Wondering about your stomach pains? SHAPE shares the most common causes of stomach pain and offers practical advice on what to do next.
Want to avoid stomach aches forever? Don't eat. Don't stress. Don't drink. Oh, and hope like heck that no one in your family has a history of tummy troubles either. Not exactly realistic, right? Fortunately, you don't have to go to such extremes to feel better.
The first step: Make an appointment with your doctor. Sounds obvious, but some women don't bring up their stomach pains during office visits because, frankly, they find them quite embarrassing," says Dayna Early, M.D., a gastroenterologist at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. Next, examine your lifestyle: Often you can cure yourself of your distress simply by eliminating certain habits that you may not even realize are causing your stomach pain symptoms.
Finally, don't worry -- even if your problem is a medical one, there are plenty of treatment options. When lifestyle changes don't help, medication often does. "There's no need for women to suffer," Early says. Here, the country's leading gastroenterologists list the most common causes of digestive woes in women -- and give simple solutions for feeling better fast.
Common causes of stomach pain # 1
You're overweight. Carrying extra pounds can leave you more susceptible to developing gallstones, solid deposits of cholesterol or calcium salts that can cause severe upper stomach pains in your right abdomen, Raymond says.
Gallstones occur in up to 20 percent of American women by age 60, and women between the ages of 20 and 60 are three times more likely to develop them than men.
Excess weight also raises risk of GERD: One study published last August at the Baylor College of Medicine found that overweight people were 50 percent more likely to have GERD symptoms than those at a healthy weight. "Extra weight puts pressure on your stomach, which in turn puts pressure on the valve between the stomach and your esophagus, thus making it easier for acid to back up," Early explains. Losing just 10 to 15 pounds may be enough to eliminate these stomach pains.
Got GERD symptoms, including stomach pains? The first step of GERD treatment involves making lifestyle and dietary changes.
Common Causes of Stomach Pain, # 2:
You're popping over-the-counter remedies, instead of watching what you eat. Everyone takes the occasional Tums, but if you're downing over-the-counter acid blockers morning, noon and night, you may have GERD, gastroesophageal reflux disease, a chronic condition caused by stomach acid that moves from your belly into your esophagus, usually a result of a weakness in the muscular valve that separates the stomach and the esophagus.
A 2005 review published in the medical journal Gut concluded that up to 20 percent of all Westerners suffer from GERD symptoms -- and the first step toward getting healthy involves making lifestyle changes, such as watching what you eat.
Specific foods -- namely citrus fruits, tomatoes and tomato sauces, chocolate, wine and caffeinated beverages -- can trigger GERD symptoms. To help with GERD treatment, your doctor may also have you keep a food diary for two weeks so you can pinpoint which foods are particular problems for you, adds Roshini Rajapaksa, M.D., a gastroenterologist at the New York University School of Medicine.
One tip to reduce stomach pains: Fill up on fiber-rich foods like fruits, veggies and whole grains and limit saturated fat. A Baylor College of Medicine study found that people who ate high-fiber diets (at least 20 grams a day) were 20 percent less likely to suffer from GERD symptoms, and those who ate a diet low in saturated fat also cut their odds.
Common Causes of Stomach Pain, # 3:
You're simply stressed beyond belief. Ever wonder why you end up having to run to the bathroom every time you're up against a tight work deadline or anxious about a fight with your husband? When you're frazzled, elevated levels of stress hormones activate the normal contractions of both your stomach and colon, causing them to go into spasms, says Patricia Raymond, M.D., a GI doctor at Eastern Virginia Medical School in Norfolk, Va. (Stress hormones also can contribute to the overproduction of stomach acid, making you more susceptible to GERD symptoms.)
On top of that, stress often begets poor eating (think fatty, processed chips and cookies with very little fiber), which can cause constipation, and even more bloating. When you know you're going to have a tough day, plan to eat regular small meals so you're not too hungry or too full and avoid overindulging in caffeine -- all of which can trigger stomach pains.
Then get moving: An aerobic workout (aim for at least 30 minutes) won't just help get rid of stress, it will also help counter any constipation by speeding up the movement of food through your digestive tract, Raymond says.Continue reading for info about irritable bowel syndrome and its stomach pain.