Smoking damages the digestive system, which can lead to chronic inflammation and stomach pain. Quitting smoking can provide relief for stomach pain as well as other health benefits.

Smoking has negative health effects on the entire body. This includes increasing the risk of cardiovascular disease, respiratory disease, and cancer.

The toxic chemicals in cigarettes also damage the digestive system, which can lead to chronic inflammation and stomach pain.

In fact, smoking is a major cause of stomach pain and gastrointestinal (GI) conditions. These include Crohn’s disease, gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), and peptic ulcers.

Among other digestive issues, stomach pain is a common symptom of many GI conditions.

Here, we’ll explore the connection between smoking and stomach pain, including causes, conditions, and the benefits of quitting.

Cigarette smoke generates more than 7,000 toxic compounds, including over 60 that are classified as carcinogenic and mutagenic.

When inhaled, lightweight chemicals — such as carbon monoxide — immediately enter the lungs and circulatory system. Heavier compounds, such as nicotine, are absorbed by the mucous membranes, the skin, and the digestive system.

In the digestive system, this leads to tissue damage and other harmful effects in many organs, including the esophagus, liver, and stomach. As a result, smoking contributes to a variety of digestive system conditions associated with stomach pain.

Here’s a closer look at how smoking affects organs in the digestive system.

Esophagus

The esophagus is the long, tube-shaped organ that takes food to your stomach. Smoking weakens a muscle called the lower esophageal sphincter, which keeps the stomach contents from moving back into the esophagus.

This weakening can allow stomach acid to flow back up into the esophagus, leading to heartburn and damage to the lining of the esophagus.

Liver

The liver performs many important functions in the digestive system, such as producing blood proteins and bile, converting food into energy, and filtering alcohol and toxins from the blood.

However, research suggests that smoking reduces the liver’s ability to process alcohol, medications, and other toxins and remove them from the blood.

Other studies suggest that smoking worsens liver conditions and increases the risk of liver cancer, which can lead to stomach pain.

Stomach

Smoking increases the production of enzymes, acids, and other substances that may harm the lining of the stomach and duodenum, which is the first part of the small intestine. This can cause sores called peptic ulcers to develop on the lining of those organs.

Research suggests that smoking also increases the risk of Helicobacter pylori infection, which is a common cause of peptic ulcers.

Common symptoms of peptic ulcers include stomach pain, bloating, and nausea.

Pancreas

Smoking increases the risk of inflammation of the pancreas. This condition is known as pancreatitis.

Pancreatitis can cause severe stomach pain that may spread to the back or chest.

Gallbladder

Some research suggests that smoking increases the risk of developing gallbladder disease and cancer in the bile ducts (cholangiocarcinoma).

Some gallbladder issues can cause sudden, severe pain in the upper abdomen that can last from 30 minutes to several hours.

Colon

Studies also suggest that smoking increases the risk of developing colon polyps. These are growths on the inside of the colon. Most colon polyps are not cancerous, but some can become cancerous over time.

A large colon polyp can cause a blockage in the bowel, leading to cramping and stomach pain.

According to some research, smoking is a major risk factor for the following digestive conditions.

Crohn’s disease

Crohn’s disease is an inflammatory bowel condition. It’s characterized by chronic inflammation of the GI tract.

Common symptoms of Crohn’s disease include:

  • diarrhea
  • stomach pain
  • bloody stools
  • weight loss
  • fatigue

Treatment for Crohn’s disease can include prescription medications such as immunomodulators, corticosteroids, and biologics.

In some cases, a doctor may recommend surgery to remove parts of the GI tract.

Gastroesophageal reflux disease

GERD occurs when stomach contents come back up into the esophagus. While this occurrence affects many people from time to time, GERD is a more severe and chronic condition.

Symptoms of GERD include:

  • heartburn
  • regurgitation
  • chest pain
  • nausea
  • difficulty swallowing
  • chronic cough

Treatment for GERD may include lifestyle changes, such as quitting smoking and changing your eating habits, as well as medications like antacids, H2 blockers, and proton pump inhibitors (PPIs).

Your doctor may recommend surgery if your symptoms don’t improve with lifestyle changes or medications.

Peptic ulcer disease

Peptic ulcer disease occurs when painful sores develop in the lining of the stomach or duodenum.

Common symptoms of peptic ulcers include:

  • severe pain in the middle or upper stomach
  • heartburn
  • bloating
  • nausea
  • vomiting

In most cases, treatment involves H2 blockers, PPIs, antibiotics, or protective medications that cover the ulcer like a bandage to prevent further damage.

Cancers of the GI tract

Smoking increases the risk of developing cancers in the GI tract, including in the:

Symptoms of these cancers can include:

  • stomach pain
  • trouble swallowing
  • low appetite
  • bloating
  • heartburn
  • indigestion
  • nausea

If you experience any of these symptoms, speak with your doctor. They can perform tests to determine if the symptoms may be related to cancer.

Quitting smoking is beneficial at any age, regardless of how long you’ve been smoking.

Some of the many health benefits include:

  • improved overall health and quality of life
  • increased life expectancy by up to 10 years
  • reduced risk of cardiovascular disease
  • reduced risk of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease
  • reduced risk of 12 different types of cancer
  • reduced risk of low fertility or infertility

It can be challenging to quit smoking, but there are many effective strategies and treatments to help you. These include:

  • individual or group counseling, which can help you make a plan to quit and prepare you to cope with withdrawal symptoms
  • nicotine replacement therapy, such as patches, gum, lozenges, inhalers, or nasal sprays
  • prescription medications, such as varenicline or bupropion

Smoking causes damage to the whole body, including your digestive system. This can lead to digestive issues like stomach pain, chronic inflammation, and peptic ulcers.

The best way to prevent these harmful effects is to quit smoking. Speak with your doctor to learn about effective strategies to quit.