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Learn what may be causing your stomach pain, and when you should see a doctor.

Have you ever had stomach pains, but couldn’t pinpoint the cause? Fortunately, stomach pain usually isn’t cause for concern.

"An upset stomach is very common and can be related to a number of health issues," explains Dr. Jessica McKee, gastroenterologist at Geisinger Medical Center. "Often, it goes away on its own. Still, it can sometimes be a symptom of something more serious."

Here are some different causes for an upset stomach and when you may need to see a doctor.

The many causes of stomach pain

Stomach pain can have a number of root causes, and most of the time you may be able to determine the cause yourself.

“By monitoring your symptoms carefully and thinking about possible stressors, you can often figure out why you’ve got stomach pain,” says Dr. McKee.

Common causes of stomach pain include:

Stress

When we get stressed or uneasy, we really do “feel it in our gut.”

Whether you’re upset, nervous or even excited for a good reason, your body has a physical response. Think about the last time you were getting ready for a big event or presentation. Chances are, you got butterflies in your stomach — or maybe even felt nauseous.

“These changes can impact every major system, including your digestive system,” says Dr. McKee.

The good news: An upset stomach due to stress isn’t typically a cause for concern and will go away on its own.

Food poisoning

If you have food poisoning, you’ll know it soon after you’ve eaten something contaminated. Symptoms of food poisoning usually kick in within a few hours after your meal or snack.

Symptoms of food poisoning include:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Abdominal pain


"Most food poisoning cases are mild and clear up within a few days without treatment. Monitor your status and seek medical attention if symptoms persist or become more severe," says Dr. McKee.

Indigestion

Indigestion is also very common and can stem from lifestyle habits or eating choices.

Indigestion can occur if you:

  • Eat certain foods
  • Eat too fast
  • Smoke
  • Drink alcohol


"Indigestion symptoms include a burning sensation, bloating, gas, belching or pain," says Dr. McKee. "To reduce your symptoms, try to eat and drink in moderation and be aware of what you’re ingesting and how fast."

Irritable bowel syndrome

If you experience stomach pains on a regular basis, you may have irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). IBS is a common condition and can cause cramping, bloating, gas, diarrhea and/or constipation.

IBS is a chronic condition that needs long-term management. Managing diet and stress can help keep your symptoms under control.

Gastroparesis

Nausea, vomiting or feeling full fast may be symptoms of a rare but serious condition called gastroparesis. The exact cause of gastroparesis is often unknown, but it can be triggered by uncontrolled Type 1 and 2 diabetes, narcotics or antidepressants, multiple sclerosis or an injury to a major nerve called the vagus nerve. When you have gastroparesis, the muscles in your stomach slow or stop emptying food properly into the intestine.

"Gastroparesis is a chronic condition, and it’s important to get a proper diagnosis so you and your doctor can manage it — especially if you have diabetes." says Dr. McKee.

When to see a doctor about stomach pain

If your stomach problems stick around for a few days or more, it’s time to call your doctor and talk to them about any irregular stomach pains or frequent pain, diarrhea, nausea or constipation.

"As you prepare for your appointment, keep track of what you eat or if there’s anything about your lifestyle that may cause stomach pain," Dr. McKee says. "Being aware of all noticeable symptoms you experience can help us determine the cause."

Next steps:

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