stomach ache

Stomach Ache: Causes and Remedies

Stomachaches are so common that everyone experiences them at one point or another. There are dozens of reasons why you might get a tummy ache. Most causes aren’t serious and the symptoms pass quickly. Generally, there’s no need to look further than your kitchen for a solution.

Everyone experiences an upset stomach and indigestion, or dyspepsia, from time to time after eating or drinking. The condition is usually no cause for concern, and it is often possible to treat the symptoms using home remedies.

Common symptoms of an upset stomach and indigestion include:

  • heartburn, or acid reflux
  • nausea
  • bloating
  • gas
  • belching, sometimes bringing up bitter or foul-tasting fluid or food
  • farting
  • bad-smelling or sour breath
  • hiccupping or coughing

If you get stomach aches periodically, you’re not alone. An upset stomach can result from all sorts of things from stress and diet to more serious matters such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome, Celiac Disease or colon cancer.

While there is no comparison to care from one of our board-certified gastroenterologists, many stomach aches can easily be treated at home. However, if you have persistent issues or pain, or a sudden onset of severe symptoms, medical treatment is always your best option.

One of the most common and frequent pains people experience occurs in the stomach. The causes of stomach pain are many, given that it is one of your body’s most active and important organs. Thankfully, most stomach pains aren’t serious, and there are quick and easy remedies for most cases.

There are, however, stomach pains that should be taken seriously and require immediate action. Understanding the difference between serious and mild pains, and how to deal with them, can be critical to staying safe and healthy.

Remedies

Some of the most popular home remedies for an upset stomach and indigestion include:

Bananas

Bananas contain vitamin B6, potassium, and folate. These nutrients can help to ease cramps, pains, and muscle spasms. Bananas can also help by adding bulk to loose stools, which can alleviate diarrhea.

Coconut water

Coconut water contains high levels of potassium and magnesium. These nutrients help to reduce pain, muscle spasms, and cramps.

Coconut water is also useful for rehydrating and is a better option than most sports drinks as it is also low in calories, sugar, and acidity.

Slowly sipping on up to 2 glasses of coconut water every 4–6 hours could ease upset stomach symptoms.

Rice

Plain rice is useful for people with many types of stomach complaints. It can help by:

  • adding bulk to stool
  • absorbing fluids that may contain toxins
  • easing pain and cramps, because of its high levels of magnesium and potassium

Someone who is vomiting or has diarrhea could try slowly eating half a cup of plain, well-cooked rice. It is best to wait until at least a few hours after the last episode of vomiting. The person may continue to do this for 24–48 hours until diarrhea stops.

Rice is also part of the BRAT diet that doctors often recommend.

Spearmint

Like mint, spearmint is a common remedy for many digestive complaints, including:

  • nausea
  • stomach and intestinal spasms
  • gastrointestinal infections
  • diarrhea

Most people find that the easiest way to consume spearmint is to drink prepared herbal teas in which spearmint is the primary ingredient.

It is usually safe to drink spearmint teas several times daily until symptoms improve. Sucking on spearmint candies may also help to reduce heartburn.

Licorice

Licorice root contains substances that may help to reduce gastritis, or inflammation of the stomach lining, as well as inflammation relating to peptic ulcers.

Someone with an upset stomach could try drinking licorice root tea several times a day until their symptoms improve. Licorice root teas are widely available online, but it is also possible to make them at home by mixing 1 or 2 tsps of licorice root powder with boiling water.

Drinking water

The body needs water to digest and absorb nutrients from foods and beverages efficiently. Being dehydrated makes digestion more difficult and less effective, which increases the likelihood of an upset stomach.

In general, the Health and Medicine Division (HMD) recommend that:

  • women should have around 2.7 liters (l), or 91 ounces (oz), of water a day
  • men should have about 3.7 l, or 125 oz, of water a day

Around 20 percent of this will come from food, with the rest coming from beverages. For most people, a good figure to aim for is approximately 8 or more cups of water a day. Younger children require slightly less water than adults.

For those with digestive issues, it is imperative to stay hydrated. Vomiting and diarrhea can lead to dehydration very quickly so people with these symptoms should keep drinking water.

Avoiding lying down

When the body is horizontal, the acid in the stomach is more likely to travel backward and move upward, which can cause heartburn.

People with an upset stomach should avoid lying down or going to bed for at least a few hours until it passes. Someone who needs to lie down should prop up their head, neck, and upper chest with pillows, ideally at a 30-degree angle.

Ginger

Ginger is a common natural remedy for an upset stomach and indigestion.

Ginger contains chemicals called gingerols and shogaols that can help speed up stomach contractions. This may move foods that are causing indigestion through the stomach more quickly.

The chemicals in ginger may also help to reduce nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.

People with an upset stomach could try adding ginger to their food or drinking it as a tea. Some all-natural ginger ales may also contain enough ginger to settle an upset stomach.

Mint

In addition to sweetening the breath, the menthol in mint may help with the following:

  • preventing vomiting and diarrhea
  • reducing muscle spasms in the intestines
  • relieving pain

Researchers have found that mint is a traditional treatment for indigestion, gas, and diarrhea in Iran, Pakistan, and India.

Raw and cooked mint leaves are both suitable for consumption. Traditionally, people often boil mint leaves with cardamom to make a tea. It is also possible to powder or juice mint leaves and mix them with other teas, beverages, or foods. Mint leaves are widely available in health stores and online.

Sucking on mint candies might be another way to help reduce the pain and discomfort of heartburn.

Taking a warm bath or using a heating bag

Heat may relax tense muscles and ease indigestion, so taking a warm bath may help to ease the symptoms of an upset stomach. It could also be beneficial to apply a heated bag or pad to the stomach for 20 minutes or until it goes cool.

BRAT diet

Doctors may recommend the BRAT diet to people with diarrhea.

BRAT stands for Bananas, Rice, Applesauce, and Toast. These foods are all starchy, so they can help bind foods together to make stools firmer. This may decrease the number of stools a person passes and help ease their diarrhea.

As these foods are bland, they do not contain substances that irritate the stomach, throat, or intestines. Therefore, this diet can soothe the tissue irritation resulting from the acids in vomit.

Many of the foods in the BRAT diet are also high in nutrients such as potassium and magnesium and can replace those lost through diarrhea and vomiting.

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Avoiding smoking and drinking alcohol

Smoking can irritate the throat, increasing the likelihood of an upset stomach. If the person has vomited, smoking can further irritate the tender tissue already sore from stomach acids.

As a toxin, alcohol is difficult to digest and can cause damage to the liver and stomach lining.

People with an upset stomach should avoid smoking and drinking alcohol until they are feeling better.

Avoiding difficult-to-digest foods

Some foods are harder to digest than others, which increases the risk of an upset stomach. Anyone with an upset stomach should avoid foods that are:

  • fried or fatty
  • rich or creamy
  • salty or heavily preserved

Lime or lemon juice, baking soda, and water

Some studies suggest that mixing lime or lemon juice in water with a pinch of baking soda can help to relieve a variety of digestive complaints.

This mixture produces carbonic acid, which may help to reduce gas and indigestion. It may also improve liver secretion and intestinal mobility. The acidity and other nutrients in lime or lemon juice can help to digest and absorb fats and alcohol while neutralizing bile acids and reducing acidity in the stomach.

Most traditional recipes recommend mixing the following quantities:

  • 1 tablespoon (tbsp) of fresh lemon or lime juice
  • 1 teaspoon (tsp) of baking soda
  • 8 oz of clean water

Cinnamon

Cinnamon contains several antioxidants that may help ease digestion and reduce the risk of irritation and damage in the digestive tract. Some of the antioxidants in cinnamon include:

  • eugenol
  • cinnamaldehyde
  • linalool
  • camphor

Other substances in cinnamon may help to reduce gas, bloating, cramping, and belching. They may also help to neutralize stomach acidity to reduce heartburn and indigestion.

People with an upset stomach could try adding 1 tsp of good-quality cinnamon powder, or an inch of cinnamon stick, to their meals. Alternatively, they could try mixing the cinnamon with boiling water to make a tea. Doing this two or three times daily may help to relieve indigestion.

Cloves

Cloves contain substances that may help to reduce gas in the stomach and increase gastric secretions. This can speed up slow digestion, which may reduce pressure and cramping. Cloves may also help to reduce nausea and vomiting.

A person with an upset stomach could try mixing 1 or 2 tsps of ground or powdered cloves with 1 tsp of honey once a day before bedtime. For nausea and heartburn, they could combine the cloves with 8 oz of boiling water instead to make a clove tea, which they should drink slowly once or twice daily.

Cumin

Cumin seeds contain active ingredients that may help by:

  • reducing indigestion and excess stomach acids
  • decreasing gas
  • reducing intestinal inflammation
  • acting as an antimicrobial

A person with an upset stomach could try mixing 1 or 2 tsps of ground or powdered cumin into their meals. Alternatively, they could add a few teaspoons of cumin seeds or powder to boiling water to make a tea.

Some traditional medical systems suggest chewing a pinch or two of raw cumin seeds or powder to ease heartburn.

Figs

Figs contain substances that can act as laxatives to ease constipation and encourage healthy bowel movements. Figs also contain compounds that may help to ease indigestion.

A person with an upset stomach could try eating whole fig fruits a few times a day until their symptoms improve. Alternatively, they could try brewing 1 or 2 tsps of fig leaves to make a tea instead.

However, if people are also experiencing diarrhea, they should avoid consuming figs.

Aloe juice

The substances in aloe juice may provide relief by:

  • reducing excess stomach acid
  • encouraging healthy bowel movements and toxin removal
  • improving protein digestion
  • promoting the balance of digestive bacteria
  • reducing inflammation

In one study, researchers found that people who drank 10 milliliters (ml) of aloe juice daily for 4 weeks found relief from the following symptoms of gastrointestinal reflux disease (GERD):

  • heartburn
  • flatulence and belching
  • nausea and vomiting
  • acid and food regurgitation

Yarrow

Yarrow flowers contain flavonoids, polyphenols, lactones, tannins, and resins that may help to reduce the amount of acid that the stomach produces. They do this by acting on the main digestive nerve, called the vagus nerve. A reduction in stomach acid levels can reduce the likelihood of heartburn and indigestion.

A person with an upset stomach could try eating young yarrow leaves raw in a salad or cooked in a meal. It is also possible to make yarrow tea by adding 1 or 2 tsps of dried or ground yarrow leaves or flowers to boiling water.

Basil

Basil contains substances that may reduce gas, increase appetite, relieve cramping, and improve overall digestion. Basil also contains eugenol, which may help to reduce the quantity of acid in the stomach.

Basil also contains high levels of linoleic acid, which has anti-inflammatory properties.

A person with an upset stomach could try adding 1 or 2 tsps of dried basil leaves, or a couple of fresh basil leaves, to meals until their symptoms lessen. For more immediate results, they could mix half a teaspoon of dried basil, or a few fresh leaves, with boiled water to make a tea.

Bottom Line

Stomach problems sometimes do indicate a more serious problem. Prolonged vomiting puts you at risk for dehydration. Drinking small sips of water can help prevent dehydration. Go see a doctor if you are having trouble keeping water down for longer than six hours. You should also call your doctor if you experience nausea or stomach pain and discomfort for more than 48 hours.

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