Stomach pain can range from a dull ache to a sharp twinge. It can make you feel nauseated, bloated, or full. You might have gas or diarrhea, or you might be constipated. It can bother you for a short while or for hours.
With so many kinds of belly pain, it’s no surprise that different things can cause it. Some are out of your control, like if you have appendicitis. But you can change a few habits to make other kinds less likely to happen.
If you tend to take big bites and eat without chewing well, you can swallow air, which adds gas to your stomach and can lead to stomach pain. Take time to chew slowly and swallow without rushing. This also gives your brain time to realize you’re full before you eat too much.
Change How Often You Eat
Some people get belly pain between meals when there’s no buffer for the acid in your stomach. If this happens, eat smaller meals or snacks spaced throughout the day so your stomach isn’t empty for long periods.
The opposite also can cause stomach pain. If you eat so much that you feel stuffed, your stomach is likely to hurt.
Watch What You Eat
Fatty, fried, or spicy foods could be behind your stomach woes. They can wreak havoc on your gut as your body digests them. They also can slow down the process and make you more likely to get constipated.
If you eat more nutritious foods, with a focus on veggies and fiber, you’ll digest things at a healthy speed, and your stomach will thank you.
Follow Your Hunches
If you notice your stomach always cramps up after you drink a glass of milk or eat a certain thing, see your doctor. You might have a problem with dairy products (called lactose intolerance) or another kind of food. If your doctor finds an issue in your diet, they can help you find ways to stay away from it or eat less of it.
It’s a good idea to work with your doctor on this instead of trying to figure it out on your own. You could get on the wrong track and miss out on nutrients from some foods without really needing to.
Drink More Water, Less Soda
Water helps keep things moving in your gut so you stay regular. Pay attention to your body when you’re thirsty, and have a glass of water, not soda. Carbonation can cause stomach pain because the fizz can lead to gas.
Alcoholic and caffeinated beverages can cause trouble for some people, too, so steer clear of them if they bother your stomach.
Wash Your Hands
A common cause of stomach pain is gastroenteritis, sometimes called a stomach bug or a stomach virus. It can cause diarrhea, nausea, fever, or a headache, too.
The best way to prevent the spread of germs is to wash your hands often, especially before you eat, after you go to the bathroom, and when you’ve been in public places.
Some people feel their hearts race or their palms sweat when they’re stressed or anxious. And plenty of people have stomach pain. They may feel their stomachs churn or seem to tie up in knots.
The obvious answer is to stay out of stressful situations when you can. Since that’s not always possible, you can ease stress with things like exercise, meditation, hobbies, or hanging out with friends. If those don’t work, it might help to talk with your doctor or a therapist about ways to manage it.
Consider Over-the-Counter Meds
Over-the-counter medications, sometimes called OTCs, can help you manage belly symptoms.
Two main types of OTC medications help with nausea and vomiting:
- Bismuth subsalicylate helps protect your stomach lining and is used to treat ulcers, an upset stomach, and diarrhea. It’s the active drug in brand-name medications like Kaopectate and Pepto-Bismol.
- Brand-name medications such as Dramamine and Bonine use active ingredients like diphenhydramine, meclizine, cyclizine, and dimenhydrinate to block messages to your brain related to nausea and vomiting.
For diarrhea, besides bismuth subsalicylate, loperamide (Imodium, Diamode) also helps, by slowing down fluid moving in your gut.
Several types of laxatives can help you go to the bathroom if you haven’t gone for 3 days or so. Talk to your doctor about which one is best for you:
- Bulk-forming laxatives use active ingredients like polycarbophil, psyllium, or methylcellulose to draw water into your poop so that it’s easier to pass. Drink plenty of water with these.
- Osmotic laxatives draw fluid into the bowel from the nearby tissue with active ingredients like polyethylene glycol or magnesium.
- Lubricant laxatives use mineral oil or glycerin to lubricate your stool and make it easier to pass. Some of these go directly into your rear end (suppositories).
- Stimulant laxatives cause your bowels to contract to help squeeze stool out of your body. But they are hard on your body, so it’s best not to use them for more than a couple of days.
Check with your doctor if you plan to use a laxative for more than a week or if you already have fever, nausea, or vomiting.
For heartburn -- a burning feeling in your throat or stomach -- you can try:
- Antacids, which neutralize stomach acid with ingredients like magnesium, baking soda, or calcium carbonate
- Alginic acids, which help your body form a protective barrier over inflamed areas of your gut
- H2 blockers, which help slow your body’s production of stomach acid with drugs like cimetidine (Tagamet) and famotidine (Pepcid). One type, called proton pump inhibitors, uses drugs like lansoprazole (Prevacid) and omeprazole (Prilosec). It can work for up to 24 hours.
When to Call the Doctor
Seek medical help as soon as possible if your belly pain is serious, you’re pregnant, or you also have:
- Several days of nausea or not being able to keep food down
- Breathing problems
- Blood in your poop or vomit
- Tenderness in the belly
- A recent belly injury
- Several days of pain
These symptoms may suggest an infection, bleeding, or inflammation that requires medical help right away.
Some other things that can cause stomach pain include:
- Kidney stones
- Stomach ulcers
- Irritable bowel syndrome
- Ulcerative colitis/Crohn’s disease (inflammation of your colon)
- Celiac disease (a digestive disorder that damages your colon)
- Ectopic pregnancy (when a fertilized egg is attached outside the uterus)
- Side effects of medication