Everyone gets stomach pain after eating. It’s completely normal. You may experience tummy ache when you eat too fast, eat too much, or if your food doesn’t digest properly.
However, in some cases, stomach pain after eating normal amounts of food could signal something serious. Before you panic, you should know most causes of stomach pain aren’t serious. In fact, you can treat mild stomach pain can be treated at home with over-the-counter drugs.
If you have excruciating pain after you eat, you may need to see the doctor. Stomach pain after eating could be a symptom of a severe underlying condition. This article will explain the possible causes of stomach pain, the symptoms and how to treat it. Let’s dig right in!
14 Common Causes of Stomach Pain after Eating
Most of the time, you can get an upset stomach from eating too much food. Your stomach can only take a particular amount of food at once. When you overeat, your stomach tries to make room for the extra food and expands way beyond its capacity.
As your stomach expands, it pushes against surrounding organs, intensifying the pain and making you uncomfortable. Additionally, overeating makes it difficult for your stomach to digest food properly.
While overeating may not feel like a problem, overeating can be fatal for your digestive system.
Top tip: To avoid the unnecessary pain caused by overeating, make sure you eat slowly and take your time to chew your food properly.
You can also drink plenty of water during and after meals and fill up on healthy fruits and vegetables.
Food allergies are one of the most common conditions that happen in the US. In fact, nearly 20% of the entire US population is allergic to certain foods.
Dairy products, nuts, eggs, peanut butter, soy, corn, wheat, and gluten are common food allergies that can cause symptoms such as stomach pain.
Stomach pain and cramping are common symptoms of food intolerances or sensitivities, which are often associated with dairy, gluten, nuts, yeast, and tomatoes.
Top tip: A food elimination diet or an allergen-specific immunoglobulin E (IgE) antibody test can be conducted to determine whether you are allergic to a particular food or substance.
Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder that usually accompanies intense pain in the stomach. People with this condition typically react to a specific protein that’s present in gluten.
This protein (gliadin) is usually found in wheat, rye, barley, spelt and oats. When you become exposed to this protein, your stomach may become upset and highly uncomfortable.
For people with celiac disease, eating foods with gliadin can cause damage to the lining of the small intestine. In extreme cases, celiac disease can cause other serious complications.
While food allergies and food intolerance may seem similar, they shouldn’t be confused for each other. While food allergy involves your immune system treating particular food as foreign invaders, food intolerance is when your digestive system does not agree with certain foods.
Unlike a food allergy, there is no usually immune response that accompanies food intolerance. Most times, your digestive system gets irritated with the food or simply cannot digest it properly.
For example, people with lactose intolerance cannot digest dairy products like milk properly, so they may experience pain in the stomach after eating dairy products.
Top tip: Lactose is the sugar in milk and other dairy products. If you don’t have enough of an enzyme called lactase, your body can have trouble breaking it down. That can cause diarrhoea, gas, bloating, and belly ache. There’s no cure, but you can manage it if you have only a small amount of dairy in your daily diet, buy lactose-free dairy products.
Irritable Bowel Syndrome
IBD is a common gastrointestinal condition that affects the lining of the digestive tract. In fact, it affects about 15% of the US population.
The usual symptoms of Irritable bowel syndrome include gas, abdominal pain bloating, constipation, diarrhoea, cramping, and stomach pain after eating.
Luckily, you can reduce the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome by managing your diet, lifestyle and stress.
When your food is infested with harmful bacteria, viruses, parasites or toxins, you may experience food poisoning.
The usual symptoms of food poisoning are nausea, diarrhoea, vomiting and stomach pain after eating.
Eating contaminated food can cause stomach pain after eating. Although some cases of food poison may resolve on their own, if you are dehydrated or notice blood in your stool or vomit, it is crucial you see a doctor immediately.
Your pancreas is a long, flat gland that sits right behind the stomach. Pancreatitis is the inflammation of pancreatitis. A common symptom of pancreatitis is pain in the upper abdomen, which may spread to the back.
If you feel abdominal pain after eating, it could also be a symptom of pancreatitis, especially when the pain persists for over 6 hours. Other symptoms of pancreatitis may include fever, nausea, and vomiting.
Diverticulitis is also another condition that can cause stomach pain after eating. The condition occurs when pouches in your colon become inflamed from bacteria. The pouches in your colon are also known as cysts or diverticula.
Other symptoms of diverticulitis include fever, bowel movement, constipation, diarrhoea, bloating, nausea, and cramping pain, especially around the lower-left area of the abdomen.
When there is a blockage in your colon or small intestine, it makes it difficult for food to pass through your semicolon effectively. The blockages in your intestine may form as a result of a hernia, fibrous tissue in the abdomen, certain medications or colon cancer.
When you eat too fast, or you eat huge chunks of food, your digestive system may not digest food properly.
The common symptoms of intestinal obstruction include loss of appetite, vomiting, constipation, and stomach pain after eating.
Heartburn is a feeling of a burning sensation in the chest. It is also referred to as acid reflux or acid indigestion. Heartburn is a symptom of acid reflux that produce burning chest pain after eating.
Peptic ulcers are sores that develop on the inside lining of your oesophagus, stomach and the upper part of your small intestine (duodenum). These sores develop when your stomach acid injures the lining of your stomach.
If you have an ulcer in your stomach, you may experience burning stomach pain after eating. This pain can be worsened when you eat spicy foods.
Crohn’s disease is a more severe and chronic case of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).
Crohn’s disease usually causes inflammation in the digestive tract lining, which can lead to severe pain after eating. Other symptoms include diarrhoea, fever, fatigue, and blood in the stool.
Crohn’s disease has proved to be a severe condition in some cases, which could be potentially life-threatening.
Constipation happens when a person has fewer than 3 bowel movements per week. The stool moves slowly through the digestive tract and cannot be passed correctly. If your constipation is chronic, you may have less than 1 bowel movement per week.
Constipation can cause stomach pain, especially after eating. Other symptoms of constipation include hard and/or small stools and bloating.
Specific cancers that affect the abdominal/digestive tract can cause pain in the stomach.
For example, stomach cancer, cancer of the pancreas can cause stomach pain, which worsens after meals, bloating and excessive fatigue.
Diagnosis of stomach pain after eating
Diagnosing the cause of stomach pain after eating can be challenging, especially since many illnesses have symptoms, including stomach pain.
In some cases, your doctor may be able to pinpoint the cause of your stomach pain by listening to your symptoms. Other times, your doctor will have to carry out some invasive tests.
Tests that could help diagnose your stomach pain include:
- pH monitoring
- X-ray scans
- CT scan
- Blood tests
- Faecal sampling for blood
If you suspect you cannot tolerate a particular food, you may need trial and error to determine if you have a specific food intolerance.
Treating stomach pain after eating
If you’re experiencing stomach pain after eating, there are few at-home treatments you can try.
Most of the time, stomach pain after eating may subside after a few hours. If the pain persists, you may need to see a doctor.
To treat your stomach pain after eating, you need to find the underlying cause. If you consider you may have a food allergy, you may need to see an allergist.
If you have a particular food intolerance, ensure you avoid that food as much as possible. Luckily, stomach pain after eating can be managed with over the counter medications.
Here are a few medications that can help soothe stomach pain:
- Simethicone (Gas-X): It helps reduce bloating.
- Antacids (Alka-Seltzer, Rolaids, Tums): Negate the powerful effect of stomach acid and reduce the burning sensation in your stomach.
- Acid-reducers (Pepcid): reduce the production of stomach acid for up to 12 hours.
- Using Laxatives and stool softeners: can reduce constipation and the associated bloating and stomach pain.
Top tip: As always, talk to your doctor before starting any new medication, even if it doesn’t require a prescription.
How to prevent stomach pain after eating
To prevent stomach pain after eating, there are several home remedies you can try.
Eat in appropriate portions
Rather than overeating, ensure you eat in adequate proportions.
Avoid foods that you may be allergic to or you can’t tolerate: If you’re allergic to a certain food, make sure you do your best to avoid it to prevent stomach pain.
Eat diets rich in fibre
Eating foods like fruits and vegetables high in fibre can help prevent constipation. Make sure you drink lots of water before meals, during meals, and after meals.
Rather than eating 3 heavy meals, try and eat 5 to 6 small meals per day. Avoid or reduce caffeine and alcohol intake.
There are a lot of factors that could trigger stomach pain after eating. If your stomach ache is a result of indigestion or heartburn, you may be able to soothe the pain with OTC medications. However, if the pain has persisted for several weeks, you need to consult your doctor as soon as possible.