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Stomach Pain After Eating: Causes & Treatment

Instructor: Danielle Haak

Danielle has a PhD in Natural Resource Sciences and a MSc in Biological Sciences

Having a stomachache after eating is no fun, but did you know there are many possible causes? In this lesson, we'll take a look at both causes of post-meal tummy woes and treatment options to battle them.

Causes of Post-Meal Stomach Pain

Most of us are familiar with the post-Thanksgiving meal feeling of 'oops, I definitely ate too much.' In this case, we can usually just put on some comfy pants and watch football until the uncomfortable feeling wears off. But why do we sometimes have stomach pain after eating, and why is it chronic (a long-term problem) for some people?

Stomach pain is a fairly broad term, but it generally refers to pain in the abdominal region between the chest and hips. Pain can be sharp, dull, achy, or cramp-like. In any case, it's not fun. There are actually quite a few important organs housed in that part of the body, so it's easy to confuse stomach pain with pain caused by another problem. However, there are a number of conditions that can lead to stomach (or abdominal) pain after eating, and these may include:

There are many potential causes of stomach pain after eating.
stomach pain

  • Overeating
  • Gas or bloating
  • Stress
  • Indigestion
  • Food poisoning
  • Viral infection
  • Crohn's disease
  • Inflammation (swelling) of the stomach or bowel
  • Intestinal obstruction or blockage
  • Irritable bowel syndrome
  • Ovarian cysts
  • Urinary tract infections
  • Acid reflux or heartburn
  • Stomach ulcers
  • Food intolerance
  • Constipation
  • Lactose intolerance
  • Pelvic inflammatory disease
  • Diverticulitis
  • Gallstones
  • Appendicitis
  • Pancreatitis

Symptoms and Diagnosing Stomach Pain

Obviously, that is not a short list, so how does someone figure out what's causing his or her pain? Well, the most common causes of stomach pain following a meal are overeating, gas, or indigestion (difficulty digesting certain foods). All of these go away on their own within a few hours. If the pain is caused by a virus, it's often accompanied by nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea. A virus isn't fun, but it also usually goes away on its own within a few days.

Signs that there's a problem more serious than too much turkey at Thanksgiving include uncontrolled vomiting, blood in the vomit or stool, fever, loss of consciousness, no bowel movements for more than 3 days, an abdomen that's tender to the touch, and difficulty breathing. These are all symptoms of potentially serious problems that require medical attention and should signal it's time to go see a doctor.

If you go in to see a doctor about stomach pain, he or she will probably ask about your medical history and perform a physical exam. Then, if necessary, they can run stool or urine tests, blood tests, and take images of the abdomen with an X-ray, ultrasound, or computed tomography (CT) scan.

The location of the pain can also help doctors to diagnose the cause. For example, the left side of the abdomen houses the spleen, the body of the stomach that stores food, parts of the small intestine, and parts of the colon. The middle of the abdomen is home to the liver, the pyloric region of the stomach, the pancreas, the urinary bladder, and the rectum. And finally, the right side of the abdomen has the gallbladder, liver, parts of the colon, the appendix, and parts of the small intestine. Knowing what structures are found near the pain can help pinpoint the cause.

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