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What Your Stomach Issue Says About Your Health

Bloating or discomfort aren't natural. Here's when to call the doctor.

"Stomach pain certainly isn't something that people love to talk about, but it's a medical symptom that should never be ignored," says Jay Woody, MD, FACEP, chief medical officer of Intuitive Health and a co-founder of Legacy ER & Urgent Care. "Of course, knowing when stomach pain is serious can help a lot. Have you ever had an abdominal false alarm? Whether you have or not, here are a few common types of stomach pain and what could be the causes behind them." And since stomach issues can be a symptom of coronavirus, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had Coronavirus.


If You Have Upper Abdominal Pain

woman and she touching in the upper right portion of abdomen and above stomach symptoms

"Dull, upper abdominal pain is usually a sign of excess gas," says Dr. Woody. "It could be a result of eating too quickly, eating something that irritated your stomach, or even swallowing air by accident."

The Rx: "If you suffer from this kind of abdominal pain, cutting out foods like soda, beer, and dairy might be worth considering," says Dr. Woody. "But there are other solutions too. Certain supplements like charcoal and lactose pills can help your body cope with different irritants."


If You Have Lower Chest Pain

Man suffering chest pain, sitting outdoors, heart arrhythmia, ischemic disease

"If you're experiencing lower chest/upper abdominal pain, it's likely that you're suffering from heartburn," says Dr. Woody. "This condition is typically characterized by an acidic taste and a burning type of pain in the lower chest."

The Rx: Spicy foods and acidic drinks like coffee and alcohol are the most common culprits here. Antacids and cutting down on foods that irritate your condition are both excellent solutions in this case. If you feel you are having a heart attack—with pain in your arm, a clenched feeling in the chest or dizziness, among other symptoms—seek medical help.


If You Have Lower Abdominal Pain

Sick woman having a stomach ache

"A sharp, shooting pain on the lower right side of your abdomen is indicative of appendicitis," says Dr. Woody. "This pain is commonly accompanied by nausea, vomiting, and dizziness."

The Rx: If you're experiencing this kind of pain, it's important to seek out emergency services immediately.


If You Have Indigestion

Suffering From Abdominal Pain Touching Aching Stomach Lying On Couch At Home

"One common stomach issue that people deal with is indigestion. It is a challenging symptom as its causes can range from benign to serious," says Dr. Leann Poston. "Indigestion can be caused by overeating, anxiety, smoking, or eating greasy foods to name a few causes."

The Rx: "Lifestyle changes such as eating small, frequent meals and avoiding greasy foods, or using antacids or antigas medications can help in many of these situations," says Dr. Poston. "However, indigestion can also indicate stomach cancer, ulcers, irritable bowel syndrome, or chronic pancreatitis. These more serious conditions require an evaluation and treatment directed towards the cause of the disease."


If You Have Bloating

Woman holding stomach cramps digestive problems

"Abdominal bloating is one of the most common conditions that prompt patients to see a gastroenterologist. Constipation is a common contributing factor. Just as stool can build up when someone is constipated, air/gas can also build up, and cause bloating," says Jesse Houghton, MD. "A person's diet is also another common cause of bloating. Certain foods, especially dairy products, can cause bloating and gas. This would include milk, cheese, ice cream, and don't forget milk chocolate. A large number of people have a degree of lactose/dairy intolerance and do not realize it." 

The Rx: "As for the treatment of abdominal bloating, identifying the cause through testing by your doctor, or by diet changes, is one of the first steps. Many patients also respond to a trial of a special diet called a 'Low FODMAP diet'," says Dr. Houghton. "This is basically a diet that is low in certain foods that are hard to digest, and that tend to cause bloating, cramping, and even diarrhea. Probiotics can also be helpful in certain individuals. These are mostly over the counter, with some exception."


If You Have Irritable Bowel Syndrome

woman hand flush toilet after using

"Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) is among the most common digestive disorders, affecting some 40 million people in the US," says Lawrence Hoberman, MD. "Its symptoms, including unexpected urgent bouts of diarrhea or abdominal pain, make IBS particularly difficult to deal with in social situations, as well as embarrassing to discuss with even a doctor."

The Rx: "IBS sufferers can mitigate discomfort and stress through lifestyle choices such as following a diet rich in fiber, practicing good sleep hygiene and exercising regularly," says Dr. Hoberman. "Probiotics, or beneficial bacteria, in supplement form, have proven helpful by enhancing bacteria diversity in the gut and therefore relieving abdominal pain, bloating, constipation and diarrhea."


If You Have Vomiting or Diarrhea

Woman Feeling Nauseous

This could be due to any number of causes—food poisoning or IBS among them—but don't rule out COVID-19 either. "A recent analysis of more than 200 people admitted to three hospitals in Hubei, China—the province where the virus called SARS-CoV-2 originated—with mild cases of COVID-19 found that almost 1 in 5 had at least one gastrointestinal symptom, such as diarrhea, vomiting, or belly pain. Nearly 80% also lacked an appetite," reports WebMD.


When to See a Doctor

Portrait of asian woman doctor wear protection face mask showing a patient some information on digital tablet clip board, patient listen to specialist doctor in clinic office

"As previously mentioned, stomach pain is a symptom that absolutely shouldn't be ignored. If pain in any area of your stomach worsens or persists for an extended period of time, it's crucial that you go to an emergency room or an urgent care clinic," says Dr. Woody. "You go to these places for minor injuries and illnesses, so why not for stomach pain?" As for yourself: To get through this pandemic at your healthiest, don't miss these 37 Places You're Most Likely to Catch Coronavirus.

Emilia Paluszek
Emilia specializes in human biology and psychology at the University at Albany. Read more about Emilia
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