you haven’t completely emptied your rectum.
A sedentary lifestyle can trigger constipation. Increased physical activity may provide natural relief by stimulating intestinal contractions. In addition, a stool softener or fiber supplement, and eating more fruits and vegetables may improve symptoms.
See a doctor for constipation that lasts longer than two weeks.
Inflammation of the pancreas can cause pain in your upper abdomen, with pain radiating to your back. The pain is sometimes worse after eating, so you may experience discomfort after eating breakfast.
Other symptoms include nausea, vomiting, and a fever. Although mild pancreatitis may improve on its own or with an over-the-counter pain reliever, see a doctor for persistent pain that doesn’t improve.
Your doctor may prescribe medication to control inflammation or an enzyme supplement to help your body break down nutrients in food. Eating a low-fat diet can prevent future flares. Include foods such as:
- whole grains
- lean protein
Diverticular disease is when small pockets or sacs develop in the wall of your large intestine. Diverticulitis occurs when one of these sacs becomes infected or inflamed, causing pain in the lower left abdomen.
Other symptoms can include:
Diverticulitis may or may not cause symptoms. Persistent and severe pain typically requires medical treatment. Your doctor can prescribe an antibiotic to treat the infection, or you might need an outpatient procedure to drain an abscess.
In severe cases, surgery may be necessary to remove the affected part of the colon. Diverticulitis pain may be worse in the morning and improve after passing gas or having a bowel movement.
Gallstones are hard deposits of digestive fluid in the gallbladder. Some people don’t have any symptoms, whereas others have intense pain in the upper abdomen or the middle abdomen below the breastbone.
Pain can also radiate to the right shoulder and shoulder blade. See a doctor for sudden, severe abdominal pain. Your doctor can give you medication to dissolve gallstones. If symptoms don’t improve, you may need surgery to remove the gallbladder. Pain may be worse at night and in the mornings.
Food allergies can also cause stomach pain. Common food allergens include:
A food allergy can cause symptoms like:
- stomach cramps
- swelling of the tongue
Stomach pain caused by a food allergy might be worse in the morning if you consume trigger foods before bed, although symptoms can occur anytime of the day.
If you have Celiac disease — an autoimmune disease where gluten causes inflammation in the small intestines — you may have stomach pain in the morning along with other symptoms like:
An antihistamine might relieve some symptoms of a food allergy, such as hives, swelling, and itching. But it’s still important to identify and avoid foods that trigger a reaction because severe allergic reactions can lead to anaphylaxis.
This is a life-threatening reaction that can cause breathing difficulty and a dangerous drop in blood pressure.
See a doctor if you develop hives, itching, or wheezing after eating certain foods. A skin or blood test can confirm or rule out a food allergy.
Indigestion can cause pain in the upper abdomen, bloating, and nausea. Keep in mind that indigestion is a symptom of another condition, such as acid reflux, ulcers, or gallbladder disease.
Symptoms can occur after eating, so you may have stomach pain in the morning after breakfast. See a doctor if indigestion continues for more than two weeks, or if it’s accompanied by weight loss, vomiting, or black stools.
Eating smaller meals, regular exercise, and stress management may improve indigestion.
This infection of the female reproductive organs can cause:
- lower pelvic pain
- vaginal discharge
- painful urination or intercourse
Pelvic pain can occur any time of the day, but it may occur in the mornings for some women.
See doctor if you experience any stomach pain accompanied by a fever or foul vaginal discharge. Bacteria typically causes PID, so your doctor may prescribe an antibiotic.
Although stomach pain happens to everyone, you shouldn’t ignore stomach pain that’s persistent, sudden, or gradually worse. Seek immediate medical attention, especially when pain includes vomiting, bloody stools, or a fever.
Morning stomach pain can be caused by something as simple as constipation or gas, or it could be a sign of a condition that requires a special diet, prescription medication, or surgery.