Pain in the upper stomach after eating may be a sign of one of several gastrointestinal conditions. Doctors use an array of medical tests to determine the exact cause of the stomach pain, and prescribe appropriate treatments depending on the cause. A combination of lifestyle modifications and medication can be helpful in relieving your upper stomach pain.
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Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease
If your stomach pain is accompanied by a burning feeling in the abdomen, chest or throat, you may have heartburn. Heartburn is the most common symptom of gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD. The esophagus is a tube that carries food from your mouth to your stomach. A sphincter at the bottom of the esophagus closes after food enters the stomach. If you have GERD, the sphincter does not close completely, or opens even when food is not entering the stomach. When this happens, stomach acids and partially digested food rise up through the upper part of the stomach into the esophagus, irritating the lining of the esophagus.
The American Gastroenterological Association reports that the function of the lower esophageal sphincter, the type and amount of stomach juices that back into the esophagus, the clearing action of the esophagus and the neutralizing effect of saliva influence the severity of GERD.
Stomach pain can also occur if you have gastroparesis, a peptic ulcer or nonulcer stomach pain. Gastroparesis, or delayed gastric emptying, occurs when food remains in the stomach longer than it should before proceeding to the intestines. Peptic ulcers erode the lining of the stomach or the first section of the small intestine, causing considerable pain. Nonulcer stomach pain occurs when there is no obvious cause for signs and symptoms of indigestion, according to MayoClinic.com.
In addition to heartburn, signs of GERD also include asthma symptoms, chronic cough, sour taste in the mouth, sore throat, hoarseness or trouble swallowing. People who have gastroparesis may experience pain, heartburn, nausea, vomiting, bloating, stomach spasms or fullness after eating a small amount. Diabetes, previous stomach surgery, GERD, anorexia nervosa and certain metabolic disorders are risk factors for developing gastroparesis, according to the National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse. Additional symptoms of nonulcer pain include heartburn, nausea, a feeling of fullness while eating, belching and bloating; symptoms of a peptic ulcer include pain in the upper abdomen, nausea and feeling hungry 1 to 3 hours after eating a meal.
If you have gastroparesis, your doctor may prescribe antibiotics and drugs that stimulate stomach contractions, allowing food to move through the stomach more rapidly. Doctors treat peptic ulcers with a combination of antibiotics and other drugs to kill bacteria, and proton pump inhibitors. Over-the-counter and prescription proton pump inhibitors help heal the lining of the esophagus.
Doctors prescribe proton pump inhibitors, H2 blockers and prokinetics if you have GERD or nonulcer stomach pain. Proton pump inhibitors are more effective than H2 blockers, and can relieve symptoms and heal the esophageal lining in almost everyone who has GERD, according to the American Gastroenterological Association. Over-the-counter and prescription H2 blockers temporarily reduce acid production and relieve heartburn symptoms. Prokinetics help the stomach empty contents faster and strengthen the esophageal sphincter.
Eating spicy or acidic foods can worsen stomach problems, no matter what the type. Foods that contain citrus fruits or tomatoes may cause problems. Coffee, caffeinated drinks, onions, mint, garlic and fatty food can also worsen heartburn and stomach discomfort. If you suffer from heartburn, avoid lying down for approximately 2 hours after you eat. Eating six or more small meals throughout the day, rather than eating three large meals, may also help relieve symptoms.