What Might Be Causing Your Stomach Problems?

The 10 Most Common Causes of Stomach Problems

Older woman holding stomach
BSIP/UIG/Universal Images Group/Getty Images

If you are experiencing stomach problems, you might be worried about what might wrong. This is understandable because there are a number of possible causes and symptoms.

Maybe you are experiencing excessive gas and bloating. Perhaps your problem is episodes of diarrhea that don’t seem to be getting better or you are finding that you're constipated more than normal. You might be wondering if your problems are just due to stress or perhaps you are worried that it's something more serious.

Emergencies and Doctors for Stomach Problems

Unless you are a health professional it can be hard to know if your symptoms are severe enough to warrant immediate treatment.

Important: If you are having sudden and severe stomach pain, don’t wait — seek immediate medical attention. The same applies if you are experiencing any kind of chest pain as this should be considered an emergency as well.

When it's not an emergency, the first thing you need to do is to make an appointment with your doctor. There are perhaps hundreds of digestive disorders that could be causing your discomfort. Only a doctor can help you obtain an accurate diagnosis and an appropriate treatment plan. 

Your Digestive System

As you wait to see your doctor, you can spend some time educating yourself about your gut and the most common digestive problems.

Typically, symptoms that occur in the upper part of your abdomen indicate a problem with organs in the upper part of your digestive system, including your esophagus and stomach.

Symptoms lower down indicate problems with the organs in the lower part of your digestive system. These include the pancreas, gallbladder, intestines, and rectum.

Of course, these are not hard and fast rules because pain can radiate throughout the body. It might be helpful to review what you learned in high school biology about your digestive system.

 

Ten Common Digestive System Disorders

The following list covers some of the more common causes of stomach and intestinal symptoms and problems. You can read about each disorder to see if its symptoms sound like what you are experiencing. If it does, you can read on to see what you may be facing in terms of diagnostic testing and treatment.

We will start with upper abdominal disorders and move down to lower abdominal disorders.

1. Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD)

GERD is also known as acid reflux disease. This is a condition in which stomach acid "washes back" into the esophagus causing a burning sensation in the chest or throat. The burn is commonly referred to as "heartburn." If left untreated, some forms of GERD can damage your esophagus.

A PH test is the most common way to get an accurate diagnosis for GERD. A number of lifestyle changes as well as over-the-counter antacids and medications are among the GERD treatment options for minor or infrequent cases. For some people, a stronger medication or combination of treatments is required. 

2. Peptic Ulcer

A peptic ulcer is a sore located in the stomach or duodenum. The symptoms of peptic ulcers vary widely from person to person. In most cases, a peptic ulcer is caused by a bacterium known as Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori).

This is often treated with antibiotics and other medications.

3. Gastritis

Gastritis is diagnosed when there is inflammation in the lining of the stomach. This can result in a variety of digestive symptoms. It is not heartburn but can mimic the symptoms. Due to this, gastritis is often treated in a similar fashion to GERD with acid-reducing medications.

4. Gastroparesis

Gastroparesis is a condition in which there is a delay in the process of the stomach emptying its contents into the small intestine. Its primary symptoms are nausea, a feeling of fullness, and vomiting relating to meals. Medications, diet changes, and other options are available to treat gastroparesis.

5. Gallbladder Problems

Gallstones are one type of gallbladder problem. They are crystallized components of bile that form within the gallbladder and the biliary tract (the path through which the liver secretes bile to the small intestine).

Pain from gallstones typically occurs as an "attack," with pain in the upper abdomen. There are also "silent" gallstones, which your doctor may detect while looking for something else. It's common that gallstones are removed through surgery or by dissolving them with medications.

Gallstones are not the only problems associated with the gallbladder. There are other reasons why you may be experiencing gallbladder problems. Also, some people experience ongoing digestive symptoms even after their gallbladder has been removed.

6. Celiac Disease

Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder in which the consumption of foods containing gluten triggers an immune system response. This results in damage to the small intestine. People with celiac disease may suffer from a variety of gastrointestinal symptoms, but chronic diarrhea is the most common.

The primary treatment for celiac disease is to go on a gluten-free diet. Admittedly, this is not easy, but it is worth the effort if it helps you find relief.

7. Lactose Intolerance

Lactose intolerance is a condition in which a person lacks the proper enzyme to digest the sugar found in dairy products. If you are lactose intolerant, you may notice that you experience digestive symptoms — diarrhea, gas, bloating, etc. — shortly after eating dairy foods that contain lactose, like milk and cheese. Treatment includes avoiding or limiting those trigger foods.

8. Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD)

IBD includes the diagnoses of Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis. Both disorders result in a wide variety of gastrointestinal and non-gastrointestinal symptoms. Medications and surgeries are included in the possible treatments for each.

9. Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)

IBS is a disorder involving chronic abdominal pain. The symptoms of IBS include ongoing problems with diarrhea, constipation, or alternating bouts of each. It is different in each person and some have one symptom that dominates over the other.

Due to the diverse nature of IBS, it's very important to discuss treatment options with your doctor. It often includes a change in diet, the use of over-the-counter remedies, prescription medications, and other methods. With diligence, people with IBS can manage the symptoms, but it does take time, effort, and expert support.

10. Diverticulitis

Some people have a condition called diverticulosis in which little pouches form on the lining of the colon. Diverticulitis is diagnosed when these pouches become inflamed. Symptoms may start out with mild lower abdominal tenderness and worsen as the infection intensifies, to include increased pain, fever, nausea, and vomiting.

As with many gastrointestinal conditions, treatments vary. Medications and natural remedies may be used along with a carefully planned diet.

You May Have Cancer Fears

Of course, when we don't feel well, our thoughts tend to run away on us. Fears are particularly strong in the middle of the night (kids don't complain about monsters under the bed in the middle of the day). A sleepless night may be when you're looking for answers to your stomach problems.

For some people, this experience can lead to the fear and anxiety that they have some form of cancer. Since you have a doctor's appointment (you do, right?), rest assured that there's nothing that can be done right now.

If you do want to look into the matter yourself, do so with a calm and open mind, knowing that it could be any of the other conditions we've discussed. The following articles will explain some of the more common forms of digestive tract cancers:

Continue Reading