What is stomach pain?
The stomach is the organ responsible for most of your food’s digestion. Breaking down food swallowed through your esophagus and sending the resulting mixture onto the small intestine is the stomach’s primary function.
Most everyone has had a stomach ache after eating at some time or another. The causes are usually quite benign, ranging from overindulging to simply eating something that didn’t agree with you. However, frequent stomach pain after eating is a sign of a deeper problem and shouldn’t be ignored.
Symptoms of stomach pain after meals
Most of the time, the causes of digestive trouble after eating are not too much to worry about. But if the pain is very strong, sudden, or long-lasting, it should be examined by a doctor as soon as possible.
Some common warning signs of stomach pain after a meal are:
Just because others can tolerate certain kinds of food well, does not mean you will too. Eating too fast, too much, or foods too high in fat can all trigger gas and bloating issues in the stomach. Try logging the foods you eat and tracking how your body responds to different things.
Stomach pains after eating, coupled with constipation, can spring from various lifestyle and dietary factors. For example, the abdominal muscles and diaphragm are needed to aid digestion, and insufficient fiber in the diet can make it hard for food to pass through your system properly.
Heartburn often accompanies stomach pain and indigestion. Heartburn is often caused by acid reflux, the reverse flow of stomach acid up into the esophagus, causing burning and discomfort. Too much alcohol and fatty food are often to blame.
Nausea is an important sign to look out for because it has several possible causes, anything from food poisoning to Crohn’s disease, a chronic inflammatory disease of the gastrointestinal tract. If you regularly feel nauseous after eating, see a doctor.
Other symptoms and warning signs associated with stomach pain after eating are:
Causes of stomach pain after eating
There are many conditions that can cause stomach or abdominal pain after eating. Some causes are routine, some are serious, and some are medical emergencies.
Causes of stomach pain include:
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
As many as 20% of Americans live with some form of IBS. The condition often causes lower stomach pain, especially but not always after a meal. Doctors diagnose IBS based on the reported symptoms and will work with you to find an appropriate diet and treatment regimen for it.
Functional dyspepsia (FD)
Also called a “nervous stomach,” functional dyspepsia causes excess pain, discomfort, and feelings of fullness in people who have only eaten a modest-sized meal. Symptoms can last many hours after eating and are not relieved by using the bathroom, unlike IBS.
Pain following a meal is one of the primary symptoms of acute pancreatitis, an inflammation of the pancreas. Your pancreas produces enzymes needed for digestion. Pancreatitis is a medical emergency, so you should see a doctor to rule out pancreatitis as a cause for your stomach pain.
Other possible causes of stomach pain after eating include:
Diagnosis of stomach pain after meals
Doctors can use computerized tomography (CT) and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans to diagnose gastrointestinal pain, but it is not always easy to generate accurate images of the digestive system using these methods.
Treatments for stomach pain after meals
Mild cases are usually treated at home without too much trouble. Doctors recommend putting yourself on a light diet, eating in frequent but small amounts for 24 to 36 hours until you can tolerate more substantial foods. Sports drinks, soups and broths, and juices (no citrus) are highly recommended.
More serious cases are treated with a range of therapies. Doctors look for structural or functional problems in the digestive tract itself to identify and treat the problem at its source. Various interventions may be employed in that case, such as:
Digestive Disorders Resources
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Cedars Sinai: "Acute Pancreatitis."
Duke University Health System: "Stomach Disorders."
Healthgrades: "Digestive Conditions."
Harvard Health Publishing: "Common Causes of Constipation."
Johns Hopkins Medicine: "Why Does My Stomach Hurt?"
MedlinePlus: "Stomach Disorders."
New Health Advisor: "Bloating After Eating."
UnityPoint Health: "What Your Upset Stomach Is Trying to Tell You."
University of Michigan Health: "Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) and Functional Bowel Disorders."
UW-Madison University Health Services: "Upset Stomach."