Everybody experiences abdominal pain at some point in their lives. However, it is difficult to pinpoint the exact location and cause of abdominal pain when it first arises. Our abdomen houses many different organs and tissues, and abdominal pain could have its origin in any one of these abdominal structures. The term “gastric pain” refers to abdominal pain that originates from the stomach. This organ is located mainly in the upper right quadrant of the abdomen.
Signs and Symptoms
Gastric pain may be suspected if the following signs and symptoms are present:
- Pain in the upper left or right quadrant of the abdomen (especially under the left ribcage, upper-middle or epigastric region, upper left flank, or above the umbilicus).
- Abdominal pain that changes (improves or worsens) after eating or drinking.
- Abdominal pain that improves after taking antacid medication.
- Abdominal pain that worsens after taking non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (abbreviated as NSAIDs) or certain antibiotics.
- Abdominal pain that worsens with stress.
The nature of gastric pain varies between individual cases. Gastric pain usually manifests as a burning sensation. However, it can also be a dull ache or a sharp pain.
Read more on nighttime stomach pain.
Causes of Gastric Pain
Gastric pain is associated with many different conditions. It is important to stress that while gastric pain should refer specifically to pain arising from the stomach, sometimes it is incorrectly used to refer to the abdomen.
Injury to the abdominal wall or peritoneum
Gastric pain may be due to pain that arises in the abdominal wall in front of the stomach or the peritoneum that envelops the stomach. Pain in the abdominal wall may arise due to various traumatic causes. Potential causes include injury to abdominal wall due to assault or accidents, muscular strain in the abdominal wall, constochondritis, and fracture of the ribs on the left side of the abdomen. Pain due to costochondritis and rib fracture may increase while lying down. Peritoneal abscess (both intraperitoneal abscess and retroperitoneal abscess) and peritonitis also cause pain in the gastric region.
Gastritis refers to inflammation of the lining of the stomach. Signs and symptoms of gastritis includes nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite, bloating, belching, stomach upset, and gastric pain. Gastritis is a very common condition. Common causes of gastritis include stomach infection, injury, excessive intake of alcohol, and chronic use of pain killers such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (commonly abbreviated as NSAIDs). Pain due to gastritis is usually for a short term, and resolves within days or weeks. Antacids and antibiotics may be used in the treatment of gastritis. However, the exact treatment depends on the cause of gastritis in a particular case.
Open sores in the stomach
Gastric ulcers (also known as stomach ulcers or peptic ulcers) also elicit gastric pain. The pain due to gastric ulcers is usually a burning sensation, and is accompanied by nausea. The condition usually gets worse at night and when the stomach is empty. Eating improves the condition. Other signs and symptoms may include gastric bleeding (seen as blood in vomit or as black tarry stools), changes in appetite, and unexplained weight loss.
Gastric ulcers result from a damage to the inner lining of the stomach by the stomach acid. The most common conditions that result in gastric ulcers include:
- infection with H. pylori bacteria, and
- use of anti-inflammatory pain relievers such as aspirin
Treatment of gastric ulcers involves antibiotics and drugs that decrease the production of acid in the stomach.
Stomach flu and bugs
Gastroenteritis, also known as the stomach flu, is an infectious diarrheal condition involving the stomach and the intestine. Usual signs and symptoms of stomach flu include nausea, vomiting, abdominal cramps, diarrhea and low-grade fever.
Gastroenteritis is an infectious condition that easily spreads through contact with an infected person or contaminated food and water. Washing hands frequently and avoiding contact with contaminated food and water is the best way to prevent gastroenteritis. It resolves within a few days or weeks. No medication is required. Bed rest and oral rehydration are the main treatment options.
The abdominal and chest cavities are separated by a large sheet of muscle known as the diaphragm. The esophagus from the thoracic cavity passes through the diaphragm and joins the stomach in the abdominal cavity. Hiatal hernia (also known as stomach hernia) refers to a condition in which the upper part of the stomach pushes through the diaphragm and enters the thoracic cavity.
In many cases, there are no obvious signs and symptoms associated with hiatal hernia. In some cases, however, hiatal hernia might be associated with nausea, heartburn, excessive belching, and gastric pain. Hiatal hernia may resolve without any treatment. In some cases, medications and surgery may be required.
Indigestion for no known reason
Non-ulcer dyspepsia is a functional disorder characterized by signs and symptoms of indigestion that have no clear cause. The signs and symptoms associated with non-ulcer dyspepsia include nausea, vomiting, bloating, excessive belching and reduced appetite. Pain in the upper abdomen may also be present. Since the cause of non-ulcer dyspepsia is not known, treatment for the condition is non-specific. Using antibiotics to clear up H. pylori infection, if present, may help. Also, trial treatment with medicines that reduce stomach acid production may provide some relief.
Cancer of the stomach
Stomach cancer, technically known as gastric carcinoma, is a serious condition that can cause gastric pain. However, no signs and symptoms may be evident during the early stages of gastric carcinoma. Signs and symptoms that may appear later on during the course of the disease include nausea, vomiting, indigestion, heartburn, feeling of fullness upon eating a small quantity of food, difficulty in swallowing, and unexplained weight loss. Treatment of stomach cancer may include medications, surgery, chemotherapy and radiation therapy.
Sensitvity to foods
Certain individuals are not able to digest certain foods. Eating such foods results in indigestion and makes them sick. Common symptoms of food intolerance include nausea, vomiting, cramps in stomach, heartburn, headache and diarrhea. Food intolerance may be caused by the lack of a specific enzyme needed to digest a certain food component or an inability to absorb certain food components. Food intolerance is a chronic condition, and cannot be cured. Dietary modifications that exclude foods causing adverse reactions is the best way to manage food intolerance.
Overproduction of stomach acid
Zollinger-Ellison syndrome is a rare condition in which tumors form within the pancreas or duodenum. These tumors secrete large amounts of the hormone, gastrin, which leads to excessive production of acid in the stomach. Common signs and symptoms of Zollinger-Ellison syndrome include nausea, vomiting, heartburn, bleeding from the stomach, lack of appetite and weight loss. Treatment includes surgical removal of tumors and medications that lower the production of acid in the stomach.
Surgery to the stomach
Gastric pain may also occur after a gastric surgery, such as gastric resection or gastric bypass. Other post-operative symptoms include nausea, vomiting and a reduction in appetite.