A hurting stomach is a common symptom that every person suffers with at times from childhood to adolescence and throughout adulthood. If there are no other symptoms and it lasts only a short period of time then it may not be a cause for concern. Often these occasional episodes are due to indigestion. However, if the stomach hurts constantly or on a regular basis and is worsened by activities like after eating then it needs to be investigated.
Why does the stomach hurt?
The stomach, like all other organs, can be injured or damaged through various mechanisms. This tissue injury or damage can stimulate pain receptors in the area. Signals are carried from the receptors to the brain where the pain is perceived. The pain may vary in intensity and nature. It may be mild, moderate or severe. Stomach pain is often described as a dull ache, gnawing pain and a burning pain.
The hurt sensation arising from the stomach is usually felt in the upper left quadrant of the abdomen. This is where the stomach is located. Most of the stomach is tucked under the lower left ribcage and extends to the upper middle portion of the abdomen, just under the lower end of the breastbone. Often the pain, if it arises from the stomach, may worsen after eating or when hungry.
Read more on stomach location.
However, the term stomach is commonly yet incorrectly used to refer to the entire abdomen. Even when the pain arises in the area where the stomach is located, it may not always be emanating from the stomach. The abdomen is tightly packed with many organs. The left kidney, spleen, left lobe of the liver, pancreas, duodenum and gallbladder are also located around the stomach.
Stomach Hurts After Eating or When Hungry
Once food is swallowed, it rapidly passed down the esophagus to enter the stomach. Although digestion technically starts in the mouth, it is minimal as compared to the digestive processes within the stomach. These digestive processes are both chemical and mechanical. Stomach acid and digestive enzymes are secreted by the stomach lining while the muscles within the stomach wall causes strong contractions to crush the food.
These processes that commence even before food is swallowed can cause pain if the stomach is already diseased. It may occur irrespective of the food that is eaten. However, certain foods and beverages are more likely to trigger or worsen the pain. Spicy food is well known for exacerbating pain when there are conditions like gastritis and peptic ulcers. Alcohol may have a similar effect.
Hunger may also have a similar effect. Stomach acid and digestive enzymes may also be secreted when hungry and contractions may increase as part of hunger pangs. This can cause the stomach to hurt. In addition there may be other symptoms like nausea, vomiting, excessive belching and bloating (feeling full after a few bites of food). The vomiting up of blood and unintentional weigh loss are serious signs and need immedate medical investigation.
Causes of Hurting Stomach
The following conditions may account for a hurting stomach. However, there are other conditions that also need to be considered which may result in pain arising from neighboring organs and structures around the stomach. In addition, there may be a host of other causes of a hurting stomach if the term stomach is used to refer to the entire abdomen and not specifically the stomach itself.
Read more on causes of abdominal pain.
The stomach wall may becoe inflamed for several reasons. The most common cause is infection and the excess use of NSAIDs. In terms of the latter, these drugs can weaken the mucus barrier that separates the gastric acid from the stomach wall.
The acid and digestives enzymes then make contact with the stomach lining and cause inflammation. Alcohol and other toxic substances cause also cause irritatio. Other less common causes are due to autoimmune factors where the immune system attacks the stomach wall.
An infection of the stomach can occur with a host of infectious agents (viruses, bacteria or protozoa) or its toxins. Typically viruses cause gastroenteritis, often referred to as the ‘stomach flu’. Bacteria and protozoa may also be responsible. These infectious agents may also be spread through food and this is referred to as food poisoning.
Another common and often chronic infection of the stomach is caused by Helicobacter pylori (H.pylori) bacteria. These bacteria are unique in that it can withstand gastric acid and have a predilection for the stomach. It is a common cause of gastritis and stomach ulcers.
Stomach ulcers are open sores that form in the stomach wall. It is commonly referred to as peptic ulcers, which includes duodenal ulcers. The causes of peptic ulcers is largely the same as gastritis. H.pylori infection and the excessive use of drugs like NSAIDs are the most common causes of peptic ulcers.
Less commonly, stomach ulcers can also form due to Crohn’s disease. This is a type of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). Contrary to its name, IBD and specifically Crohn’s disease is not restricted to the bowels. It may occur anywhere in the digestive tract, including the stomach.
Hiatal hernia is another common cause of stomach pain. It arises when a portion of the stomach protrudes into the chest cavity through the esophageal opening in the diaphragm. Normally the opening is only wide enough to allow the esophagus to pass through where it then connects to the stomach.
However, the opening may become abnormally large due to various causes. Sometimes it may be present from birth. As a result this widening may allow a portion of the upper stomach to slip through it. The stomach may become squeezed in the narrow space.
Stomach polyps are growths that protrude from the stomach wall. Most of these polyps are benign (non-cancerous). Usually there are no symptoms caused by stomach polyps. However, if these polyps become large then ulcers (open sores) may form on the growth.
Stomach cancer is one of the more serious causes of stomach pain. The malignant growth (cancer) can spread rapidly and destroy healthy tissue. The cancer may arise from the cells of the stomach or cancer cells may spread from other sites to the stomach where it causes cancer.