A stomachache is a cramp or pain in your tummy or stomach area. The pain may range from mild to moderate and usually resolves in a few minutes to hours, with or without treatment. Severe stomachache that will not go away may point to a more serious problem. It can be caused by an infection, cancer, indigestion, food intolerance, allergy, a stomach ulcer and more.
Stomachache can be a symptom of many conditions. Constipation, indigestion, and heartburn are common causes of stomachache. Other causes include:
- Food poisoning is caused by food that is contaminated with bacteria or viruses or that is not properly cooked.
- Stomach pain that occurs shortly after eating can be caused by an ulcer.
- Lactose intolerance: if you develop stomach pain shortly after you consume milk or other dairy foods, you may not be able to digest dairy products properly.
- Irritable bowel syndrome, which causes stomach cramps, bloating, diarrhoea and constipation. These tend to come and go over time. The cause of this disorder is not known.
- An inflammation of the appendix can cause a very sharp pain in your belly. This requires urgent medical care.
- Some medicines (e.g. aspirin and ibuprofen) can cause stomach upsets. This is usually why you are recommended to eat before taking some kinds of medicines.
A stomachache can be a symptom of a severe problem. Seek urgent medical help if:
- Your stomach ache is so severe that you cannot talk or sit still.
- Your stomach begins to swell or feels painful to touch.
- Your stomachache lasts longer than 1 day or keeps getting worse.
- You feel pain when you pee.
- Your stomach ache is accompanied by vomiting, and loose and watery stools.
- You start losing weight unexpectedly.
You can't prevent all stomach aches but you can reduce the severity through self-care. You should eat healthier meals (with more fruits and vegetables) in smaller portions and more frequently, drink clean water, exercise regularly and get treated for any underlying conditions.
- Cook your food properly and drink clean or boiled water only.
- Eat a healthy and balanced diet. Include more green vegetables (e.g. ugwu, tete) in your diet. They make it easier for your body to digest food.
- Eat smaller meals and eat slowly. Eating too fast can cause you to swallow more air which may lead to indigestion.
- When you eat, do not lie down immediately. Lying down immediately after eating can cause heartburn and stomach pain.
- You can use over-the-counter antacids (e.g. mist-mag) to relieve stomachache.
- Your doctor may perform a physical examination and gently feel your internal organs for swellings or abnormalities.
- Your healthcare provider will usually recommend a treatment that matches the underlying condition, such as antibiotics for infections and Buscopan for cramp-like pains.
- Prescription-only pain relievers (e.g. celecoxib) can be used to relieve severe pain and discomfort in people with an ulcer.
- Actively bleeding ulcers may require a special approach to stop the bleeding. You healthcare provider may insert a long, thin tube through your mouth for minor surgery (endoscopy).
Stomach pain in many cases is not a serious symptom and will go on its own in a few hours. Over-the-counter treatment in the nearest pharmacy around you can also help to speed up recovery. More severe pain may require medical attention so you should go to the nearest hospital as soon as you can. Eat healthily, go for regular medical check-ups so that you can know your health status.