Nearly everyone has overindulged while eating at one time or another. This can often lead to indigestion, fullness, and nausea. But if you’re experiencing stomach pain when eating normal amounts of food, it could be a sign of a problem.
Most causes of stomach pain and indigestion aren’t serious and don’t require medical attention. You can usually treat a mildly upset stomach at home with over-the-counter (OTC) medications.
But if your pain is moderate or severe, you should talk to a doctor. Your symptoms could be a sign of a serious underlying condition.
There are many reasons why your stomach might hurt after eating. Read on to learn more.
There are several potential causes for stomach pain after you eat. These include:
Some people can react badly to eating certain foods. After speaking with a doctor and getting tested, you may find that you’re allergic to, or intolerant of, something that you regularly eat. You may need to avoid those foods going forward.
Food allergies occur when your body mistakes a certain food for a harmful foreign invader and your immune system releases antibodies to fight it. This immune response
A food sensitivity or intolerance is when your body’s digestive system doesn’t agree with certain food. Unlike with an allergy, there’s no immune system response involved in food intolerance. If you have a food intolerance, your digestive system either gets irritated by a particular food or can’t digest it properly.
Common foods that cause intolerance include:
- Lactose: Lactose intolerance is when you have sensitivity to milk or dairy.
- Gluten: Some people are sensitive togluten, a protein that exists in grains such as wheat, barley, and others.
- FODMAPs: This is sensitivity to foods that contain different types of fermentable carbohydrates. Eating a low FODMAP diet can help reduce symptoms.
Celiac disease is when your body has an immune response to gluten — a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye. This is different from an intolerance to gluten because the immune system is involved in the reaction.
With repeated exposure, it
Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is a chronic (long-lasting) digestive condition in which stomach acid backs up into your esophagus. This acid reflux irritates the lining of your esophagus and can cause damage.
Typically the main symptom is heartburn and feeling like your food is coming back up after being swallowed, but it can also
Irritable bowel syndrome
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a common chronic condition affecting the large intestine. It can cause:
- abdominal pain
It generally requires long-term management. There are
Research has found that no specific foods
The most common symptom of an ulcer is burning stomach pain. This pain can be aggravated by spicy foods. You should also avoid drinking alcohol.
Biliary colic is an obstruction in the stomach typically caused by an obstruction in the bile duct, often by stones. The condition often develops after eating and
Typically a doctor will diagnose the condition with blood or imaging tests. The treatment is usually a cholecystectomy, which is the removal of the gallbladder.
Acute pancreatitis is the inflammation of the pancreas. It is currently the leading cause of hospitalization for gastrointestinal reasons in the United States.
This condition can cause pain in the abdomen that radiates to the back. Causes
The treatment depends on the cause, but can often involve intravenous fluids and pain-relieving medications.
Sugar alcohols, which oddly contain neither sugar nor alcohol, are artificial sweeteners used in many sugar-free gums and candies. Sugar alcohols, like sorbitol, are food additives regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
The FDA warns that excessive consumption of sorbitol can have a laxative effect. If you eat a lot of food containing these additives, you may experience bloating or diarrhea.
Constipation happens when stool moves too slowly through the digestive tract and cannot be eliminated normally. Chronic constipation — several weeks with three or fewer bowel movements — can
After you eat, when your body is trying to digest new food, your symptoms may get worse. To relieve constipation, try to eat more foods that contain fiber and drink a lot of water.
Learn how to treat constipation here.
Indigestion, which is also called dyspepsia or upset stomach, loosely describes a negative reaction in the digestive system to a particular food.
Indigestion can happen for many reasons. It is not a disease by itself, but it can be a symptom of an underlying condition. If you experience frequent indigestion after eating, speak to a doctor to find the cause.
The triggers of indigestion can also be nutritional and
- consuming too much alcohol or caffeine
- eating too much or too fast in one meal
- eating spicy, greasy, or acidic foods
There are many different types of stomach pain and upset. You’ve probably experienced many of them before.
Some common symptoms include:
- abdominal cramping
- acid reflux
- uncomfortable fullness after a meal
- early fullness during a meal
- bloating, or tightness in the abdomen
- mild to severe pain in the upper abdomen
- burning in the lower abdomen
- burning and pain in the chest or arm
- partial regurgitation of stomach contents
If you or someone you know is having severe stabbing pain, it could be a medical emergency. Seek immediate medical care.
Dehydration is also a medical emergency. If you’re unable to consume liquids without vomiting or are having severe and persistent diarrhea, you may need to go to the emergency room for intravenous (IV) fluids.
Your doctor might be able to diagnose the cause of your stomach pain simply by hearing about your symptoms. Sometimes, however, more invasive tests may be necessary. This could
If you suspect that you have a food intolerance, trial and error is often the best way to identify it. You may want to keep a food diary to keep track of your symptoms. Your doctor might also recommend an elimination diet.
If you’re experiencing stomach pain after eating, you may already have tried a few at-home treatments. If you haven’t found anything that works, it could be because you haven’t pinpointed the right underlying cause.
Ultimately, treatment for stomach pain will depend on what’s causing it. If you think you may have a food allergy, you should be evaluated by an allergist for correct diagnosis. If you have a food intolerance, you should try to avoid that food as much as possible.
A lactose-free diet may sound unappealing at first, but there are ways to make it work. You might want to consider seeing a nutritionist or picking up a cookbook with lactose-free recipes.
If you think you may have an issue with gluten, you shouldn’t go gluten-free until you’ve been evaluated by a gastroenterologist and have ruled out celiac disease. Testing for celiac disease should be done while on a diet that contains gluten.
Many of the uncomfortable symptoms of post-meal stomach pain can be managed with OTC medications. As always, talk to a doctor before starting any new medication, even if it doesn’t require a prescription.
Here are a few over-the-counter treatment options:
- Simethicone (Gas-X) helps relieve uncomfortable bloating.
- Antacids (Alka-Seltzer, Rolaids, Tums) neutralize stomach acid to reduce burning feelings.
- Acid-reducers (Pepcid) reduce the production of stomach acid for up to 12 hours.
- Beano helps prevent gas.
- Antidiarrheals (Imodium) stop diarrhea and its associated symptoms.
- Lansoprazole and esomeprazole (Prevacid, Prilosec) block acid production and help heal the esophagus when taken daily.
- Pepto-Bismol coats the lining of the esophagus to reduce burning and treat nausea and diarrhea.
- Diphenhydramine (Benadryl) fights symptoms associated with an allergic immune response and helps treat nausea and vomiting.
- Laxatives and stool softeners relieve occasional constipation and associated bloating.
- Acetaminophen (Tylenol) relieves pain without irritating the stomach like aspirin, ibuprofen, and naproxen can.
- Probiotics aid in overall digestive health by introducing more good bacteria into your system.
- Fiber supplements (Metamucil, Benefiber) help produce normal bowel movements and prevent constipation, though they can cause gas and bloating.
Possible complications will depend on what’s causing your stomach pain. Food allergies can lead to a severe allergic reaction known as anaphylaxis, which can cause you to stop breathing. Anaphylaxis is a medical emergency.
Biliary colic and acute pancreatitis can, in some cases, lead to sepsis, biliary necrosis, pancreatic abscess, a cystic lesion, or necrosis in the pancreas.
There are several things you may be able to do to prevent stomach pain after eating.
There are a lot of things that could be causing your stomach to hurt after eating. It’s likely that you have common indigestion or heartburn and will benefit from OTC medications. But if your symptoms have persisted for several weeks, you may have a chronic condition and should consult your doctor as soon as possible.
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