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10 reasons your stomach hurts so much after you eat, according to doctors

It's not always just indigestion

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There is never an ideal time for an upset tummy, but stomach pain after eating is especially unpleasant after a meal.

You may think a certain food is the root cause, but food allergies are actually quite uncommon in adults, says Thomas Vanderheyden, a gastroenterologist at Michiana Gastroenterology. Finding exactly which foods are causing you pain can take time, and it’s important to talk with a doctor about your eating habits and food-related symptoms, he says. Work with your doctor or a registered dietitian to figure out the best plan for you.

As you probably guessed, one of the most common reasons for stomach pain after eating is dyspepsia, which is basically just a fancy word for indigestion. Dyspepsia causes abdominal pain, bloating, and feelings of fullness after you eat, says Dr Scott Gabbard, a gastroenterologist at the Cleveland Clinic.

While indigestion typically goes away on its own, your stomach might also hurt after eating because of an underlying condition, says Dr Ashkan Farhadi, a gastroenterologist at MemorialCare Orange Coast Medical Center and the director of MemorialCare Medical Group’s Digestive Disease Project in Fountain Valley, California.

Does your stomach hurt on the reg after you enjoy a meal? It may be worth considering whether one of these medical issues could be responsible.

Meet the experts: Dr Thomas Vanderheyden is a gastroenterologist with more than a decade of experience in the specialty. He is board-certified in both internal medicine and gastroenterology.

Dr Ashkan Farhadi is a senior member of the American College of Gastroenterology, and he has extensive experience as a researcher and professor at several major universities. He serves as volunteer faculty at the University of California, Irvine, where he teaches in the gastroenterology fellowship program.

1. You have gastro-oesophageal reflux disease (GERD)

    Also known as GERD, this condition happens when stomach acid irritates the lining of your oesophagus, creating heartburn and stomach pain in the process, Dr. Farhadi says.

    You’re more likely to suffer from GERD if you tend to overeat or love spicy foods—that allows acid to flow up into your oesophagus, which can be pretty painful, says Rudolph Bedford, MD, a gastroenterologist at Providence Saint John's Health Center in Santa Monica, California.

    If you think you’re struggling with GERD, try cutting back on spicy foods, caffeine, and alcohol, and take over-the-counter antacids (like Rennie) to help with symptoms. If that still doesn’t do the trick, call your doctor.

    2. You have irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)

    IBS, an intestinal disorder that can cause pain in your stomach, gas, diarrhoea, and constipation, can show up in a number of different ways, but it can definitely cause stomach pain after you eat, Dr. Farhadi says. If your stomach keeps hurting after you eat and you’re struggling with constipation or diarrhoea, it’s a good idea to check in with your doctor to get tested for IBS.

    3. You have coeliac disease

    Celiac disease is an immune reaction to eating gluten that can impact sufferers in different ways. One is stomach pain after you eat gluten, Dr. Bedford says. BTW: Your stomach can also hurt if you have a mild gluten intolerance (meaning your body has difficulty digesting gluten), but this is different from coeliac disease.

    With coeliac, a person's small intestine becomes damaged when they eat gluten; with a gluten intolerance, someone may simply have a physical reaction like diarrhoea or gas after eating gluten. Your doctor can help you determine what might be at the root of the problem.

    4. You have an ulcer

    If you’re struggling with chronic pain after you eat and are also dealing with weight loss, anemia, vomiting, trouble swallowing, or blood in your poop, it could be a sign of an ulcer, Dr. Gabbard says. Ulcers, which are sores that develop in the lining of your oesophagus, stomach, or small intestine, are usually treated with acid-reducing medication and antibiotics in some cases, so you really need to see a doctor about this.

    5. You have Gastroparesis

    Also known as 'slow stomach,' gastroparesis results in partial paralysis of your stomach muscles and prevents proper digestion, says Dr. Vanderheyden. Because of this, food remains in your stomach longer. As a result, your stomach cannot accommodate and digest more food you eat, which then causes cramping and/or spasms in the stomach. You may also experience nausea or vomiting.

    Most cases are spontaneous, usually occurring after a stomach virus or bacterial infection, but a recent infection with COVID-19 has also been linked to gastroparesis, according to Dr. Vanderheyden.

    If you struggle with this condition, you'll want to eat smaller, more frequent meals, which makes it easier for food to leave your stomach. You may also want to avoid fibre-rich foods such as oranges, broccoli, beets, and celery, and eating well-cooked fruits and veggies instead of raw ones. Your doctor may also prescribe medications to stimulate the stomach muscles and ease the associated nausea.

    6. You have small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO)

    SIBO occurs when there is an abnormal amount of bacteria in your small intestines. When there are too many 'bad' bacteria, it overwhelms the good bacteria that is needed for digestion. It can cause bloating, diarrhoea, and abdominal pain after meals due to poor digestion.

    Risk factors of SIBO include advanced age, prior abdominal surgery, autoimmune disorders, or chronic constipation, says Dr. Vanderheyden.

    Treatment involves antibiotics to eliminate the bacteria overgrowth and dietary changes, so Dr. Vanderheyden recommends checking in with a gastroenterologist if you suspect you have SIBO.

    7. You have gallbladder disease

    Gallbladder disease is especially common among women in their 40s and refers to multiple issues that cause pain in the mid- to upper-right upper quadrant of your abdomen and around the back, says Dr Jeffrey Jacobs, a gastroenterologist at Illinois Gastroenterology Group.

    Because the gallbladder is stimulated by fat, mild to severe abdominal pain can occur after eating a greasy meal (think: fried foods, cheese, butter). Inflammation caused by gallstones blocking the ducts to your small intestines can also result in severe pain. Waking up in the middle of the night from severe stomach pain is usually a warning sign that something may be wrong with your gallbladder, says Dr. Jacobs.

    Issues with your gallbladder will typically not resolve on its own, so if you have frequent or recurring stomach pain after eating and other concerning symptoms, you should see your doctor immediately. They may prescribe medication to help with the pain, but surgery to remove the gallbladder may also be necessary for more severe cases.

    8. You have Crohn's disease

    Crohn's disease, a type of inflammatory bowel disease, can affect any segment of the GI tract from the mouth down to the anus, says Dr. Jacobs. Inflammation due to Crohn's can cause mild to severe symptoms, including vomiting, diarrhoea, fatigue, abdominal pain, cramping, reduced appetite, and blood in your poop.

    There is no known cause for Crohn's disease, but it is typically related to your diet and genetics, says Dr. Jacobs. While it's a chronic condition that requires ongoing monitoring and management, your doctor may recommend medication, diet changes, and surgery to curb symptoms and provide long-term relief.

    9. You have ulcerative colitis

    Generally affecting the colon, ulcerative colitis is another type of inflammatory bowel disease and causes small ulcers throughout the entire colon or rectum, says Dr. Jacobs. Symptoms usually develop over time and include abdominal or rectal pain, bloody diarrhoea, rectal bleeding, urgency to use the bathroom, fatigue, and weight loss. The stomach pain is worsened by foods high in sugar or saturated fats like cake, butter, coconut oil, and bacon.

    The exact cause is unknown, but it may be a combination of genetics, stress, diet, and immune system dysfunction. If you experience severe abdominal pain after eating or see blood in your stool, contact a doctor. Treatment usually consists of anti-inflammatory medications, but surgery may be necessary in more extreme cases.

    10. You have pancreatitis

    Pancreatitis is inflammation of your pancreas and causes pain in the upper abdomen and radiates to the back, says Dr. Jacobs. Because the pancreas produces enzymes that help with digestion, pancreatitis occurs when those enzymes are released too soon and attack the pancreas instead of food in your stomach.

    Pain can appear suddenly, or it can be a chronic condition associated with gallstones, pancreatic stones, or alcoholism. Mild acute pancreatitis usually goes away within a few days and can be treated with pain medications and rest, but severe cases may require surgery. If you have a sudden onset of pain, nausea, vomiting, fever, or extreme tenderness in your upper belly, call your doctor ASAP.

    Again, sometimes the reason can be as simple as overeating, but if you find that your stomach regularly hurts after you eat, it’s a good idea to rope in a medical professional to help you figure out why.

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