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A Concerning Number of People Have This Pain After Eating, New Study Says

11% of the global population is suffering from this after most meals, which is raising eyebrows.
FACT CHECKED BY Faye Brennan

If you frequently find your stomach rumbling and your gut in pain following a meal, you're certainly not alone, according to a new survey. The poll, which was recently presented at the United European Gastroenterology Week Virtual 2021, estimates that a significant 11% of the global population (13% of women and 9% of men) routinely deal with post-meal stomach pain and indigestion.

This was hardly a small research initiative. Over 54,000 people living in 26 countries were surveyed for this project.

Surprisingly, while many people may assume post-meal pain would probably be most prevalent among older adults, this survey indicates the opposite. A significant 15% of those polled between the ages of 18 to 28 report frequent post-meal abdominal pain.

Put together using data originally collected for the Rome Foundation Global Epidemiology Study, the poll asked each respondent how often they deal with abdominal pain and whether or not that pain is usually linked to eating a meal shortly beforehand. Answers to those questions were then used to group participants into three cohorts: those who reported meal-related stomach pain over 50% of the time, people with occasional stomach pain after eating (10-40%), and those who rarely or never feel stomach pain following a meal.

Related: One Major Side Effect of Drinking on an Empty Stomach, Dietitian Says

Beyond just abdominal pain, however, perhaps the most noteworthy finding from this work is that stomach discomfort after eating usually doesn't come alone. Participants reporting regular post-meal stomach pain were also found to be much more likely to deal with bloating, constipation, diarrhea, and a swollen stomach.

Moreover, there even appears to be a connection between stomach pain after eating and mental health issues. While 36% of respondents who reported regular post-meal stomach pain said they also suffer from anxiety, only 25% of the "occasional stomach pain" group and 18% of the "never/rare stomach pain" group said the same. Similarly, 35% of the frequent stomach pain group reported high rates of depression in comparison to 24% and 17% of the other two groups, respectively.

Man hugging his belly and keeping eyes closed while lying on the couch at home
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"The take-home message from this study is that people who experience meal-related abdominal pain more frequently experience other gastrointestinal symptoms and more regularly fulfill criteria for disorders of the gut-brain interactions (DGBIs, formerly known as functional gut disorders), including common conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), bloating and abdominal distension," explains main study author Esther Colomier, a joint Ph.D. researcher at KU Leuven, Belgium, and the University of Gothenburg in Sweden.

"They also have a higher burden of psychological and somatic symptoms, such as back pain or shortness of breath, which are associated with major distress and functioning problems. These symptoms cause distress and disruption in daily life," she adds.

All in all, researchers believe these findings warrant a closer look at the relationship between abdominal pain after eating and additional stomach/intestinal complaints like bloating, IBS, or constipation. It certainly appears that people who regularly experience post-meal abdominal pain are at a greater risk of further stomach complications.

For example, 30% of those experiencing frequent pain after eating also reported regular constipation or diarrhea. Meanwhile, only 20% of the occasional stomach pain group and 10% of the no pain group reported habitual constipation or diarrhea. Additionally, adults living with regular post-meal stomach pain experience bloating about once per week, but those in the occasional pain group only reported bloating about two to three times per month.

Nothing in the human body happens in a vacuum. What occurs in the intestines impacts the stomach, and what happens in the stomach can even have an effect on the mind. There is still much more research necessary, but this poll suggests physicians should discuss post-meal abdominal pain regularly with patients. Such conversations may produce further insight on any number of additional gastrointestinal and psychological conditions. As Colomier concludes, "Patients could benefit from a multidisciplinary care approach, including dietary and lifestyle advice, psychological support, and pharmacological therapy."

For more, check out What Dietitians Say Are the Worst Eating Habits for Your Gut.

John Anderer
John Anderer is a writer who specializes in science, health, and lifestyle topics. Read more
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