Skip to main content

When to see a doctor about stomach pain

Something about your day doesn’t feel quite right. Having stomach pains but not quite sure what might be the cause?

"An upset stomach is very common and may be related to any number of health issues," explained Dr. John Boger, Geisinger gastroenterologist. "Often it goes away on its own; other times it might 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.

Stress

It’s a common feeling when you have a big event or presentation coming up—you start to feel nauseous or like your stomach is full of butterflies.

Whether you’re stressed, nervous or even overexcited, any emotion can cause a physical response. These changes can impact every major system, including your digestive system.

Stress not only heightens your emotions but your physical body functions as well. Stress can send your digestive system into overdrive, which can cause a stomachache or nausea. An upset stomach due to stress isn’t typically a cause for concern and will go away on its own.

Food poisoning

It is always important to keep track of what you eat, especially when dining out for a meal. Symptoms of food poisoning can often kick in within hours of eating contaminated food. These often include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and abdominal pain.

"Most often food poisoning is mild and will clear up within a few days and without treatment. Monitor your status and seek medical attention if symptoms persist or become more severe," said Dr. Boger.

Indigestion

Indigestion is also very common and can stem from certain lifestyle habits or eating choices. If you eat certain foods, eat too fast, smoke, drink alcohol or are often fatigued, you may experience indigestion.

"You may experience a burning sensation, bloating, gas, belching or pain," said Dr. Boger. "It’s important 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 symptoms like cramping, bloating, gas and constipation.

IBS is a chronic condition that needs management long term. Managing certain things in your life such as diet and stress can help keep your symptoms under control.

Gastroparesis

Nausea, heartburn, vomiting or feeling full fast are symptoms of a rare but serious condition called gastroparesis. The exact cause of gastroparesis is often unknown but can sometimes be caused 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, but it’s important to get a proper diagnosis so you and your doctor can help manage it—especially if you suffer from diabetes too," said Dr. Boger.

When to see your doctor

Stomach problems that stick around for a few days or more may signal something more serious. And diagnosing gastrointestinal conditions is not always easy.

Talk to your doctor about any irregular stomach pains or frequent pain, diarrhea, nausea or constipation.

"It’s important to keep track of what you consume or if there’s anything about your lifestyle that may cause stomach pain and uncomfortable side effects," stressed Dr. Boger. "Being aware of all noticeable symptoms you experience with abdominal pain can help you find out what may be the cause."

Gastroenterologist Dr. John Boger, MD, sees patients at Geisinger Wyoming Valley Medical Center in Wilkes-Barre. To make an appointment with Dr. Boger or another Geisinger gastroenterologist, please call 800-275-6401 or visit Geisinger.org.

Woman drinking tea