Stomach aches are the worst. One minute you are totally fine, the next you are curled up on the couch, unable to move. Common symptoms like bloating, gas, and nausea may have you googling how to get rid of a stomach ache ASAP. While the idea of standard cures that work in all cases of belly pain is so appealing, what you need to make it go away depends on what is causing it in the first place.
FYI, stomach aches can occur whenever there is irritation of the stomach lining, says Henry Herrera, MD, a gastroenterologist at DHR Health Gastroenterology in Texas. Whether you indulged on too much spicy food, drank one too many cocktails at happy hour, or overdid it on desserts (hello, Girl Scout cookies), a number of reasons could contribute to discomfort in your abdomen.
Before reaching for the nearest remedy you could find, you should know some of the fixes you came across online may not help and even make you feel worse. For example, the bubbles and sugar in ginger ale can feed the bad bacteria making you sick, so swap it for ginger tea instead. You’ll also want to ditch that lemon water. “Keep in mind that acidic foods also tend to be associated with increases in reflux symptoms,” explains Dr. Herrera.
How long does a stomach ache last?
Stomach aches usually don't last that long, maybe one to two hours. And they typically subside on their own. But how long it lasts is not really an indicator of whether it's benign or something more serious, says Leila Kia, MD, a gastroenterologist at Northwestern Medicine.
“There are other factors that must be considered, such as the character of the pain, intensity, and location along with associated symptoms,” she notes. “Association with meals or certain foods, a patient's medication history, the timing of the pain, and other medical problems are all important factors in assessing the cause of a stomach ache.”
If the pain does not improve with over-the-counter meds, is waking you up in bed, accompanied by weight loss, blood in your stool, vomiting, or fevers, you should definitely check in with your doctor.
Feeling a rumble down below and aren't sure how to properly get rid of your stomach ache? Try one of these remedies.
Mild stomach aches can go away on their own if you wait a little. This also applies when you're dealing with diarrhea, which could be a symptom of mild food poisoning.
While this can totally happen at your neighborhood sushi joint, it's also super common when you travel overseas. That's because your body has to adjust to the new bacteria in the food and water you're consuming away from home.
Being patient is the best thing you can do in these scenarios. "You need to let your body flush itself," says Amit Bhan, MD, a gastroenterologist at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit.
ICYMI, gas is caused by two things: consuming gas-forming foods such as green vegetables, fruits with peels on them, carbonated beverages, cabbage, and beans; or by swallowing air, explains Michael Wolfe, MD, the chair of the Case Western Reserve University department of medicine at MetroHealth Medical Center in Cleveland, Ohio.
"People [take in extra air] when they drink with straws, talk with their mouths full, eat too fast, or when they're nervous," he adds.
If you have a gas problem that you think is causing your stomach pain, take an OTC drug like Mylanta Gas. Beano, Dr. Wolfe says, is another good option, especially if veggies aren't friendly to your system—it breaks down raffinose, a sugar byproduct in plants that can be tough to digest.
Dr. Bhan recommends knocking back some Pepto-Bismol if diarrhea strikes at a bad time or if it's so frequent that it keeps you up at night. The pink liquid will attack the diarrhea-causing bacteria in your system, so you can rest and function during the day. You can also take Imodium, which works by slowing down the speed at which fluids flow through your intestines.
Sure, you expect cramps around the time of your period, but nausea, upset stomach, and diarrhea? It's actually pretty normal for your whole abdominal region to go haywire when you're menstruating, per Nancy Cossler, MD, an ob-gyn and the chief of system quality for obstetrics at University Hospital in Ohio.
"Hormones cause contractions of the uterine muscle, which causes cramping," she says. "It's completely normal if your stomach cramps, causing an upset stomach or diarrhea [around your period]."
To ease cramps, take an ibuprofen 12 to 24 hours before you're expecting your period, Dr. Cossler says. Then take the prescribed amount every three to six hours for three days.
If you deal with constant stomach issues like bloating, yogurt can help keep your digestive system in tip-top shape.
Though annoying, bloating is generally not a huge cause for concern. "Don't be too worried," says David C. Metz, MD, a professor of medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. "Anything from menstruation to constipation can cause it."
As long as you've ruled out lactose intolerance, try eating yogurt with "live and active cultures" (look for this phrase on the label), which can help regulate your digestive system.
Sometimes stomach aches can lead to other pains, like heartburn, an irritation of the esophagus that feels like burning or tightness from stomach contents that are forced back up into the esophagus.
At-home remedy you already have: milk. "When I have heartburn, I drink a glass of milk," says Jeffry A. Katz, MD, a gastroenterologist at University Hospitals Cleveland Medical Center. "Milk neutralizes the acid produced by the stomach."
Eating spicy foods before bed is a common culprit of acid reflux, as is eating too much or too fast, smoking, and imbibing heavily. But nearly anything can make you feel the burn and result in a stomach ache.
"This condition often hits at night, when you're in the lying-down position," says Minh Nguyen, MD, a gastroenterologist at Fox Chase Cancer Center in Philadelphia. Acid travels from the stomach to the esophagus and throat, causing heartburn or a sore throat and bouts of coughing.
Dr. Nguyen recommends a prescription medicine or an over-the-counter antacid like Prilosec. But if you don't want to rely on drugs, cut back on the known triggers.
A simple cure may be waiting for you in your kitchen: Ginger root has a long history of being used successfully as a cure for an upset stomach.
The reason ginger works so well for digestion has never been precisely identified, but some say it speeds up the pace at which food moves into the small intestine from the stomach.
"[When] I've eaten too much and feel nauseated, I'll have ginger tea to soothe my stomach," says Charlene Prather, MD, an associate professor of gastroenterology at Saint Louis University School of Medicine. "It's really easy to make—I just grate fresh ginger in water and add a little honey and it takes care of it."
There's no sugar-coating this one: If you feel pain after a meal, you likely ate too fast, too much, or the wrong thing.
The quick fix: Eliminate fast food, and slow down at the table. If you're not a junk-food junkie and are still feeling ill afterwards, it's unlikely, but you could have gallbladder disease. "Women more often than men get it, and some get gallstones for no reason," says Frank Marrero, MD, a gastroenterologist at Lake Charles Memorial Health System in Louisiana. See your doc to rule it out.
Rumor has it that you have to go number two three times a day to have healthy bowels. The truth? Everybody poops, but not with the same frequency.
Still, constipation is very common in women, says Irwin Grosman, MD, the associate chief of gastroenterology at NYP Brooklyn Methodist Hospital in Brooklyn. "There's a theory that there's a hormonal difference between men and women, and [that] women take longer to digest and eliminate food," he adds.
The bottom line: If you don't go every day, don't sweat it. But if you're experiencing other symptoms of constipation, such as bloating or gas, add more fiber to your diet. Fill your plate with more fruits and vegetables, whole grains and beans, and kick-start your day with a high-fiber cereal.
Inactivity can sometimes cause constipation too. Aim for 30 minutes of exercise per day and keep yourself hydrated. If all that doesn't keep things moving, try a gentle over-the-counter fiber supplement like Metamucil.
If you're dealing with green poop and an upset stomach, veggies could be to blame. "Our dietary vegetable intake is usually the cause for green stool. Stomach aches in this setting can usually be remedied by avoiding major gas-producing vegetables such as asparagus, broccoli, and Brussels sprouts," says Dr. Herrera. Minimize the amount you eat until you feel better.
The digestive system's natural contractions are felt more severely on an empty stomach. Without food, the stomach becomes a gastric echo chamber.
Hunger pangs serve a handy purpose: They're like a text message from the stomach to the brain telling it that it's time to pursue nourishment.
So, make sure you eat. But beware, because in rare cases, an achy stomach could indicate more than hunger. "Sometimes people sense a burning pain that gets better when you eat," says Mark Babyatsky, MD, who was a gastroenterologist and assistant professor of medicine at the Mount Sinai Icahn School of Medicine in New York. "That could be an ulcer. If it persists, see a physician. If you've always had it, it could be just your appetite." Stay full by eating more small meals throughout the day.
Sometimes a digestive disease, like gastritis or a peptic ulcer, may be responsible for indigestion. But more commonly, chronic indigestion is known as functional dyspepsia—or indigestion without a known health problem behind it, per the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK).
After ruling out underlying conditions with your doctor, an OTC antacid should help soothe your tummy, says Rita Knotts, MD, a gastroenterologist and assistant professor of medicine at NYU Langone Health.
If you're looking for a long-term solution, Dr. Knotts recommends trying cognitive behavioral therapy or acupuncture, since the indigestion could be caused by stress.
Burping is actually a natural reflex response to increased gas in your system, Dr. Knotts says. Foods or beverages that promote gas (think: carbonated beverages) may be to blame.
Dr. Knotts suggests avoiding bubbles, so swap soda or beer for water or wine. Try to keep portions of fiber-heavy foods small and eat slowly, so your body can better break them down.
When you go for a run (or really, do any type of workout), you might feel that little pinch of pain in your side. That’s typically musculoskeletal pain caused by dehydration or eating too much before you started your sweat session, says Dr. Knotts.
So drink up. And next time, before you begin exercising, Dr. Knotts suggests making sure you had some time to digest. Give yourself at least an hour (better yet, a couple) after a meal.
Chamomile can relieve symptoms of an upset stomach, including nausea and vomiting.
It contains bisabolol, which has anti-inflammatory properties and relaxes the smooth muscle lining of the digestive tract, according to Dr. Herrera. Chamomile also has other anti-inflammatory compounds like azulene, chamazulene, and matricin.
Thanks to their menthol content, both spearmint and peppermint can soothe the pain of a stomach ache. Menthol has been shown to relax the muscles in the GI tract, says Dr. Herrera.
But if you're experiencing acid reflux, it's best to avoid these. "It can worsen reflux by relaxing the sphincter, which keeps stomach contents out of the esophagus," he explains.
Just can't seem to go? Aloe can serve as a laxative, which is helpful for people who have stomach pain due to constipation, says Dr. Herrera.
Aloe juice may provide relief to those dealing with acid reflux by reducing the frequency of symptoms associated with the condition, found a 2015 study published in the Journal of Traditional Chinese Medicine.
Figs are chock full of fiber, which helps promote bowel movements in people who struggle with belly pain caused by constipation, says Dr. Herrera. In that way, they can act as a natural laxative.
"This diet has been shown to be effective in managing stomach pain and bloating in patients with irritable bowel syndrome because it eliminates many gas-producing foods," Dr. Herrera says.
A low-FODMAP diet can potentially alleviate the symptoms of stomach aches, bloating, and other GI problems by limiting your intake of fermentable carbs. (This is an elimination diet, so you'll want to do this under the supervision of a health care provider.)
This is especially important for people who are prone to acid reflux. "Lying down too quickly will result in stomach contents moving into the esophagus, which results in an unpleasant feeling of pressure or pain, along with a bitter taste," says Dr. Herrera. Schedule your last meal of the day to be at least three hours before lying down or going to bed, per Dr. Kia.
"Warm water has been used for relieving stress, which can often manifest as a stomach ache in many patients. It also helps relax tense muscles, which can be present after a stressful day," says Dr. Herrera.
It may even help to add a bit of epsom salt to it. "When epsom salt is placed in water, it dissolves, releasing magnesium. Some researchers believe that magnesium helps increase serotonin in the brain, which is involved in relaxation," Dr. Herrera adds. Though more research is still required, there are studies linking magnesium to the reduction of stress and anxiety.