If you’re experiencing a burning sensation in your belly, you’re not alone. Many people report a very specific burning, or “gnawing” ache in their stomach.
Usually, this type of pain is caused by another health problem or a lifestyle choice.
Sometimes, the burning feeling is accompanied by other symptoms, but not always. Several conditions can cause a burning stomach, but the good news is, there are ways to treat your discomfort.
Read on to learn more about what might be causing your burning stomach, and how you can find relief.
Some common gastrointestinal problems that might cause a burning stomach include:
Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) happens when stomach acid flows back into your esophagus. It can cause a burning sensation in your chest or stomach along with chest pain, difficulty swallowing, and a chronic cough.
If GERD goes untreated, it can lead to a precancerous condition known as Barrett’s esophagus.
Certain foods, drinks, or ingredients can worsen GERD. These may include:
- fatty and fried foods
- mint flavorings
- spicy foods
- tomato-based foods
Gastritis is a condition that causes inflammation in the lining of your stomach. In addition to a burning stomach, you might also experience:
- a feeling of fullness after eating
Sometimes, gastritis can lead to stomach ulcers, stomach bleeding, and an increased risk for stomach cancer.
H. pylori infection
Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) infection happens when bacteria infect your stomach. About two-thirds of people worldwide have H. pylori.
Many people don’t have symptoms, but some experience:
- burning stomach
- loss of appetite
- weight loss
- frequent burping
H. pylori infection is a major cause of stomach ulcers and can increase a person’s risk for developing stomach cancer.
Peptic ulcers are sores that develop on the inside lining of your stomach and upper portion of your small intestine. Burning stomach pain is the most common symptom of an ulcer, but you may also experience:
- a feeling of fullness
- intolerance to certain foods
Some people with peptic ulcers don’t experience bothersome issues. Stress and spicy foods don’t cause ulcers, but they can worsen your symptoms.
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
IBS is an intestinal disorder that causes abdominal discomfort, and sometimes, a burning pain. Other symptoms include:
- mucus in the stool
- cramping or bloating
IBS affects 25 to 45 million people in the United States. The exact cause of the condition isn’t known.
Indigestion, which is also known as dyspepsia, or simply an upset stomach, means you have discomfort in your upper abdomen. It can be a symptom of another digestive problem.
A burning stomach is one common complaint in people with indigestion. Other symptoms might include:
- fullness after eating
- feeling full without eating much
Certain medicines, especially nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDS), can cause gastrointestinal issues, which may lead to a burning pain in your stomach.
Popular NSAIDS include:
- celecoxib (Celebrex)
- ibuprofen (Motrin, Advil)
- naproxen (Aleve, Naprosyn)
- indomethacin (Indocin)
- ketoprofen (Orudis, Oruvail)
- oxaprozin (Daypro)
Talk to your doctor if you experience any stomach pain while taking an NSAID.
A hernia happens when an organ pushes through the muscle or tissue around it. There are many types of hernias, and some can cause a burning sensation where the bulge occurs.
Other symptoms of a hernia depend on the type you have and may include:
- pain or discomfort near the affected area
- pain when lifting
- a feeling of fullness
Reactions to foods
Reactions or intolerances to certain foods might cause stomach burning in some individuals.
For example, if you’re lactose intolerant, you don’t produce enough of the necessary enzyme to digest lactose in milk. Consuming milk products can cause nausea, bloating, cramping, or a burning stomach.
Likewise, when people with celiac disease eat gluten — a protein found in wheat — their bodies attack their small intestine. They might experience intestinal symptoms, such as diarrhea, weight loss, or bloating.
Cigarette smoking affects your entire body. People who smoke are more likely to develop stomach burning and digestive problems, such as:
- peptic ulcers
- Crohn’s disease
According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, approximately one-fifth of all U.S. adults smoke, and each year, about 443,000 Americans die from illnesses caused by cigarette smoking.
- peptic ulcers
- other gastrointestinal problems
Some people also have alcohol intolerance, a condition that inhibits the body from digesting alcohol.
Sometimes, cancer can cause a burning sensation in your stomach. Other symptoms of stomach cancer include:
- feeling full after eating a meal or small amounts of food
- severe heartburn or indigestion
- weight loss
It’s a good idea to see your doctor if your stomach discomfort lasts for more than a few days.
Your physician might ask about your symptoms and perform a physical exam or X-ray. In some cases, an endoscopy, a procedure that lets your doctor look inside your stomach with a tube and small camera, is done to find a cause.
A breath or stool test is typically given to diagnose an H. pylori infection.
You should seek immediate medical help if you experience burning stomach pain along with other serious symptoms, including:
- black, bloody, or tarry stools
- severe abdominal pain
- trouble swallowing or breathing
- severe vomiting or vomiting up blood
- feeling a mass in your stomach area
- unexplained weight loss
- fever that accompanies your stomach pain
- swelling in your abdomen
- yellowing of the eyes or skin
- pain that interferes with sleep
Treatment options depend on what’s causing your stomach to burn.
For GERD, gastritis, indigestion, ulcers, and IBS
Over-the-counter (OTC) and prescription medications are often recommended to help relieve symptoms of GERD, gastritis, indigestion, ulcers, and IBS.
For H. pylori
Antibiotics are an effective remedy for treating H. pylori infection.
For acid reflux and hernias
Sometimes, surgery is used to help severe cases of acid reflux and to repair hernias.
If your stomach pain is caused by NSAIDs, your doctor might recommend that you use an alternative pain-relieving medicine, such as acetaminophen (Tylenol).
You might also want to consider the following options to prevent stomach pain:
- quitting smoking
- avoiding or limiting alcohol consumption
- reducing stress levels
- steering clear of foods that irritate your stomach
- not eating right before bedtime if you have acid reflux
- elevating your head while sleeping to reduce nighttime symptoms
- taking your time to chew your food
- avoiding medications that worsen symptoms
- eating smaller, more frequent meals
- maintaining a healthy weight
Stomach burning is a common problem caused by various health issues, foods, and lifestyle. Most of the time, this symptom can be effectively treated if you can identify a cause.
You don’t have to live with the discomfort of a burning stomach. It’s important to see your doctor to figure out what’s causing your pain and come up with an effective treatment plan.