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When Does a Stomachache Mean Trouble? 8 Answers

So, you have a discomfort in your abdomen. You’re wondering if you should grin and bear it or have it checked.

Let’s take a look at some common stomach conditions and when you should have them checked.


1. You feel:

Pain or burning below your breastbone that sometimes gets worse when you eat or lie down.

You should:

Take an antacid if the discomfort happens only occasionally. If it happens more than a time or two each week, you should see your health care provider. You might be tested for gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). With this condition, stomach acid flows up the esophagus (the tube running from mouth to stomach). A medication to reduce stomach acid might be recommended.


2. You feel:

A sore throat that doesn’t go away. Surprisingly, this could be a sign of a stomach problem. A sore throat can be a symptom of acid reflux. GERD is mild form of acid reflux. The stomach acid flowing up the esophagus can cause painful irritation.

You should:

Try an antacid. If you don’t feel relief, visit your health care provider.


3. You feel:

Nausea, gas, cramps, bloating and/or diarrhea a half hour to two hours after eating a food that contains lactose. You could be lactose intolerant.

You should:

Try cutting back on dairy products such as milk, ice cream and cheese. You can try lactose-free products such as lactose-free milk/soy milk. Aged hard cheeses such as cheddar also have lower amounts of lactose compared to soft cheeses.

If you continue to have problems, see your health care provider.


4. You feel:

Nausea, bloating, constipation or diarrhea and lower abdominal cramps. The symptoms may diminish after you have a bowel movement.

You should:

See your health care provider. You may have irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). This is a diagnosis of exclusion, meaning we would want to rule out other possible causes for your symptoms. You could try an over the counter probiotic (good gut bacteria) supplement.


5.You feel:

Burning pain in your stomach. It comes and goes and feels worse when you’re hungry.

You should:

Try to avoid nonsteroidal drugs (such as ibuprofen, Advil, Aleve, naproxen). These drugs can hurt your stomach lining. Then see your health care provider. You could have an ulcer. You can discuss treatment options that may include checking for a stomach bacteria infection called H. pylori. You can also try over the counter antacid medications.


6. You feel:

A sudden loss of appetite.

You should:

See your health care provider if your symptoms persist, especially if you have any unintentional weight loss.


7. You feel:

Severe, sudden pain in your abdomen. It may start around your belly button and radiate to your right lower abdomen. You may have other symptoms such as a fever, loss of appetite, nausea, constipation or diarrhea.

You should:

Go to the emergency room immediately. You may have appendicitis. This is a blockage in the appendix — a small organ attached to the large intestine. If the appendix bursts, it can cause an infection in the abdomen. This is a serious medical condition.


8. You feel:

Nausea, vomiting or pain in the right upper area of the abdomen after eating.

You should:

See your health care provider if the symptoms don’t go away in a few hours. You may be having a gallstone attack. Gallstones are small pea-size to golf ball-size hardened deposits. An attack can happen if gallstones block a duct in the gallbladder.


Other Possibilities

Many of the symptoms we’ve described — abdominal pain, cramps, bloating, constipation, diarrhea — can result from a number of conditions. For example, celiac disease, colitis, Crohn's disease, and thyroid disease to name a few.

Some conditions are harmless. Some serious. The variety of overlapping symptoms and conditions is why it’s a good idea to see your health care provider if stomach/abdominal discomfort doesn’t go away or you have severe pain. An accurate, timely diagnosis can give you the best possible treatment outcome.

You can find a health care provider online any time. You can also make an appointment online. It’s a good idea to choose a health care provider you’re comfortable with before you need one. Then when you need a health care professional, you’ll know who to see.

Meet the Author

Jimmy Kim, MD, specializes in Gastroenterology at Aurora St. Luke's South Shore in Cudahy, WI. 

Read more posts from this author

The information presented in this site is intended for general information and educational purposes. It is not intended to replace the advice of your own physician. Contact your physician if you believe you have a health problem.

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