There is nothing worse than a random stomachache, especially when you’re not really sure what’s going on. Even worse, there are so many weird things that make your stomach upset. It can something as (relatively) small, such as an undiagnosed allergy, gas, or something bigger that needs to get checked out. If you have a random stomachache that passes quickly, it’s (usually) no big deal. But if you have chronic aches and pains in your stomach, or get stomach aches seemingly all the time, you should talk to your doctor.
It’s hard to know when to see a doctor or when you might be overreacting to a stomach pain (nothing is worse than thinking you’re dying and it turns out to just be gas). As a rule of thumb, just trust yourself. If pain is recurring and tends to be in the same place, tell your doctor about it. It’s probably something that’s easy to treat, but there are serious conditions, like thyroid issues or appendicitis that have to be taken care of as soon as humanly possible. Or if you have a condition like IBS or Crohn’s that isn’t life-threatening, but should be nonetheless monitored by a doctor.
Because so much goes on down there, stomach pains can be hard to diagnose. But here are some common things that might be making you achey.
Stress is quite possibly the root of all your health problems and your stomach is no different. Anxiety and stress can manifest itself physically right in your gut. There are lots of different opinions out there about whether stress can cause stomach pain or not, and how it does so. We’re not talking about the proverbial “knot” in your stomach, but more chronic pain in the stomach that many adolescents, in fact, report when they’re having trouble at school or being bullied. Our bodies are weirdly connected, so if you’re stressed, your brain sends a message to the rest of your nervous system and could slow digestion. This means abdominal pain, constipation, diarrhea, and/or other digestive symptoms. Try to set time aside to meditate or just do some deep breathing to loosen up if you find this happens to you (or talk to a doctor about your options).
There’s a reason so many people go gluten-free and it’s not about being trendy — it’s called celiac’s disease. You might want to check that your stomach pain isn’t correlated to the last time you’ve had bread or pasta since gluten can very well be the culprit. Even if you don’t have celiac’s disease, it could just be a gluten sensitivity — like a minor allergy — that makes it hard for you to digest gluten. If you think that could be it, ask your doctor to help you start eliminating things from your diet to diagnose the food allergy.
If you have pain that comes in cycles, after fatty meals or around your period, you could have a gallstone. They tend to strike in females around middle age or after you’re been pregnant, since they flare up with estrogen spikes. After a meal, your galbladder releases bile to help your body digest food. A gallstone occurs when one of the substances in that bile, like cholesterol or another waste product starts to build up. They’re very common but should be diagnosed and removed as they can lead to other health conditions. Talk to your doctor, who might recommend a change in diet, a prescription medicine, or minor surgery diagnose and then remove the gallstone.
There are all kinds of irritable bowel syndromes, ranging from chronic diarrhea and constipation, to more serious conditions like colitis. If your stomach is bothering you, track your bowel movements and make sure you’re going often enough. Don’t be shy to talk to your doctor about them and they can work with you to see what you specific digestion issues are.
Even if you’ve been eating cheese and dairy all your life, it’s possible that your body might start to reject it later in life. It’s a bummer, but you can develop an allergy to dairy later in life. If you feel like you’re getting a sharp recurring pain and diarrhea a little bit after eating a lot of dairy, it might be a lactose intolerance. It’ll be up to you, in consultation with your doctor, to decide whether dairy’s really worth it or not.
An ulcer is a sore on your stomach lining that causes pain on and off again. You might not feel it for a few days and then it comes back, depending on your diet and the time of day. Ulcers aren’t caused by one thing, but they are often brought on by excess acid in your stomach. Stress, your diet, or just genetics can cause excess acid to start eating away at your stomach tissue, causing an ulcer. Also, using aspirin or ibuprofen too much — like all day, every day — can cause an ulcer. They’re (relatively) easy to treat, so don’t be nervous to ask your doctor about the possibility that one’s the cause of your stomach pain so they can get you on antibiotics to treat it.
It sounds like a mouthful, but it’s actually very, very common. This is the sort of sudden, super painful cramp on the left side of your body. It’s usually accompanied by gas or feels like crazy gas pain. It’s just an inflammation of your intestines, which Dr. Oz describes as akin to having “potholes in your colon.” According to the Mayo Clinic, doctors don’t know exactly what causes diverticulitis, but it can usually be remedied by getting more fiber in your diet.
Our bodies are crazy ecosystems that depend on the perfect balance of bacteria and enzymes to work. Our stomachs especially, since it’s tasked with breaking down food and turning it into waste and passing it through the digestive system (crazy, right?). There are lots of reasons why the bacteria levels in your gut are either too high or too low, causing certain, various steps of the digestive process to be skipped over, leading to stomach pain. It could be that there are actual physical obstacles, like a surgical scar in your stomach, or medicines that are causing the small intestinal bacteria overgrowth (SIBO). If you have chronic stomach pain and can’t seem to figure it out, ask your doctor about giving you a breath test to diagnose this common stomach issue.
Most stomach issues have to do with your diet, since it’s sort of ground zero for everything we eat. If you’re not getting enough fiber, for example, it could lead to bloating or constipation, which will make your stomach hurt. There are simple ways to do this, like adding flaxseed or an entire orange to your smoothie in the morning will up its fiber game. Whole grains, adding spinach to a salad, or using sweet potatoes instead of regular ones will also help with fiber intake. For snacks, try nuts, almond butters, and fresh berries for more fiber. But it might not just be fiber — your stomach might also hurt because you’re consuming a lot of alcohol or caffeine.
Stomach pain is the worst, but don’t just diagnos yourself over the internet. After trouble shooting your fiber intake and diet, make an appointment with your doctor for a check up to see if they have any ideas. Everyone’s body — and stomach pain — is different.