What Your Stomach Pain Is Trying to Tell You?

Three types of tummy pain and the common conditions that may cause them

Female patient experiencing severe abdominal pain
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Stomach pain is never fun, and it is your body's way of telling you something is wrong. But, what? Find out what your stomach pain is trying to tell you. Listed below are just types of pain you might be experiencing and the three conditions that could be causing it. Only an appointment with your doctor can determine what it is for sure and treat it properly. 

Burning Pain in Your Torso

Heartburn is a digestive symptom that occurs when stomach acid comes into contact with the lining of the esophagus, causing irritation.

The symptoms of heartburn include a burning sensation behind your breastbone that may also travel to your throat. Other symptoms may include chest pain, difficulty swallowing, persistent cough, and a sour taste in the mouth. Symptoms can get worse soon after you eat or if you lie down shorty after eating.

There are various causes of heartburn. These causes include eating certain foods, pregnancy, asthma, diabetes, and hiatal hernias.

You can eliminate the heartburn in a number of ways, including chewing gum (although for some patients this worsens the pain), drinking seltzer, or taking an antacid. If you have frequent heartburn, you should see your doctor for evaluation. And, if you are diagnosed with gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), your doctor may suggest the use of H2 blockers or proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) for relief from heartburn. First steps, however, will be to make some lifestyle modifications.

Gnawing Pain in Your Empty Stomach

If you are experiencing a burning or gnawing pain in your stomach that often feels worse when your stomach is empty, and better after you have eaten, you may have a peptic ulcer.

This erosion or sore that forms either in the lining of the stomach (gastric ulcer) or in the lining of the duodenum (duodenal ulcer) has many symptoms that vary from patient to patient, so it may present itself differently.

Peptic ulcers are most frequently caused by Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori), but other causes of peptic ulcers may include alcohol and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). 

Treatment of peptic ulcers depends on their cause. If the cause is H. pylori, the standard treatment is a prescription for antibiotics and possibly a proton pump inhibitor. If NSAIDs use has caused your ulcer, discontinue using them. During the healing process for an NSAID-induced ulcer, your doctor may recommend the use of antacids to neutralize the acid, and H2-blockers or proton pump inhibitors to reduce stomach acid production.

Sharp Upper Abdomen Pain that Worsens

If you're experiencing sharp, localized pain in the the upper abdomen that rapidly worsens and lasts from a few minutes to a few hours, accompanied by nausea and/or vomiting, and heartburn, then you may have gallstones. Its pain often feels sharper and more localized than heartburn or ulcer pain. If the pain doesn't go away within a few hours, or if you are vomiting or have a fever, you should go to your doctor.


There are two types of gallstones — cholesterol stones and pigment stones. Cholesterol stones are the most common type of gallstone, occurring in approximately 80% of patients with gallstones. Cholesterol stones are made mostly of hardened cholesterol, and are usually yellowish-green in color. Pigment stones are made of bilirubin, and are usually small and dark in color.

Causes of gallstones are usually the result of too much cholesterol or bilirubin in the bile. There are risk factors for developing gallstones, including heredity, body chemistry, body type, gender, and maybe even diet.

Treatment of gallstones depends partly on whether you are experiencing symptoms or not. If you have symptoms, especially severe pain, surgical removal of the gallbladder is the most common treatment. If you have no symptoms, you and your doctor may decide that no treatment is needed.

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