Pain in the upper part of the stomach or abdomen can be caused by many different conditions. The location, intensity, frequency and timing of the pain can help determine the nature of the problem. Most of the time, pain or discomfort in the upper stomach is treatable and will resolve with time. Sometimes upper stomach pain can be more concerning, especially if it is sudden and severe.
Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease
The American College of Gastroenterology reports that about 60 million Americans experience heartburn at least once per month. Even though occasional heartburn is very common, occurrences of more than two or three times per week may be a sign of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). At the base of the esophagus is a muscular flap called the lower esophageal sphincter (LES). When the LES is not working properly, acid can splash up from the stomach. This creates pain that is often described as burning, with a sensation of pressure. The pain is usually felt in the middle, or upper part of the abdomen, behind the breast bone. Repeated contact with stomach acid can damage the lining of the esophagus.
Gallstones are hard deposits that develop in the gallbladder. They can be made from cholesterol or from pigment in the bile. Stones made of cholesterol are far more common than pigment stones, according to the National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse. Gallstones may vary in size and number. They generally cause no symptoms unless they block, or lodge, in any one of the ducts leading to or from the gallbladder. Symptoms of a gallbladder "attack" include steadily increasing pain in the upper right part of the abdomen. The pain may last for several hours. Pain is also sometimes felt between the shoulder blades or under the right shoulder. Fatty meals can trigger an attack. Gallstones can cause serious health problems. A gallbladder attack calls for a doctor's visit to check for infection or rupture.
A peptic ulcer is a sore in the lining of the stomach or in the first part of the small intestine, called the duodenum. Most peptic ulcers are associated with the bacteria H. pylori or with use of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, reports Merck Manuals Medical Library. Symptoms can vary widely among sufferers, but pain in the upper or mid-abdomen is common and is often relieved by food. Pain at night is common when the ulcer is located in the duodenum. Sometimes a person with an ulcer has nausea and vomiting. Ulcers usually heal with treatment, but a bleeding ulcer can be a serious complication. A person should seek medical advice if he thinks he may have an ulcer.