One of the most common reasons people go to the doctor or even the emergency room is stomach pain. More often than not, the pain resolves itself. However, if it persists for more than a day or two, there could be something serious going on and likely has to do with digestive health. For pain in the stomach that comes and goes it can be difficult to pinpoint the cause but you can do some detective work on your body to figure it out! Here’s how.

Make Sure it’s Really Stomach Pain

It seems like a no-brainer, but first things first. Do you know where your stomach is? Many people don’t, so they mistake pain in their abdomen or other organs for stomach pain. The stomach is located under the ribcage on the left side. Not under the belly button (small intestines) or lower (colon.) Who wants to go to the doctor only to be told that all they have is actually gas? It’s important to know a little anatomy so you understand what’s really hurting!

How the Stomach Works

We don’t often think of it this way, but the entire digestive system is made up of one long muscular tube. The stomach is an enlarged pouch-like section of the tube. It shaped like a comma, pointing out to the upper left side of the abdomen. To digest food, our stomach needs gastric juice – commonly referred to as stomach acid.

The juice is made up of digestive enzymes, hydrochloric acid and other nutrient-absorbing substances. The hydrochloric acid breaks down food and the digestive enzymes help split up the proteins. Having enough of these elements in the stomach to do their jobs correctly is a primary concern when it comes to digestive health. However; having too much acid can cause stomach pain, so it’s a delicate balance.

Highly Acidic Foods

– Tomatoes and peppers
– Citrus fruits
– Coffee and tea
– Garlic
– Onions

Additionally, the body’s immune system releases the chemical histamine as soon as we start to think about food. Histamine sends the message to the stomach that food is coming and encourages it to secrete more gastric juice. It’s usually not a problem unless you eat too many foods high in histamine.

High Histamine Foods

– Strawberries
– Nuts and legumes
– Deli meat
– Cured meat
– Chocolate

Causes of Stomach Pain

Since there are so many potential causes, here are the most common:

Ulcers
This means too much acid in the stomach is eroding the lining. Ulcers typically occur due to consuming much high histamine and high acidity foods.

Acid Reflux
Sometimes the sphincter between the esophagus and stomach opens and allows food to come back up. It can be painful. Many foods and beverages can trigger this, such as coffee or anything carbonated.

Eating Too Late
According to traditional Chinese medicine, the best time for your stomach to eat is 5-7pm. Eating late can keep you up at night with discomfort because your stomach is still working. Plus, laying down with a full stomach can bring on acid reflux.

Eating Too Much or Too Fast
These days we are conditioned to eat so fast. Remember to slow down and chew! With such big bites, it’s harder for the stomach to digest food, and some of it already takes a while. Did you know protein and fats can take 3-5 hours to digest? Another reason to eat early.

Not Enough Digestive Enzymes
In addition to pain, feeling heavy and bloated are symptoms of digestive health issues as well. If this is happening, it’s highly likely that there are large amounts of hard to digest foods like protein sitting in the stomach and not enough digestive enzymes to break it down.

Stomach is Too Cold
Cold foods slow down digestion. Eating raw food or even drinking ice water before a meal can affect a sensitive stomach. Warmth is soothing to all of the body’s cells, including those in the digestive system.

Stress
There’s always the possibility with stomach pain that the issue emotional rather than physical. If stress is setting off the fight or flight response that means blood is diverting from the stomach to the arms and legs and slowing down digestion.

A Bug!
Last but not least, there is bacteria called H Pylori that can infect the stomach and cause painful ulcers. After a positive test result from a doctor, there is treatment with antibiotic and acid blocking medications. However, when there’s no severe ulcer symptoms a probiotic might be a better option.

A Quick Natural Fix for Stomach Pain

The #1 best thing you can do for strong digestive health is drink warm water. It seems so simple but because most people tend to prefer their water cold, they miss out on the benefits of warmth for their digestion. Drinking warm water helps to flush the stomach and improves blood flow to the area. It doesn’t have to be a lot of water, juts sip on a nice cup of warm tea or maybe water with lemon.

If your stomach feels too acidic, try adding a little baking soda. It will act like an Alka-Seltzer.

If your stomach pain is severe and/or is paired with nausea, try adding a little ginger.

A great, simple way to drink more warm water is to change your habits when dining out. The next time you’re out and the server offers to bring you water, order a hot tea instead. This will prep your stomach for smooth digestion.

Should You Seek Help? Questions to Ask First

If you’re debating whether the pain is worth a visit to the doctor, ask yourself the following questions to find out more. Is it a fixable digestive health problem or something more serious? To review everything we’ve covered, here are the questions you should ask yourself.

1. Are You Dealing with the Actual Stomach that’s hurting and what does the pain feel like?
2. Is a Food or Drink the Problem? Note What You Ate and Drank and When.
3. How’s Your Mood?
4. How’s your Temperature are you running a fever?
5. Do You Have Acid Reflux?

If you’re experiencing stomach pain, it’s strongly recommended to keep a food journal so that when a flare-up happens you can see what foods or beverages you’ve consumed that may be contributing to the problem. Include as many details as you can that affect digestion such as your mood or any other symptoms such as bloating, heartburn, or even a loss of appetite. Keeping track of your digestive health will allow you, and possibly your doctor, to determine what’s causing your discomfort and treat it ASAP.

You don’t have to live with chronic stomach pain. Follow my guide to being your own digestive specialist and zero-in on what’s causing the problem. Your gut will thank you!

This blog is a summary of my podcast on being your own digestive specialist. Click here to listen to my podcast!

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