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Stomach Ache: When To See A Doctor?

stomach ache

Stomach ache is a common symptom and in most cases, it is ignored. If you had a heavy meal or have eaten outside there are chances that you might end up holding your stomach and rolling on a bed as your stomach starts to hurt. Most of the time you are told to lie down till you feel better or asked to eat something light. While chewing a teaspoon of fennel seeds or putting some dhana dal in your mouth is what provides respite after having a stomach full meal. 

Pain or discomfort in the stomach after having a heavy meal, which subsides within some time, is quite common. But what if it fails to subside even after a day? Well, in that case, you should consult a doctor. This is because stomach pain may not always be due to irregular eating habits or having a heavy meal. Moreover, it is not the right thing to ignore stomach ache as it could be a symptom of an underlying condition that may range from stomach infection or food poisoning to stomach cancer.

In this article, we not only shed light on some of the common causes of a stomach ache but also let you know when to consult a doctor for a stomach ache. 

What is stomach ache?

Stomach ache refers to the pain or discomfort in the stomach (most people refer to any pain in the abdomen as stomach pain). It is usually the only symptom a person has. But in some cases, there are other associated symptoms which can be experienced and help in the diagnosis of the underlying health problems. Some of the common symptoms seen along with stomach ache include:

Belching or burping

Bloating

Heartburn (burning sensation in the chest)

Feeling full too quickly

Nausea and/or vomiting

Diarrhea 

Whether you have stomach ache alone or along with any other symptoms, the bottom line is you should not ignore it. This could be a sign of a serious health problem and hence, it is important to consult a doctor at the earliest.

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What does stomach ache/abdominal pain indicate?

Abdominal pain is often nonspecific and may present with other symptoms. Moreover, onset may be of sudden, rapid, or gradual in nature. If you experience pain in the lower abdominal region, then it could indicate kidney disease. Pain in the pelvic region might be a sign of bladder or urinary tract infection. So depending upon the exact location of the pain in the abdominal region, your doctor will try to diagnose the condition.

Abdominal pain can be a common symptom of multiple health problems. So to help you have a clear understanding of the core stomach problems, here is what you need to know.

Gastroenteritis: It is an inflammation of the stomach and intestinal lining.  It is caused by contaminated food and can lead to severe abdominal pain associated with nausea, vomiting and loose stools.

Gastritis: It is the same as gastroenteritis but in this only the stomach lining is affected and not the intestine. Also, symptoms such as abdominal pain, nausea, and vomiting are more pronounced in gastritis.

Irritable Bowel Syndrome: It is a stomach condition that causes abdominal pain which is usually relieved after bowel movements. Moreover, it can also lead to frequent and recurrent episodes of constipation and diarrhea.

Acid reflux:  Also known as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), in this, the stomach acid or bile flows into the food pipe and irritates the lining leading to pain in the stomach. Other common symptoms include burning sensation in the chest, and bloating, which require medical attention.

Lactose intolerance: It is a condition in which the person is not able to digest lactose, a compound present in milk and milk products. It can also lead to diarrhea and abdominal pain which can further lead to throwing up.

Celiac disease: It is an autoimmune disorder which causes severe damage to the intestine on the consumption of food containing gluten, a protein typically found in wheat and wheat extracts. The classic symptom of celiac disease is diarrhea along with stomach ache and bloating.  

Food poisoning: It happens if a person consumes food contaminated with bacteria, virus or parasites. The common symptoms include stomach ache and discomfort with vomiting and loose stools.

Stomach cancer: In extreme cases, severe abdominal pain along with changes in bowel habits and blood in stools could indicate even stomach cancer. 

This is just a handful of diseases which can lead to stomach ache, the complete list is pretty long and some diseases may even be gender specific. Hence, it is always better to consult a doctor to know the exact cause and get it treated because ignoring any symptom can not only delay its diagnosis but also lower the chances of effective treatment. This may impair the overall health of a person in the long run. So never ignore any pain.

When to see a doctor for stomach ache?

You should consult a doctor if you have a stomach ache along with:

-Diarrhea and/or vomiting

-Blood in stools

-Severe continuous pain that lasts for more than an hour

-Persistent pain over a period of 24 hours

-Inability to eat or drink for an hour

-High fever

-Unexplained weight loss

Based on the severity of the symptoms and the cause of the condition, your doctor might recommend medicines. However, your doctor might do a complete physical examination followed by the clinical evaluation of the tests and reports to diagnose the condition and treat it accordingly.

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Can stomach ache be treated at home?

To treat stomach ache, you need to know the cause of it. Taking antacids to get rid of acidity or popping OTC painkillers to alleviate stomach pain is not advised as it can lead to side effects and may worsen the condition. What you can do is to keep a strict control on your diet intake. This is because what you eat can also lead to stomach ache, hence, it is advised to keep a tab on your eating habits to lower and prevent the chances of stomach ache.

Some of the common tips to follow to prevent stomach ache at home include:

-Avoid foods loaded with fats such as butter, cheese, and fried foods as it might lead to indigestion and stomach pain.

Stay away from foods that make your symptoms worse such as milk, if you are lactose intolerant.

Eat six small meals rather than three big meals in a day as it helps ease pressure on the stomach and aid in digestion.

Avoid taking over the counter (OTC medicines) painkillers without asking your doctor as it might worsen the condition.

Eat fiber-rich foods as it can ease constipation-related stomach pain and also help in relieving the condition.

Make sure you exercise every day without fail to stay healthy and fit as it can help in preventing stomach related problems including pain and discomfort in the stomach.

Remember, there are numerous causes of stomach ache and hence, it is not right to pop a pill or ignore a stomach pain. Consult a doctor if you experience any pain in the abdomen and get it treated to stay healthy and happy.

(The article is reviewed by Dr. Lalit Kanodia, General Physician)

Recommended Reads:

5 Effective Home Remedies To Get Rid Of Stomach Ache Instantly!

What Causes Vomiting And When To Go To A Doctor?

References:

Sherman R. Abdominal Pain. In: Walker HK, Hall WD, Hurst JW, editors. Clinical Methods: The History, Physical, and Laboratory Examinations. 3rd edition. Boston: Butterworths; 1990. Chapter 86.

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