Stomach pain is something that almost everyone feels at one time or another. People with stomach pain (also called abdominal pain) most often have muscle strain, gas pain or an upset stomach. (1) Stomach pain is a general term that covers many conditions. Here we cover many of the most common reasons you may have stomach pain, as well as a few conventional and natural strategies for dealing with it.
What Is Stomach Pain?
Stomach pain may actually come from nearby organs, such as the gallbladder, the appendix, your bowels or the pancreas. (3)
Because stomach pain is so common, it’s important to note your symptoms and also the timing of the pain. A stomach ache may disappear in a few hours, come and go or get worse over time. If pain is severe or getting worse quickly, see your doctor.
Signs and Symptoms
- Muscle strain, which you may feel as pain while sprinting or twisting the upper body or while laughing, coughing or sneezing
- Full or bloated stomach, which may be gas pain
- Indigestion, which may include a feeling such as heartburn or an acidic stomach and is also called an upset stomach
Other common symptoms related to stomach pain include:
- Nausea (feeling like you are going to vomit)
- Stomach cramps
Less common symptoms include:
- Severe stomach pain, which may be sudden and sharp
- Pain after every meal
- Ongoing vomiting or diarrhea
- Vomit with blood in it
- Stool with blood in it
- Stomach area that is hard and tender to the touch
- Pain in your chest, neck or shoulder
Causes and Risk Factors
Stomach pain may come from one or several causes. Many causes of stomach pain are simple to treat at home. The location of your abdominal pain can be a clue to what might be wrong.
Sometimes severe stomach pain requires a trip to the doctor or even a trip to the emergency room (ER). In a clinical study of ER visits for stomach pain, doctors often ruled the cause to be “nonspecific abdominal pain,” which means the cause could not be found. Another common cause of emergency visits for stomach pain is a kidney stone that blocks part of the urinary tract (called renal colic). Together, these two conditions accounted for about 60 percent of all ER visits for abdominal pain. (7)
Older people (over age 65 years) had more bile-duct blockage, gallbladder inflammation and diverticulitis — pouches that arise in the colon wall. People younger than 65 years had more appendix attacks than older people.
- Food poisoning
- Food allergy and celiac disease
- Stomach flu and other infections, like Helicobacter pylori, which is related to stomach ulcers
Less common causes include: (10)
- Stomach ulcer
- Stomach inflammation (gastritis) — a gnawing or burning feeling that could become better or worse when eating. The inflammation and symptoms caused by gastritis are often from a bacterial infection that also causes most stomach ulcers over time. Using alcohol or certain pain relievers — such as aspirin or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) — may cause more pain. Stomach inflammation symptoms like a recurring upset stomach, bloating, pain, hiccups and vomiting blood should not be ignored, because gastritis may lead to increased risk of stomach cancer
- Stomach cancer
- Some medicines may cause stomach pain, including antibiotics, iron supplements, some cholesterol drugs and chemotherapy
Outside of the stomach, abdominal pain is also found in specific areas. Some conditions, such as ovary pain, can be on the left or right side.
Upper stomach pain and lower stomach pain are separate because of the many different organs that could be involved in one area. The organ location also makes a difference, so we break down right-side stomach pain and left-side stomach pain. Common causes of stomach pain in different areas of the abdomen include the lists below.
Upper Stomach Pain:
- Heartburn or acid reflux
- Esophagus pain
- Bile duct pain
- Gallbladder pain, gallstones and gallbladder attack symptoms
- Kidney stones
- Pancreatic pain (left upper side)
- Heart pain (angina)
- Liver pain (hepatitis)
- Hiatal hernia, when the upper part of the stomach pushes through your diaphragm and into your chest
Lower Stomach Pain:
- Period cramps
- Egg release from ovary (ovulation)
- Pain in the uterus lining (endometriosis)
- Pelvic inflammatory disease
- Pregnancy in a fallopian tube instead of the uterus (ectopic pregnancy)
- Cramps during pregnancy, which should be checked by your doctor if they are severe
- Irritable bowel syndrome
- Inflammatory bowel disease
- Crohn’s disease
- Pancreatitis (may also feel like more central or lower pain)
- Diverticulitis (pouches in the colon)
- Prostate pain
- Appendicitis — go to your doctor with severe pain
- Inguinal hernia — when a part of your small intestine pushes through a weak spot of your lower abdomen
- Gallstones — this may be felt as upper right side stomach pain
Left-Side Stomach Pain: (13)
- Diverticulitis – pain often in left lower side
- Crohn’s disease – pain can also be in the left and center of the stomach area
- Pancreatic pain – left, upper-side stomach pain
- Too much coffee or caffeinated drinks
- Too much alcohol
- Spicy foods
- Out-of-date or contaminated food
- Eating foods you may be allergic to, such as wheat
- Eating too much fruit or carbohydrates if you have fructose intolerance, a condition where you cannot digest fructose well (fructose is a sugar often found in fruits, honey and some vegetables)
- Drinks and foods containing dairy products (if you have lactose intolerance, where you cannot digest the sugar in milk and may feel gassy or bloated)
- Processed foods, smoked or salted meats or fish, and pickled vegetables
- Stomach ulcers
- Tobacco use
- Being overweight or obese
- Certain occupations; workers in metal, coal and rubber industry have higher risk of stomach cancer
- Abdominal surgery
- Gastroesophageal reflux disease, called GERD
- Having your period
- Stress from work or life situations
- Psychological distress
- High level of anxiety about your health
- Some medications
- Some illegal drugs
Many conventional treatments are available if you have stomach pain. The key will be figuring out the source of your pain. Below are some of the conventional treatments for stomach pain by cause or primary symptom:
- Heartburn or GERD: antacid medication or a drug that reduces acid
- Constipation: fiber product that dissolves in water or laxatives
- Diarrhea: hydration and a bland diet (Note: call your doctor if the diarrhea lasts more than a few days or if your stool contains large amounts of blood or pus)
- Pain: over-the-counter painkillers, such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (like ibuprofen); acetaminophen and aspirin relieve pain but not inflammation
- Fullness or bloating: medicine with simethicone in it
- Long-term indigestion: common prescription medication options include: (17)
- proton pump inhibitors (PPIs), to reduce stomach acid
- H-2-receptor antagonists (H2RAs), to reduce stomach acid
- Prokinetics, to help stomach empty more quickly
- Antibiotics, if H. pylori bacteria are causing your indigestion
- Antidepressants or anti-anxiety medications, to decrease your pain
- Vomiting: anti-vomiting drugs include Pepto-Bismol and over-the-counter antihistamines (H1 blockers), such as Dramamine
- Severe stomach cramps: antibiotics, aminosalicylates, corticosteroids or antispasmodic medications
- Period cramps: medications such as Midol, to prevent menstrual cramping
The good news about stomach pain and pain in the abdomen is that there are many natural, simple ways to try to relieve such pain. Your doctor may suggest natural treatments before prescribing drugs.
Consider these natural ways to stop or reduce pain and manage your condition:
1. Manage Abdominal Strain
The good news is that you can usually treat abdominal muscle strain by yourself. Consider these tips for preventing and also managing muscle strain if it occurs.
If you have already strained your stomach area, consider these tips to bring back to stronger muscles with less pain: (18)
- Cold therapy. Use an icepack wrapped in a towel on your injury. Leave it on for 10–15 minutes. Repeat if necessary each hour in the early days of your injury.
- Heat therapy. Heat placed over an injured area can relax you, relieve tension and bring more blood to the injury. Use a heating bad or warm compress up to 20 minutes. Repeat if necessary each hour in the early days of your injury.
- Compression. You could wear an abdominal bandage or cloth brace to put some pressure on your abdomen, guide your muscles in place and keep the region less painful as you start to move normally and heal.
To prevent abdominal strain after you have had an injury
- Think about avoiding positions that can strain your core and back. Bend your knees and hips, and lower yourself with a straight back when lifting heavy items.
- Strive for good, balanced posture when you stand and also when you sit. Try to remember to check your posture several times a day.
- Don’t sit too long in one position. Take frequent breaks and move or walk around often.
- Warm up well before starting your exercise regime or sports routines.
- Be alert when you start new exercises and use caution. If you are trying new exercises, work your way up to more intense exercise or longer exercising periods.
- Cool down after your workouts to rest your muscles. Take time between workouts to rest your muscles, especially if you are exerting yourself more than usual.
- Rest as much as you are able. Your body needs an opportunity to repair its muscles once they are strained.
- Exercise to strengthen your core area. If you strain your stomach area, don’t exercise until you feel better. Once your symptoms subside, try some curl-ups and pelvic tilts while lying on your back to strengthen the area.
2. Reduce Gas and Bloating
Because bloating and gas in the stomach are common causes of pain, it helps to be aware of ways to keep extra gas from forming in your body. Several tips are diet-related. GERD and acid reflux can also lead to trapped or unwanted gas. Consider these tips to reduce gas and bloating: (19, 20)
- Eat less at mealtime or smaller meals throughout the day if you have an upset stomach
- Cut out fried or fatty foods
- Drink fewer carbonated beverages
- Avoid too much leafy foods, especially lettuce, cabbage and broccoli
- Cut down on beans, legumes and fruits with skins, such as apples and pears
- Reduce your stress when possible
- Stop smoking
- Don’t chew gum
- Stop eating sugar-free foods with synthetic sweeteners, which may not be absorbed or digested well
- Try to stop swallowing air if that has become a habit
3. Watch What You Put Into Your Body
- Too much coffee or caffeinated drinks
- Heavy alcohol use
- Spicy foods
- Foods with natural acids, like tomatoes and oranges
- Out-of-date or contaminated food (these may cause food poisoning)
- Foods you may be allergic or sensitive to, such as wheat or nuts
- Too much fruit or too many carbohydrates if you have fructose intolerance – you cannot digest the fructose well (a sugar often found in honey, fruits and some vegetables)
- Drinks and foods containing dairy products, if you have lactose intolerance
- Processed foods and smoked or salted meats or fish, and pickled vegetables (these put some people at higher risk for stomach cancer)
- Tobacco use or smoking
- Illegal drug use
- Cocaine can cause abdominal pain and bowel tissue decay
- Opioid use can cause abdominal pain, acid reflux and severe constipation
Remember that some medications may cause pain as well. Ask your doctor if your medications might cause stomach pain.
For a healthy digestive system, the best thing to do is eat a balanced diet. (23) The government’s Dietary Guidelines can help guide you. Try a mix of foods that includes vegetables, fruits, grains, dairy, protein foods (legumes, fish, meats) and healthy oils. Eat them in your appropriate calorie level each day and in forms that limit saturated fats, added sugars and added salt. (24)
4. Try Herbal Remedies
Some painkillers people take to treat abdominal pain can actually hurt the stomach. Taking large or even long-term regular doses of aspirin can cause stomach bleeding. Use of NSAID drugs for pain also can cause abdominal bleeding. (25) Over time, use of acetaminophen can harm the liver. (26)
Natural remedies for indigestion and stomach pain have existed for a long time. Remember to ask your doctor before trying an herb or supplement. Herbal products may interact with your medications or be the wrong choice for you. Also, do not stop taking your prescribed medications or change how you take them without talking to your doctor first.
One study from Iran that looked at many other studies found 105 plants that could treat various upset stomach symptoms. Seven clinical studies found that an upset stomach (functional dyspepsia) could be treated effectively, for example, with: (27)
- Licorice root can reduce pain and enhance stomach mucus secretion and anti-ulcer activity (activity against the bacteria that cause ulcers, Helicobacter pylori)
- Black cumin can be used to treat nausea, gas, diarrhea and dysentery (a serious digestive infection of the intestines)
- Basil leaf can decrease acid in the stomach
- Ginger has antiulcer, antibacterial, antispasm and anti-inflammatory features
- Mastic gum can be effective against digestion disorders
Modern versions of plant-based remedies include: (28)
- Ginger ale and ginger chews
- Peppermint — mint leaves or a sniff of oil or extract
- Teas, like chamomile, peppermint or ginger root chopped and steeped
- Apple cider vinegar to calm an upset stomach, with or without honey
- Bitters (often a combination like cinnamon, fennel, mint and ginger) with a glass of tonic, club soda or ginger ale
5. Manage Your Stress
Managing stress can be a challenge. However, psychosocial stress can have an impact on abdominal pain in adolescents as well as adults. (29)
Some stress-related factors that can put you at risk for stomach pain include: (30)
- High level of anxiety about your health
- Psychological stress
Common symptoms and issues that may suggest you have a “nervous stomach” include:
- Tightness, churning stomach
- Frequent flatulence (gas escape)
- Upset stomach
- Nausea or queasiness
- Rapid fullness while eating
- Increased urination or bowel movements
- “Butterflies” or a fluttering feeling in the stomach
- Emotional distress
- Smoking tobacco
- Drinking alcohol in excess
Consider trying some of the following natural tips for stress reduction:
- A nutrient-dense diet that is high in vitamins, minerals, healthy fats, electrolytes, amino acids and antioxidants
- Being out in nature
- Getting out of your home and being social
- Meditation or devotional prayer
- Movement and exercise, including walking and yoga
- Keeping a journal
6. Keep Your Bowels Regular
Avoiding constipation and diarrhea are two ways you can prevent pain in the stomach region. There are many causes of both of these conditions. Constipation is often caused by caused by a low-fiber diet, not drinking enough water (dehydration) and suffering from emotional distress.
- Eat raw fruits (prunes (dried plums and figs are helpful), vegetables, nuts, seeds, beans and green leafy vegetables
- Drink warm liquids
- Include more water
- Leaves out processed foods, fried foods, alcohol, and caffeine drinks like coffee and tea, which can make your body lose water
- Leave out pasteurized dairy products if you have lactose intolerance
- Includes supplements, such as flaxseed oil and magnesium
Consider trying mind-body practices to relieve constipation caused by stress:
- Exercise, including rebounding on a min-trampoline, or light stretching, dancing, walking, jogging, yoga and swimming
- Stress relievers (see natural remedy section above)
Diarrhea is often caused by factors including food allergies, an infection or virus, dehydration, stress and certain medications. It is often associated with stomach flu. Diarrhea is aided with a bland and simple diet, known as the BRAT diet:
You can also try some of the suggestions for managing diarrhea:
- Make gentle, easy-to-digest foods like smoothies and steamed vegetables once you start to recover. If your symptoms worsen again, stop eating fruits and vegetables for a while.
- Add flaxseed oil to your diet to reduce the time it takes to stop your diarrhea.
- Try raw honey and ginger root added to herbal teas.
- Stay hydrated with water.
- Get more rest and avoid strenuous workouts.
- Try certain supplements, like probiotics and glutamine powder, to recolonize and repair your digestive tract.
- Try peppermint oil, which may be helpful and is best for people with irritable bowel syndrome.
Go to your doctor if you have severe stomach pain and bloating that appear suddenly or along with:
- uncontrolled diarrhea
- uncontrolled vomiting
- blood in your vomit or stool
- losing consciousness
- no bowel movements for three days
Go to your doctor if you have stomach pain after eating each meal along with nausea, painful bowel movements or painful sexual intercourse.
Do not attempt to self-diagnose or self-treat serious or long-term stomach pain. Pain in your stomach area can lead to serious illness or death without proper treatment in some cases.
Depending on what causes your pain, you may need to take drugs as prescribed by your doctor.
Not all of the suggestions in this article will be right for you. Always talk to your physician before stopping or starting any herbal remedies, new exercise routines or other major changes in diet, medication or physical activity.
- Stomach pain is a general term that may include a lot of your body parts other than the stomach. Sometimes pain you think is coming from your stomach may involve your esophagus, bowels, ovaries and period, liver, gallbladder, kidneys or other organs.
- Remember that abdominal pain often can resolve on its own or be relieved in a short time. Natural remedies abound.
- Diet is at the center of much of stomach health. What you eat, the drugs you take, and the fluids and alcohol you drink can make a big difference in your health. Sometimes, however, the cause of pain in your stomach can be from internal problems, like inflammation or tube blockage, or from stress or infection.
- Consider how long your stomach has been hurting or whether there is a come-and-go pattern to pain. Also notice if the pain is on the upper, lower, right or left side, which may be a clue to the cause of your pain.
- Severe pain always needs to be checked by a doctor. Abdominal pain can sometimes be life threatening.
Natural approaches to reduce your stomach pain may include:
- Manage abdominal strain
- Reduce gas and bloating
- Watch what you put into your body
- Try herbal remedies
- Manage your stress
- Keep your bowels regular
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