Stomach pain or an ache in the abdominal region can be difficult to cope with at the best of times. But when it strikes every time you eat a meal or snack, it affects your appetite and even your interest in food.
The reasons for the pain could be numerous, but here's a look at some of the top causes. Natural remedies and mainstream treatment is available for these problems and can help soothe the pain and get to the heart of the problem.
Gluten intolerance, celiac disease, and non-celiac gluten sensitivity can all result in pain and cramping after you consume any product containing gluten. Your body could react adversely to wheat, couscous, barley, rye, and products made from them like bread, pasta, or flour. Your body sees this particular food protein as a threat and starts a stress response or immunological response to the offending food. The pain isn't long-lasting and wanes as the food moves out of your body. Symptoms for all these conditions are similar and may include diarrhoea or constipation, excessive wind, nausea, and vomiting, besides cramps and pain in the stomach.
Lactose intolerance is a similar problem triggered by lactose-containing foods like milk, cheese, yogurt, or ice cream. Lactose, the sugar found in milk, can cause bad pain and cramps in the stomach and may also result in bloating, flatulence, and diarrhoea. Your best bet to manage food intolerance is to avoid foods that you are sensitive to.
Food allergies cause your body to get into its "fight" mode, triggering immune system responses. These sometimes cause very severe reactions - unlike food intolerance where reactions tend to be milder. If a food does not agree with you, you experience an allergic reaction which may include stomach pain and cramps. In fact, stomach pain is one of the milder symptoms, and so are things like mild rashes, runny nose or watery eyes, diarrhoea, vomiting, and nausea. If you experience more severe reactions like wheezing/shortness of breath, difficulty swallowing, swelling of the tongue, lips, or throat, trouble breathing, falling blood pressure, feeling faint, or a chest pain, seek emergency medical care.
Common allergens include tree nuts, peanuts, sesame, wheat, soy, milk, fish, and shellfish. If you have eaten any of these and feel the pain right after, the food allergy may be to blame.
Food poisoning and tummy bugs
Eating food contaminated by bacteria or virus can bring on what we all know as "food poisoning." This is marked by all or some of these symptoms - cramps or pain in the abdominal region, nausea, diarrhoea, vomiting, dehydration, and fever. You may contract this from uncooked/raw food, food that's not been properly prepared or thoroughly cooked or even contaminated water or juices.
E. coli is one of the most common offenders found in raw/undercooked meat, especially beef, raw vegetables or fruits, juices, unpasteurized milk, and contaminated water. It can cause pain and severe diarrhoea within a day of consuming food that's contaminated. B. cereus, another culprit in bacterial infections, causes similar symptoms when you have raw/undercooked poultry, contaminated water, or unpasteurized milk.
A peptic ulcer in your stomach (gastric ulcer) or in the initial section of the small intestine (duodenal ulcer) is another possibility. Besides the pain and discomfort after meals or during the day, you may find the pain keeps you up or causes you to wake up at night.
Depending on how soon after a meal you feel the pain, you can tell if it's a gastric or duodenal ulcer. A gastric ulcer is usually experienced almost immediately after you eat something (within an hour), but a duodenal one will take longer to hurt. This is because the food will need at least 45 minutes to an hour to wind its way down through your digestive system to the small intestine. When you have an ulcer, the lining of the stomach or intestine becomes swollen or inflamed. When food presses against it as it passes through, it causes you pain.
These ulcers usually result from H. pylori bacteria stomach infections, tobacco usage/smoking, excess alcohol consumption, radiation treatment, or regular use of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen or aspirin.
Gastroesophageal reflux disease
If the pain is toward the top of the abdomen, it could actually be pain in the lower chest and upper stomach due to gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). This pain or "heartburn" can occur when you eat certain foods like fatty food. The problem is due to a weak valve connecting the stomach and the oesophagus. This lets food and stomach acids to back up and splash, causing acid reflux and pain in the chest and upper stomach.
Irritable Bowel Syndrome
Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) involves discomfort and pain in the abdominal area, as well as altered bowel movement patterns. Certain things like fatty food or inadequate fibre in your diet can make constipation worse and add to your pain. Caffeine and artificial sweeteners can also cause problems, with symptoms worsening after you consume these problematic foods. Large portion sizes or huge meals can also make matters worse.
Crohn's disease is an inflammatory bowel disease that causes chronic inflammation in the gastrointestinal tract. Among the symptoms is pain and cramping that can go from mild to severe, depending on how bad your condition is. If it's Crohn's, you'll also feel fatigue and lose your appetite. You may also lose weight without reason and have diarrhoea very often, sometimes accompanied by rectal bleeding and fever. Large meals and fibre-rich foods can stimulate contractions in the large intestine and cause pain. Lactose and fat may also be hard to digest for some people with Crohn's. Watch how your body reacts after a meal or snack that contains these and cut these from your diet if required.
If your abdominal pain is triggered by fatty foods and is located in the central section of your abdomen or just beneath your ribs, to the right, it may be due to gallstones. These tiny stones formed from cholesterol can get stuck in the duct leading to the intestine, cause you a lot of pain, and leave the gallbladder inflamed. You may experience it once and then never have the pain for a few months. But other symptoms like nausea, vomiting, or excessive sweating may be present.
If the pain lasts over 8 hours you may need immediate medical care. When it gets more severe, the pain intensifies and you may also have a fever of 38°C or higher. You could also become jaundiced with the white of the eyes and skin yellowing. Being overweight or having high cholesterol levels in the bile can cause these stones to form.