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Geisinger becomes the first member of Risant Health

From a stomach bug to indigestion, these things could be behind your stomachache.

Having stomach pains? When your tummy starts to rumble, you might blame it on too much spicy food or the stomach bug your child brought home last week. But even if you’re not sure what it is, relax. 

"An upset stomach is common and can have many causes," explains Anita Kozlowski, DO, a family medicine physician at Geisinger. "Often, it goes away on its own.”

What does a stomachache feel like?

An upset stomach can feel different depending on the cause (and the person). When you have a stomachache, you may feel:

  • Cramping
  • Burning
  • Stabbing
  • Dull or sharp pain
  • Churning or gurgling

What are the causes of a stomachache?

Stomach pain can have several causes. And most of the time you may be able to figure out why.

“By monitoring your symptoms and thinking about possible stressors, you can find the cause,” says Dr. Kozlowski.

But, if you’re not sure where yours is coming from, it could be from any of these:


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,” Dr. Kozlowski says.

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 don't go away or get worse,” Dr. Kozlowski says.


Another common cause of stomachache is indigestion. It can stem from lifestyle habits or eating choices.

Indigestion can happen if you:

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

"Indigestion symptoms include a burning sensation, bloating, gas, belching or pain," says Dr. Kozlowski. "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 have regular stomach pain, you may have irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). IBS is a common condition and can cause symptoms like:

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


Nausea, vomiting or feeling full fast may be symptoms of a rare but serious condition called gastroparesis. With this condition, the muscles in your stomach slow or stop emptying food properly.

The exact cause is unknown. But it can be triggered by things like: 

  • Uncontrolled diabetes
  • Taking narcotics or antidepressants
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Injury to the vagus nerve 

"Gastroparesis is a chronic condition,” says Dr. Kozlowski. “With a proper diagnosis, you and your provider can manage it — and this is especially important if you have diabetes." 

Other causes

Besides these, other things behind stomach discomfort include:

  • GERD
  • Food allergies or sensitivities
  • Constipation
  • Urinary tract infections
  • Menstrual cramps
  • Trapped gas
  • Kidney stones

Treating stomach pain

“The treatment needed for stomach pain depends on the type of stomachache you have,” says Dr. Kozlowski. Most mild symptoms will go away on their own. Dr. Kozlowski recommends trying these easy treatments.

Staying hydrated

To soothe your stomachache, staying hydrated is key. Sipping clear liquids, like water, broth or sports drinks, helps you properly digest food, which can avoid stomach pains. Bonus: Drinking water can reduce heartburn, a common cause of belly upset.


Another easy way to get relief? Rest. Change into comfortable clothes, take a break from any heavy exercise and lay low until your stomach feels better.

Over-the-counter medications

Depending on the cause of your stomach woes, you may find aid in your medicine cabinet. For gas pains, a gas reducer can solve the problem. For indigestion, diarrhea or heartburn, turn to everyone’s favorite pink liquid, bismuth.

Eating plain foods

Calm an unhappy stomach with bland or plain foods. Stay away from spicy food, alcohol or caffeine, which can irritate the stomach and make pain worse. Choose foods that are easy to digest. Not sure what to eat? Consider these:

  • Bananas
  • Applesauce
  • Toast
  • Rice
  • Ginger or chamomile tea

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 healthcare provider. Talk to them about any:

"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. Kozlowski says. "Being aware of all noticeable symptoms can help us pinpoint the cause."

Next steps:

Learn about primary care at Geisinger 
Lactose intolerant? Here’s what it means 
What causes gas?  

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