A pressure sensation anywhere inside the body can occur for a number of reasons that are not always easy to identify. With the stomach, it can be even more confusing due to its proximity to organs of different symptoms. A pressure sensation in the upper left side of the abdomen along with digestive symptoms like nausea, vomiting or sensation of fullness after eating is more likely to be originating from the stomach.
What is stomach pressure?
Stomach pressure is a common way of describing a pressing or pushing sensation on the stomach. Often this refers to the abdomen in general while at other times it is specifically related to a pressing sensation in the left upper quadrant (LUQ) of the abdomen where the stomach is located. However, it is difficult to identify whether the pressure is actually on the stomach or on surrounding organs as the abdominal cavity is packed with organs lying right next to each other.
While at times this pressing sensation may only be perceived as such despite there being no problem, at other times there may actual pressure on the stomach from neighboring organs. Distension may also be perceived as a pressure sensation although the pressure is internal rather than external compression. Overeating or drinking large amounts of carbonated beverages are two common causes of distension where there is a pressure sensation. Externally the liver and spleen can compress the stomach if these organs are abnormally enlarged.
Gas in the Stomach
Digestive gas is due to air that is swallowed, carbonated beverages, gas produced by microbes in the gut like bacteria and the gas released by chemical digestion. Swallowed air is by far the main component of digestive gas. The build up of the gas often causes a pressure sensation in the stomach. While it may be passed as a belch, this gas and sometimes remain trapped in the stomach and can cause significant discomfort. In the event that it is not passed out, it may travel down the gut until it is expelled as flatus.
Sometimes this accumulation of gas can even be painful especially when it cannot be released with a belch. Although digestive gas build up is not serious it may cause other digestive symptoms like reflux, nausea and loss of appetite. Various medication and simple remedies can help to ease this gas build up and expel it with a belch. Relief with these measures may mean that the underlying cause of stomach pressure is not serious although it is still advisable to have it assessed by a doctor if it recurs on a frequent basis.
Causes of Stomach Pressure
The cause of pressure or pushing on the stomach can vary greatly. Obvious causes like overeating and carbonated beverages have been mentioned but at times even very tight clothing can be a problem. However, the concern is about diseases or disorders that press on the stomach, injures it or causes inflammation. Sometimes stomach pressure may be the first symptom to arise and without prompt treatment other symptoms and complications may develop without prompt treatment.
Pushing Inside Stomach
- Gastritis: Inflamed stomach more commonly caused by H.pylori infection and excessive NSAIDs.
- Gastroenteritis: Inflammation of stomach and small intestine usually due to infections that causes acute diarrhea and vomiting.
- Hiatal hernia: Protrusion of a portion of the stomach into the chest cavity through the small opening in the diaphragm.
- Stomach ulcers: Open sores (ulcers) that form in the inner lining of the stomach wall often associated with severe gastritis.
- Gastroparesis: Paralysis of the stomach muscles that hamper churning and movement of food through the stomach.
- Pyloric stenosis: Narrowing of the stomach outlet which slows down the emptying of food from the stomach.
- Bile reflux: Backward flow of bile from the duodenum into the stomach causing irritation of the stomach wall.
- Tumors: Benign (non-cancerous) and malignant (cancerous) tumors can obstruct movement through the stomach and damage the stomach wall.
Pressure Outside Stomach
- Splenomegaly: Enlargement of the spleen which lies next to the stomach on the left flank.
- Hepatomegaly: Enlargement of the liver which lies to the right and and slightly above the stomach.
- Abdominal obesity: Accumulation of fat places pressure on the abdominal organs, including the stomach.
- Peritonitis: Inflammation of the peritoneum which lines the abdominal organs.
- Ascites: Accumulation of fluid in the abdominal cavity.
- Bowel obstruction: Blockage within the bowels with accumulation of partially digested food and stool.
- Constipation: Infrequent passage or stool and difficulty passing stool.
- Pregnancy: Enlargement of the pregnant uterus compresses the abdominal organs especially in the second half of the pregnancy.
How to ease stomach pressure?
It is important for the underlying cause of stomach pressure to be diagnosed by a medical professional and treated appropriately. This may require medication or even surgery at times. However, occasional stomach pressure is often due to dietary and lifestyle factors and not any serious underlying disease. The following measures may help to ease the stomach pressure and any change in symptoms with these measures may also be useful in identifying the underlying disease.
- Avoid overeating. Try to have many smaller meals in a day rather than a few large meals. Foods that are high in fiber can bulk up with water in the gut so it is important to control portion sizes.
- Do not drink carbonated beverages especially with meals. The build up of food, carbon dioxide and oxygen can increase pressure within the stomach.
- Air swallowing is a major contributor to gas build up within the digestive tract. It can be minimized by eating slowly and avoiding talking while eating. Chewing gum and cigarette smoking may also contribute to air swallowing.
- Certain foods may increase gas build up in the stomach. These ‘gassy foods’ are known to cause excessive belching and flatulence and should be eaten in moderation.
- Mild physical activity after a meal like a slow walk can help to increase emptying of the stomach and aid digestion. Do not lie flat or go to sleep after a meal.
- Change clothing to loose fitting items that do not press against the abdomen. In women, even bras that are too tight can cause upper abdominal discomfort.