Whether you call it a stomachache, tummy troubles, or abdominal pain, all of us experience some form of discomfort in our belly at one time or another.
With your digestive system housing your large and small intestines, your pancreas, your liver and your gallbladder, there are plenty of organs in the stomach region that can develop issues and cause you discomfort. Pain can also occur in your abdominal wall, which is the skin and muscle tissue that make up the outer shell of your abdomen, per Cleveland Clinic. The care center also notes that sometimes pain that’s felt in your belly can also be related to an issue in your chest, pelvis, or spine.
It’s no wonder then that stomach pain is so common – especially when you consider how much everything you eat affects matters.
Why does my stomach hurt after I eat?
A number of factors can cause stomach pain after eating. These include bloating, overindulging or constipation. Discomfort can also be caused by the specific foods we eat. “The food we eat can be one of the most influential things on how the stomach feels because the stomach is the organ that primarily digests food,” explains Dr. Uma Naidoo, director of nutritional and lifestyle psychiatry at Massachusetts General Hospital and the author of “Calm Your Mind with Food.”
Some people also experience issues due to food sensitivities, intolerances or allergies. Lactose intolerance, for instance, is a condition where a person lacks the enzyme needed to properly digest a sugar present in milk and dairy products known as lactose. “Consuming dairy when intolerant can lead to gas, bloating, and stomach pain,” says Jen Messer, a nutrition consultant and registered dietitian at Jen Messer Nutrition. Allergies or other conditions require the avoidance of many other foods or ingredients such as gluten, nuts or shellfish for some people.
Acid reflux, overeating, or eating too quickly can also lead to stomach pain. Eating raw meat or contaminated food can cause food-borne illness and corresponding stomach issues.
What foods are hardest on your stomach?
Many specific kinds of food are also known to cause issues. “There are certain foods that more commonly upset the stomach than others,” says Naidoo. She says these tend to include ultra-processed foods that are high in added sugars, artificial ingredients, and processed seed oils like packaged snacks, baked goods and fast foods. “All of these foods are new to human consumption over the past century and are not substances that we evolved eating, so they can be difficult to process for some people,” Naidoo says. “Certain foods can lead to digestive upset for some while being easier to digest for others depending on the unique function of each individual’s microbiome,” she adds.
Messer says that consuming greasy, spicy, acidic and high-fat foods can either cause stomach to rise into one’s esophagus, slow digestion, or lead to other forms of discomfort. Sugar alcohols like erythritol, mannitol and sorbitol, plus dehydration, caffeine and alcoholic beverages have also been shown to cause stomach issues and pain in some people. Even excessive consumption of fiber-rich foods like beans and cruciferous vegetables, “particularly if the body is not used to it, can lead to bloating and gas,” says Messer.
Of course, food and drink aren’t the only things we put in our bodies that may cause digestive issues. “If you are taking any over-the-counter remedies, supplements or prescription medications, consult with your healthcare provider and check if they might be causing your stomach discomfort,” advises Messer.
How do I know if my stomach pain is serious?
Messer also recommends keeping a food diary to track reactions to specific foods. “If you experience stomach aches, it may be helpful to identify the specific foods or situations that trigger your symptoms,” she says.
But discomfort related to bloating isn’t nearly as worrisome as some other causes of abdominal pain. One study shows that abdominal pain is the most common reason for visits to the emergency room. Conditions diagnosed in such settings are often more serious than dietary-related pain, Naidoo says, and some can be life threatening.
Per Mayo Clinic, serious conditions or causes of stomach pain include aortic aneurysm, appendicitis, cystitis (irritation of the bladder), ectopic pregnancy, heart attack, kidney infection or kidney stones, liver abscess, pancreatitis, pneumonia, a ruptured spleen, shingles, a torn colon, urinary tract infection, or personal injury.
More serious issues can be identified if stomach pain is severe, sudden, progresses, is related to an accident, or hasn’t been felt before. “If you experience persistent or severe stomach aches, or if your symptoms are accompanied by fever, vomiting or significant changes in bowel habits, it is important to seek medical attention,” advises Messer. “Your healthcare provider can check for worrisome conditions and offer you personalized medical advice to help you feel better.”
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