Sour Stomach Meaning, Causes, Diet, Treatment

Many of us use common descriptions for symptoms are not medical terms. A sour stomach is one such symptom. It can describe a range of sensations and the meaning may vary from one person to another. Understanding what a sour stomach means and what may be causing it is important in order to treat it. Fortunately most of the conditions that are responsible for a sour stomach are easily remedied with diet and lifestyle changes.

Meaning of Sour Stomach

A sour stomach is a symptom of some underlying problem. It is not a disease. Usually a sour stomach is a common way to describe the symptoms associated with upper digestive conditions like acid reflux, indigestion and nausea. These are common conditions and symptoms which can be easily remedied with a combination of dietary changes and over-the-counter medication. The term ‘sour stomach’ may be used loosely to describe just about any digestive condition, even those affecting the lower gut like in excessive flatulence and diarrhea.

Most of these conditions affect every person at some time or the other. In these instances it is usually acute meaning it arises suddenly, persists for a short period and then resolves on its own. However, for some people it may be a chronic condition affecting them regularly and impacting on life in a number of different ways. Sometimes offensive smelling belching like sulfur burps may also be described as a sour stomach but the causes of sulfur burps may varies from the conditions discussed below.

Causes of a Sour Stomach

Food passes down the throat, into the esophagus and enters the stomach a short while after swallowing. It is then churned for anywhere between 30 minutes to about 2 hours after which it is passed as a liquid mixture into the duodenum of the small intestine. Food and beverages should only move in one direction which is downwards from the upper digestive tract to the lower digestive tract. Most of the causes of a sour stomach lies in the upper digestive tract and often relate to disturbances with this normal movement especially after a meal.

Acid Reflux

Acid reflux, also known as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is one the more common causes of a sour stomach. The problem lies with the lower esophageal sphincter which normally prevents the stomach contents from moving upwards into the esophagus. When the LES fails, the digested food, acid and digestive enzymes from the stomach flows backwards into the esophagus. It usually presents with heartburn, nausea, loss of appetite and belching.


Indigestion is a collection of symptoms like nausea, bloating, sensation of fullness and heartburn. Acid reflux may occur but the exact cause of indigestion is not clearly known and there are usually no detectable anomalies in the digestive tract. It is therefore also referred to as non-ulcer dyspepsia. Indigestion usually occurs after eating and is more likely to arise with overeating, alcohol consumption and eating greasy foods. It is almost always short-lived and most people will experience the odd episode of indigestion every now and then, sometimes years apart.


Gastritis is a stomach condition where the walls of the stomach are inflamed. It can be non-erosive where the stomach lining does not wear away or erosive where it does become worn and may lead to the formation of open sores (ulcers). The two most common causes of gastritis are non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and H.pylori infection. Stomach pain ranging from a dull ache to an intense gnawing and burning pain is a characteristic symptom along with nausea and appetite changes.

Peptic Ulcer Disease

Peptic ulcer disease (PUD) is a common condition where open sores form in the stomach and/or duodenum (small intestine). It often associated with the same causes as gastritis. Upper left and middle abdominal pain are common symptoms and it is usually in response to eating and hunger. Nausea, sometimes vomiting, bloating and changes in appetite are other symptoms seen with PUD. It can sometimes progress to the point of perforations which can be very serious if left untreated.

Other Causes

  • Pancreatitis
  • Gallstones
  • Bile reflux
  • Small intestine bacterial overgrowth
  • Gastroparesis
  • Esophagitis or esophageal ulcers
  • Zollinger-Ellison syndrome
  • Barret esophagus

Diet and Lifestyle

Although the causes of a sour stomach can vary there are some simple dietary and lifestyle tips that appears to be useful in most instances. These diet and lifestyle changes should not be used as a means of replacing medication or any other therapy that a medical practitioner deems necessary.

  • Avoid overeating. Try to eat small meals more frequently rather than a few large meals. Eat slowly and chew each bite thoroughly.
  • Do not sleep after eating. Walk around, stay active or sit up for at least an hour after a meal. Never exercise immediately after eating especially if it is a large meal.
  • Identify trigger foods. While alcohol, caffeinated beverages, spicy foods and greasy meals are the main triggers there may may be other foods that can also be a problem and are unique to certain individuals.
  • Use prescribed medication. Avoid excessive use of OTC medication like anti-inflammatory drugs. Even the incorrect use of prescription medication can be a problem.
  • Sleep elevated. If the symptoms are severe especially at night then it is advisable to sleep with the head of the bed slightly elevated. Avoid using several pillows as it can strain the neck.

Treatment for Sour Stomach

Medication may be necessary in severe cases where diet and lifestyle alone is not sufficient. There are many over-the-counter drugs that can be effective in reducing symptoms like sour stomach. However, in chronic cases the condition should first be assessed by a medical professional and then medication may be prescribed.

  • Antacids are one of the more common options. It neutralizes the stomach acid.
  • Raft-forming agents help to coat the inner lining of the esophagus to prevent it from being irritated by stomach acid.
  • Acid-suppressing drugs like omeprazole may be used to reduce stomach acid production.
  • Gastric emptying drugs like metoclopramide¬† helps to speed up the exist of food from the stomach.

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