Diet and Nutrition

When Is Stomach Pain After Eating Considered Serious?

Pain after eating can be symptom of various digestive disorders.

When Is Stomach Pain After Eating Considered Serious?

Stomach pain after meals can be bothersome, especially if you don't know what's causing it. There are a number of causes why your stomach aches after eating, and most of them may only need home remedies and over-the-counter medications. However, it is still important to know the potential causes of your pain, so you can take necessary actions to help relieve the pain and continue enjoying your meals. 

If you have persistent symptoms of stomach pain, seek immediate medical attention. These symptoms could be signs of a serious underlying medical condition. 

Causes of Stomach Pain After Eating

Stomach pain after eating has a number of potential causes. They include:

1. Food Allergies

A food allergy occurs when the body's immune system reacts to certain foods as harmful substances and releases antibodies to fight it. This triggered response can cause a variety of symptoms and one of them is stomach pain. In some cases, a food allergy reaction can be life-threatening. 

Approximately 15 million Americans and 5.9 million children 18 years old and below have food allergies, according to Food Allergy Research and Education (FARE). Moreover, around 30 percent of these children have more than one food allergy

Common food allergens include:

  • Eggs
  • Peanuts
  • Tree nuts
  • Milk
  • Soy
  • Wheat
  • Fish
  • Crustacean shellfish

2. Food Sensitivity 

Food sensitivity, also called food intolerance, is different from a food allergy. Unlike food allergies, the symptoms of food intolerance are less serious. Its symptoms are also usually limited to problems in the digestive tract.

People with food intolerance are able to safely consume small amounts of offending foods as well as being able to prevent a reaction. People who are lactose intolerant may take lactase enzyme pills or choose lactose-free milk to avoid stomach upset. 

3. Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD)

Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) happens when acid from the stomach flows back into the esophagus. This acid reflux causes irritation in the esophageal lining. 

Acid reflux is commonly experienced by many people. Most people take over-the-counter medications along with changing some of their lifestyle habits to manage the discomfort. However, some may require stronger medications and even surgery to relieve GERD symptoms. 

4. Celiac Disease

Celiac disease is a chronic digestive disorder that is triggered when gluten is consumed. Gluten is a type of protein found in barley, wheat, and rye. Sometimes, this disorder is also called celiac sprue or coeliac. 

When gluten is ingested, it triggers an immune system reaction that damages the lining of the small intestine and prevents nutrient absorption. Intestinal damage also causes symptoms, such as bloating, diarrhea, weight loss, fatigue, and anemia. In some cases, serious complications may occur. 

A strict gluten-free diet is the only remedy for celiac disease since the disorder has no cure. Staying gluten-free can promote healing of the intestines and help manage the symptoms. 

5. Peptic Ulcers

A peptic ulcer occurs when you develop open sores in your stomach lining or upper portion of the small intestine. Its symptoms include pain after eating, especially if you have a gastric ulcer. Usually, pain from peptic ulcers is felt between the belly button and your sternum (breastbone). 

6. Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a common digestive problem that affects the colon or large intestine. IBS is a long-term condition that causes symptoms, such as bloating, gas, abdominal pain, cramping, constipation, diarrhea, or both. 

7. Crohn’s Disease

Crohn’s disease is a type of inflammatory bowel disease that usually affects the ileum and the beginning of the colon. However, other parts of the gastrointestinal (GI) such as from the mouth to the anus may also be affected. Although the symptoms may vary from one patient to another, the most common symptoms include: 

  • Fever
  • Fatigue
  • Abdominal cramps
  • Diarrhea
  • Blood in stool
  • Weight loss
  • Loss of appetite
  • Incomplete bowel emptying
  • Frequent urge to have bowel movements

8. Constipation

Chronic constipation can cause bloating and stomach pain after eating because stool slowly moves through the digestive tract delaying waste elimination. The symptoms also tend to get worse when you eat again and your body digests new food. 

Diagnosis

The cause of stomach pain may be identified by your doctor through your symptoms and medical history. However, in some cases, your healthcare provider may order certain tests, such as:

  • Blood tests
  • Fecal occult blood test 
  • X-ray
  • pH monitoring
  • Colonoscopy
  • Endoscopy
  • CT Scan
  • MRI

An elimination diet might also be recommended by your healthcare provider. If you think you have food intolerance, the best way to identify offending foods is through trial and error. Keeping a food diary is also beneficial since it can help track your food intake and symptoms. 

Treatment

Treatment for stomach pain usually depends on its underlying cause. For food allergies, seeing an allergist would be beneficial for an evaluation and accurate diagnosis.For people who have food intolerance, avoiding the consumption of foods that trigger the symptoms can also help. Consulting a nutritionist or using lactose-free recipes can also be done. If you suspect gluten-sensitivity, avoid going gluten-free until a gastroenterologist evaluates your condition and rules out celiac disease. Other symptoms experienced aside from stomach pain after meals can be effectively managed by taking OTC medications. However, always let your doctor know before taking any type of new medication to avoid drug interactions. 

Common treatment options for stomach pain:

  • Antacids to relieve burning sensations and neutralize stomach acid
  • Antidiarrheals for diarrhea and other symptoms
  • Acid-reducers or heartburn medications
  • Acetaminophen (Tylenol) for pain 
  • Diphenhydramine (Benadryl) for allergies
  • Probiotics for better digestion
  • Pepto-Bismol to reduce burning sensations, diarrhea, and nausea
  • Proton pump inhibitors (lansoprazole and omeprazole) for heartburn relief
  • Fiber supplements to promote healthy bowel movements, relieve bloating and gas
  • Stool softeners or laxatives to relieve bloating and constipation 
  • Simethicone to help relieve bloating

When to See to a Doctor

Any type of pain in the body means that something is not right. If you have stomach pain once in a while after eating, you may want to inform your doctor about it on your next appointment. However, you need to see a doctor immediately if you regularly experience stomach pains after meals for proper diagnosis and treatment. 

Key Takeaways

  • Stomach pain after eating has a number of potential causes. 
  • It is important to know the potential causes of your pain, so you can take necessary actions to help relieve the pain and continue enjoying your meals. 
  • If you have persistent symptoms of stomach pain, seek immediate medical attention. These symptoms could be signs of a serious underlying medical condition.