Although your stomach muscles always contract after you eat in order to break down food and start the digestive process, you don't usually feel it. Many disorders can cause stomach cramping after eating, some temporary and some chronic, some serious and others merely annoying. If you experience what feels like painful muscle contractions or cramping that starts after you eat, let your doctor know.
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If you have gastroenteritis, a viral infection that affects your gastrointestinal tract, eating may trigger sharp stomach pains that feel like muscle spasms. Fever, headache, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea can also accompany gastroenteritis. This viral infection normally lasts between one and 10 days and doesn't require medical attention if you're normally healthy. The elderly and infants may become dehydrated from fluid loss. Watch for signs of dehydration such as sunken eyes, loose skin, dry lips and mouth and lethargy accompanied by stomach spasms. Seek medical attention if these symptoms occur.
The esophagus connects your mouth with your stomach. Esophageal spasms can cause what feels like stomach cramping. Esophageal spasms occur in the esophagus, but the pain they cause may feel like it originates in your stomach. The exact cause of esophageal spasms isn't known, but this disorder occurs more commonly in women, those with gastroesophageal reflux and when you're anxious. Hot or cold foods can also trigger the spasms. You may feel like you can't swallow or that something's stuck in your throat, or you may have chest pain.
An intestinal blockage can occur if you have scar tissue from previous surgeries in the intestinal tract. Severe constipation, tumors or hernias can also cause an intestinal blockage. Symptoms may worsen after eating, because your stomach tried to push food into the intestinal tract, but can't because of a blockage somewhere along the tract. This can cause severe cramping and discomfort. As a blockage worsens, you may vomit and produce very little stool; only watery diarrhea may pass the blockage. Seek medical attention if you think you may have an intestinal blockage. Do not take laxatives or other medications without your doctor's approval.
Chronic Bowel Disease
The term inflammatory bowel disease encompasses several types of chronic intestinal disorders, including ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease. Both damage the lining of the intestinal tract, causing abdominal pain that worsens after eating, diarrhea, which may be bloody, appetite loss, fever and weight loss. These chronic diseases can cause serious bowel damage over time. See your doctor if you suspect you have any form of inflammatory bowel disease. Irritable bowel syndrome, a less serious disorder, can have similar symptoms of stomach cramping and spasms after eating but does not damage the bowel. As many as one in six American suffers from irritable bowel syndrome, according to PubMed Health.