5 Reasons Your Stomach Hurts

Not sure what’s causing your bellyache? Here are five reasons why you may be experiencing stomach pain

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stomach ache

Why is my stomach hurting?

Your digestive tract is one of your body’s most vital systems-it takes your food on an amazing journey once your lunch leaves your lips. First, it travels down the esophagus to the stomach, where acids start breaking it down so your body can use it. After a few hours of digestion, your food then moves through the small intestine, where most of its nutrients are absorbed. After that, it carries on to the large intestine, finally making its grand exit. Although it’s a complicated process, digestion is designed to happen so seamlessly that we rarely notice how busily our bodies are working. Sometimes, however, things go wrong, bringing on uncomfortable abdominal pain. Here are a few reasons why your belly may be aching-from simple to serious:

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1. Heartburn or acid indigestion

One of the most common digestive complaints, heartburn is described as a feeling of burning behind the sternum, with the discomfort often radiating upwards towards the mouth. It can also be described as a cramping, bloating, or a stabbing feeling. Heartburn happens when a sphincter (a muscle that is controlled by the nervous system) in the stomach doesn’t close properly, allowing stomach acid into the wrong areas of the intestinal tract. In many people, heartburn can be exacerbated by large meals, spicy foods, alcohol and caffeine. While taking an antacid may bring on relief, Adam Prinsen, a naturopath based in Peterborough, Ont., says suppressing stomach acid may not be the best long-term solution. “Stomachs produce acid for a reason: to digest the protein in your stomach,” he explains. “If you don’t have enough of it, you will compromise your digestion.” And that could make the problem worse. Because sphincters are affected by stress, Prinsen recommends calming your nerves as a first step. “Your digestive system won’t work properly when you’re stressed,” he explains, “because your body is in a fight-or-flight response-so all your blood goes to your muscles, rather than to your digestive system. Because people are always in a chronic state of stress, the digestive system eventually just shuts down.” That’s why the secret to easing heartburn may be as simple as slowing down.

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2. Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)

Though the causes of IBS are vague, it has become one of the most common lower bowel complaints, especially among women under 40. According to Dr. Robert Enns, a gastroenterologist and clinical professor of medicine at St. Paul’s Hospital at the University of British Columbia, IBS is associated with bowels that work too quickly or too slowly, or sometimes merely with discomfort. “Nobody really knows what causes it,” he says. While Enns explains that there is effective medication to treat IBS, he recommends patients modify their lifestyles first by managing stress and avoiding things like caffeine and foods that are high in saturated fat. Prinsen says it’s hard to prescribe a one-size-fits-all treatment for IBS because it is associated with so many symptoms. However, he often recommends testing for food sensitivities, which can set off a negative chain reaction in the body. He says that sometimes the problem can even be related to a functional liver problem, which may be the result of suppressing anger, frustration or resentment, or from consuming too much alcohol.

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3. Stomach ulcer (or peptic ulcer)

“Ulcers usually give you pain when your stomach is empty, as opposed to heartburn, which usually comes on after consuming certain foods,” Enns explains. In fact, ulcers tend to feel better after eating. Enns says that anti-inflammatory drugs, which are commonly taken for arthritis, headaches and premenstrual syndrome, can cause ulcers. A bacterium known as Helicobacter pylori may also be the cause of some peptic ulcers as it’s known to disrupt the mucous layer that protects the stomach and small intestine. While it’s now known that stress doesn’t directly cause peptic ulcers, uncontrolled anxiety can exacerbate the condition. Prinsen notes that people with aggressive, type-A personalities, and those who tend to worry, are more prone to suffering from peptic ulcers. If you suspect that an ulcer may be the cause of your tummy troubles, visit a healthcare professional for a simple diagnostic blood test. Medical doctors may prescribe an antibiotic or medication that helps protect the mucous lining. As a naturopathic remedy, Prinsen recommends powdered marshmallow root because he says it mimics the mucous the body should be producing naturally.

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Crohn's disease

4. Ulcerative colitis

A form of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), ulcerative colitis typically affects the colon, resulting in bloody diarrhea. “It affects right at the bottom of the bowel,” explains Enns. “It’s as if someone has rubbed sandpaper on the lower bowel, resulting in something like road rash. It kind of weeps and tends to give diarrhea, with bleeding of varying severity.” If you tend to have diarrhea night, People who have ulcerative colitis tend to have diarrhea at night, so Enns says that’s a sign that something serious could be going on especially if it is accompanied by blood in the stool, or weight loss. Ulcerative colitis should be treated with medication.

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wheat gluten

5. Celiac disease

Essentially an allergy to gluten (which is typically found in wheat), this autoimmune disorder often manifests itself with diarrhea and bloating. “Celiac disease doesn’t usually doesn’t give abdominal pain, indigestion or heartburn,” explains Dr. Enns. “Diarrhea is definitely the most common complaint.” Celiac disease, which can be diagnosed with a blood test, is best treated by sticking to a gluten-free diet. “Some people may not have celiac, but they may find they are gluten sensitive,” adds Enns, “so they may also feel better when they’re not eating a lot of wheat or gluten.” However, eliminating gluten from your diet if you’re not sensitive to it could be bad for your health. Consult your doctor, naturopath or registered dietitian before making major changes to your eating habits.


•The foods to eat for a healthy gut

•What to eat if you have Crohn’s disease or colitis

•11 tips for gluten-free grocery shoopping

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