Abdominal pain after eating is not normal, and may result from any of a very large list of possible causes. To understand your pain better, and to arrive at a diagnosis, you should see a doctor, who will ask you a series of specific questions aimed at better defining the pain. Some common causes of abdominal pain after eating include peptic ulcer disease, gallstones and mesenteric ischemia.
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Questions About Severe Abdominal Pain After Eating
Doctors tend to use the answers to several specific questions about abdominal pain to determine its source. For example, where is the pain located? Upper-right quadrant abdominal pain is likely different from upper-left quadrant abdominal pain, and both are likely different from generalized abdominal pain. What does the pain feel like? Is it a sharp, boring pain, or is it a crampy, squeezing pain? Does the pain stay in one spot, or does it radiate to different parts of your body? What symptoms are associated with the pain? Symptoms might include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea or bloating, and each could point to a different cause.
Peptic Ulcer Disease
Peptic ulcer disease, or PUD, occurs when your stomach's protective lining is not adequate to protect it from the acid your stomach uses to digest food. PUD usually presents as upper-left quadrant or upper-central abdominal pain that begins within about two hours after eating a meal, and is described as sharp or boring pain, sometimes radiating through to the back. It typically gets better with over-the-counter antacids, and will respond to prescription acid-blockers as well. PUD can be quite painful, especially if the ulcer deepens far enough to perforate through the lining of the stomach.
Gallstones typically present as crampy pain in the upper-right quadrant of your stomach, usually within several hours after a meal. Fatty foods tend to make the pain of gallstones worse. As well, obese people and women are more likely to get gallstones. Gallstone pain is often accompanied by nausea and vomiting, and may radiate around the right side of your body to your back. Importantly, while some sorts of abdominal pain may get better with repositioning, gallstone pain remains intense regardless of what position you place yourself in.
Mesenteric ischemia results when cholesterol plaques in the arteries supplying your intestines build up to the point that blood flow is impaired. More blood flow to your intestines is required after you eat a meal, so if your arteries are clogged by plaque, eating a meal can precipitate pain if blood supply is not adequate to meet demand. The pain of mesenteric ischemia is typically diffuse, and is usually accompanied by food fear--that is, patients are afraid to eat because of the pain it causes--and weight loss.
There are many causes of severe abdominal pain after eating. Others include celiac disease, which presents with bloating and discomfort after eating meals containing gluten protein, which is found in wheat, rye and barley; lactose intolerance, which usually presents with discomfort and diarrhea after eating a meal with lactose; and bacterial food poisoning, which classically presents with crampy abdominal pain several hours after eating warmed mayonnaise-containing products.
What to Do
If you are consistently experiencing severe abdominal pain after eating, the best thing to do is bring these symptoms to the attention of your doctor. A doctor may prescribe medications, do tests or recommend dietary changes you can make in an attempt to make the pain go away. He may also refer you to gastrointestinal specialists for further testing.