Maybe you find yourself hunched over in pain after chugging a chocolate shake. Or you feel like you’ve swallowed a bowling ball—only to realize you haven’t pooped in 3 days.
Stomach problems can take on all kinds of forms, and none of them are pleasant. Here are 12 common reasons why you might be in pain, and what you should do to find relief.
1. Stomach Flu
The technical name is gastroenteritis—though when you’re running to the bathroom every 5 minutes, you probably don’t give a crap what it’s called. This viral infection is often passed on when a sick person handles your food without washing their hands after using the bathroom.
What it feels like: Abdominal cramping and pain, coupled with muscle aches or a headache. It’ll usually come with nausea, vomiting, watery diarrhea, or low fever.
What you should do: Rest, stay hydrated, and stick with light foods like bananas or toast if you even have an appetite. Call your doctor if you can’t keep liquid down for 24 hours, have blood in your vomit or diarrhea, or have a fever above 104 degrees Fahrenheit, which could be signs of a bacterial infection.
2. Lactose Intolerance
If eating ice cream leaves you, well, screaming, you may have lactose intolerance, or the inability to digest the milk sugar lactose. And you’re not alone: Roughly 65 percent of the world’s population has a reduced ability to digest lactose after infancy. People commonly develop symptoms as they reach adulthood.
What it feels like: Cramping—plus an urgent need to hit the bathroom— about 30 minutes to 2 hours after consuming dairy. It also comes with diarrhea, gas, and bloating.
What you should do: Steer clear of milk-based foods that seem to trigger symptoms. You can talk to your doctor about getting tested to see how much lactose you can tolerate.
But it’s okay to experiment on your own to see if you can tolerate small amounts of milk—especially low-fat or nonfat—or dairy products that contain less lactose, like yogurt or some hard cheeses. Many people with lactose intolerance can.
Gallstones are small, hardened deposits of digestive fluid that form in your gallbladder. They’re common—more so in women than in men—and can develop from eating too much fat or cholesterol.
What it feels like: Discomfort or pain in your upper right stomach that radiates toward your back or shoulder. It might wake you up at night. You may also experience nausea or vomiting.
What you should do: If it’s just mild discomfort that goes away, you don’t need to call the doctor. But if you start to notice a pattern that persists for several weeks, or if you have severe pain or vomiting, talk with your doctor. You may need to have surgery to remove your gallbladder.
Going less than usual, or not at all? Congrats! You’re constipated, which can happen when you eat too little fiber, stay sedentary, or experience changes to your daily routine, like travel somewhere. Certain medications, like antacids or antidepressants, can also be culprits.
What it feels like: You have the urge to go, but nothing comes out. (Or all you get are a few small, hard, and dry stools.) You might feel a dull pain in your lower abdomen, along with some bloating.
What you should do: Gradually increase your fiber intake by adding more whole grains, beans, fruits, and vegetables to your diet. Aim for 25 to 30 grams per day. If that doesn’t help—or if you experience severe pain, bloody stool, cramping, or weight loss, see your doctor, says Dr. Malkin. Those could indicate that your belly problems are a sign of something more serious, like inflammatory bowel disorder.
An ulcer is a sore in the lining of your esophagus, stomach, or intestines. Stress can make ulcers worse, but they probably don’t cause them. Instead, ulcers can develop when you take over-the-counter (OTC) pain meds like ibuprofen or aspirin frequently, or from bacterial infections, Dr. Malkin says.
What it feels like: A burning pain in the pit of your stomach. You may also feel worse after eating or feel full fast, as well as experience acid reflux, sudden weight loss, or bloody stools.
What you should do: At-home care may be enough to treat mild ulcers. Reduce the amount of acid in your stomach by avoiding caffeine, alcohol, and spicy foods; stop taking any OTC pain meds; and start taking an OTC antacid. Call your doctor if you’re not feeling better in a few days, or immediately if you have blood in your stool. That could indicate that your ulcer is bleeding.
6. Celiac Disease
Gluten-free foods are everywhere these days. But only 1 percent of the population who actually have celiac disease—an inflammatory-causing autoimmune reaction to certain proteins in grains—need to follow that diet.
What it feels like: Roughly a third of adults with celiac disease experience abdominal pain, bloating, or diarrhea after eating foods that contain wheat, barley, or rye. Surprisingly, non-digestive symptoms, like fatigue, depression, bone or joint pain, tingling or numbness, and unexplained rashes are more common than stomach discomfort in many adults with celiac disease.
What you should do: Talk with your doc about testing options for celiac disease, like a blood test. If you’re diagnosed, you’ll need to avoid gluten-containing foods like bread in order to feel better and stave off intestinal damage.
7. Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
IBS is a catch-all for chronic abdominal pain and changes in your bowel movements that have no other explanation. It may be triggered by abnormalities in your gastrointestinal muscles, or by misfires between your brain and intestinal nerves that cause your body to overreact to normal digestive processes.
What it feels like: Abdominal cramping, gassiness, and bloating. Some people with IBS experience diarrhea, while others have constipation. Other unlucky folks have a combo of both.
What you should do: See your doctor. You want to rule out food intolerances like celiac disease, as well as more serious conditions like inflammatory bowel disorder or cancer. He or she can also help you develop a plan to manage your symptoms, like pinpointing problem foods, getting the right amount of fiber, or taking anti-spasm meds that help keep your gastrointestinal muscles from going crazy.
Excessive alcohol use and gallstones most commonly cause this inflammation of the pancreas—the gland in your upper abdomen that helps with digestion and regulates blood sugar.
What it feels like: Upper abdominal pain that extends toward your back. It can be mild or severe, and gets worse after eating. The area might also feel tender to the touch. You may feel nauseous or vomit, too.
What you should do: Sometimes, mild cases of pancreatitis can clear up on their own. But if the pain is severe or lasts more than a few hours, call your doctor. Since pancreatitis gets worse when you eat solid food, you may need to be hospitalized and put on IV fluids until the inflammation goes down.
9. Gastroesophogeal Reflux Disease (GERD)
More commonly called acid reflux, GERD occurs when acid from your stomach repeatedly splashes up into your esophagus. It can be caused by increased pressure on your abdomen from being overweight, or by medicines like painkillers or antidepressants.
What it feels like: Typically, a burning sensation behind your breastbone. But you can have GERD without the burning sensation, too. So be on the lookout for nausea, bad breath, painful swallowing, hoarseness, or asthma-like symptoms as well.
What you should do: Lose weight if you need to, and steer clear of foods that trigger your heartburn—typically spicy, fatty, or fried foods. If that doesn’t help, try an OTC antacid.
But if you find that you’re still relying on the meds after a month, talk with your doctor to discuss other treatment options to get your reflux under control, like prescription acid blockers or surgery. Over time, acid reflux could cause changes in the esophagus tissue that could lead to esophageal cancer.
More common in people over 40, diverticulitis occurs when small pouches that form in the lining of your colon become infected or inflamed. Older age, being obese, and eating a fatty, low-fiber diet all increase your risk.
What it feels like: A sharp pain in the lower left side of your abdomen. It often comes with nausea, vomiting, fever, and constipation. That’s because inflammation in that area makes it harder to successfully move your bowels.
What you should do: Call your doctor, who may diagnose you after performing an X-ray, CT scan, or ultrasound. For a mild case of diverticulitis, he or she will prescribe antibiotics and plenty of rest. For more severe or recurring symptoms, you might need surgery.
Appendicitis occurs when an infection causes your appendix—a finger-shaped pouch near your colon—to become inflamed.
What it feels like: Sudden, dull pain and tenderness in the lower right side of your abdomen that becomes more and more intense. The pain might get worse when you walk, cough, or make jarring movements. You may also experience nausea, vomiting, fever, or bloating.
What you should do: Head to the emergency room. If you have appendicitis, you’ll have to have surgery to get your appendix removed. Otherwise, it could rupture and spread the infection throughout your abdomen.
12. Stomach Cancer
Adenocarcinoma, or cancer that forms in the lining of the stomach, is the most common type of stomach cancer. It’s a fairly uncommon cause for your aching gut, and usually occurs in people over 65.
What it feels like: You could experience ulcer-like symptoms, abdominal pain or bloating, nausea, or a feeling of fullness or loss of appetite. The pain depends on where the tumor is. Be on the lookout for vomiting, bloody stools, fatigue, and weight loss.
What you should do: If your symptoms last for more than 2 weeks, see your doctor for testing like an endoscopy. Treatment can vary depending on your specific cancer and stage.
Source: Men's Health
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