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Patient education: Stomach ache and stomach upset (The Basics)

Patient education: Stomach ache and stomach upset (The Basics)

What happens when you have a stomach ache? — When you have a stomach ache, you have pain or discomfort in your belly. Sometimes that's the only symptom you have. Other times, you can have other symptoms such as:

Burning in your chest known as heartburn


Bloating (feeling like your belly is filled with air)

Feeling full too quickly when you start eating

Should I see a doctor or nurse about my stomach ache? — Most people do not need to see a doctor or nurse for a stomach ache. But you should see your doctor or nurse if:

You have bloody bowel movements, diarrhea, or vomiting

Your pain is severe and lasts more than an hour or comes and goes for more than 24 hours

You cannot eat or drink for hours

You have a fever higher than 102°F (39°C)

You lose a lot of weight without trying to, or lose interest in food

What causes stomach aches? — In some cases, stomach aches are caused by a specific problem, such as:

A stomach ulcer, which is a sore on the inside of the stomach

A condition called "diverticulitis," in which small pouches in your large intestine get infected

In other cases, doctors do not know what causes stomach aches or the other symptoms that happen with them. Even so, there are usually ways to treat the symptoms of stomach ache.

What treatments help with stomach symptoms? — If your symptoms are caused by a specific problem, such as an ulcer, treating that problem will likely relieve your symptoms. But if your doctor or nurse does not know what is causing your pain, they might recommend medicines that reduce the amount of acid in your stomach. These medicines often relieve stomach ache and the symptoms that come with it. Some of these medicines are available without a prescription.

Can I do anything on my own to prevent stomach ache? — Yes. The foods you eat and the way you eat them can have a big effect on whether or not you feel pain.

To lower your chances of getting a stomach ache:

Avoid fatty foods, such as red meat, butter, fried foods, and cheese

Eat a bunch of small meals each day, rather than 2 or 3 big meals

Stay away from foods that seem to make your symptoms worse

Avoid taking over-the-counter medicines that seem to make your symptoms worse – Examples include aspirin or ibuprofen (sample brand names: Advil, Motrin).

Some people – especially kids – sometimes get a stomach ache after drinking milk or eating cheese, ice cream, or other foods that have milk in them. They have a problem called "lactose intolerance," which means that they cannot fully break down foods that have milk in them.

People with lactose intolerance can avoid problems caused by milk if they take something called lactase. Lactase (sample brand name: Lactaid) helps your body break down milk. Some foods come with it already added.

If your stomach ache seems to be related to constipation, meaning that you do not have enough bowel movements, you might need more fiber or a medicine called a laxative. (Laxatives are medicines that increase the number of bowel movements you have.)

Taking in a lot of fiber helps to increase the number of bowel movements you have. You can get more fiber by:

Eating plenty of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains

Taking fiber pills, powders, or wafers

Is a stomach ache the same for children as it is for adults? — In general, yes. Children get stomach aches for most of the same reasons that adults do. But in children, stomach pain is often triggered by stress or anxiety. For them, it's especially important to pay attention to psychological or emotional problems that might be making pain worse.

More on this topic

Patient education: Constipation in adults (The Basics)
Patient education: Constipation in children (The Basics)
Patient education: Diarrhea in adolescents and adults (The Basics)
Patient education: Diarrhea in children (The Basics)
Patient education: Diverticulitis (The Basics)
Patient education: Ulcerative colitis in children (The Basics)

Patient education: Upset stomach (functional dyspepsia) in adults (Beyond the Basics)
Patient education: Chronic abdominal pain in children and adolescents (Beyond the Basics)

This topic retrieved from UpToDate on: Jan 01, 2023.
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