Pain Below the Sternum After Eating

Woman having abdominal pain
Girl on couch gripping her lower stomach in pain (Image: AlexRaths/iStock/Getty Images)

Developing pain after you eat may cause anxiety whenever you have a meal. Pain that develops below the sternum may be the result of a few digestive conditions. Talking with your doctor is the most effective way to receive a clinical diagnosis and treatment options for your condition. If you notice that the pain develops immediately and causes a burning sensation, it is most likely from heartburn or gastroesophageal reflux disease -- GERD. If the pain develops within a few hours after eating, you may have a peptic ulcer. Certain foods can trigger pain below the sternum after eating with a peptic ulcer.

Heartburn

Heartburn symptoms can occur anywhere in your chest and may develop below the sternum. Heartburn that occurs on occasion doesn’t require any further medical evaluation. If you develop heartburn more than twice a week, make an appointment with a gastroenterologist to determine the cause. This condition may occur within a few minutes of eating. Some foods are more likely to trigger heartburn symptoms, such as fried foods, alcohol, chocolate, mint, onion, garlic, caffeine, tomatoes and fatty foods.

Peptic Ulcer

The pain that develops from a peptic ulcer may be felt between your navel and the top of your chest. A peptic ulcer is a wound that forms in the lining of your digestive system, primarily in your esophagus, stomach or opening of the small intestines. As food digests, leaving the stomach empty, you may develop pain from increased stomach acid interacting with the wound. Some foods, such oranges, pineapple, tomatoes, caffeine and alcoholic beverages can irritate the ulcer, causing pain almost immediately after eating.

Ulcer Causes

Peptic ulcers were at one time thought to be the result of stress and eating too much spicy food. While stress and spicy foods can trigger ulcer pain, they are not the cause of your symptoms. Ulcers are primarily the result of an infection that is treated with antibiotics. Your doctor may determine that your ulcers are the result of the overuse of certain medications, the abuse of alcohol or the use of tobacco. If this is the case, you will be advised to make changes in your lifestyle choices.

Warning

Sometimes heartburn is confused with a minor heart attack. If you become short of breath or feel a painful sensation in your left arm, call you doctor immediately. Call your doctor if you vomit blood or emit vomit that looks like coffee grounds. If you notice that your stools are maroon or black, contact medical personnel.

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