Stomach pain and GERD: treatment and prevention

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Whether it’s called “heartburn” or its official name, gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), this digestive disorder can cause pain, most often in the chest and throat.

GERD can also cause stomach pain, which is usually felt in the upper abdomen.

This article will take a closer look at GERD-related stomach pain, its treatment options, and what you can do to avoid stomach pain caused by GERD.

GERD is quite common. It affects approximately 20 percent of the American adult population.

GERD occurs when digestive acids and enzymes from your stomach don’t want to stay in your stomach. Instead, they travel up your esophagus toward your mouth. This is because a band of muscle around the base of your esophagus – called the lower esophageal sphincter – is weakening and not sealing properly.

The purpose of the lower esophageal sphincter is to open when food travels down your esophagus. This allows food to move down into your stomach. If this muscle is weakened, it can allow stomach contents to reflux into your esophagus, irritating it and causing pain.

The most common symptoms of GERD are persistent acid reflux (heartburn) and regurgitation. Many people with GERD experience a burning sensation in their chest caused by stomach acid rising into the esophagus.

But pain in the upper abdomen or stomach area is another symptom of GERD. If you have stomach pain with GERD, you may feel a burning or gnawing sensation in your stomach, or what some people describe as a “sour” stomach.

Eating certain foods — such as fatty, fried, spicy foods, and citrus fruits — can trigger or exacerbate GERD. Being pregnant can also make the situation worse, as well as certain behaviors, such as:

  • going to bed too soon after eating
  • eat too much at once
  • drinking soda, coffee or alcohol
  • smoking

If your abdominal pain is mild, you may be able to wait a few hours and see if it goes away. If it gets worse or persists for a long time, contact your doctor or health care professional.

If you have chest pain or are vomiting blood, seek emergency medical attention immediately.

Other symptoms of GERD

Besides heartburn, regurgitation, and stomach pain, other common symptoms of GERD can include:

Making certain lifestyle changes can help reduce your GERD symptoms, including stomach pain. For example, a doctor may recommend:

Treatments for GERD may include:

  • antacids for very mild symptoms
  • over-the-counter (OTC) proton pump inhibitors that reduce acid production in your stomach
  • OTC H2 blockers, which also reduce your stomach acid production
  • prescription H2 blockers
  • prescription proton pump inhibitors
  • motility medications, which are prescription medications that help your stomach empty faster so there is less time for reflux to occur
  • prescription mucous membrane protectors, such as sucralfate

Talk to a doctor about which of these options can help reduce acid production that can damage your esophagus and help relieve your stomach pain.

Also ask a doctor about the possible side effects of different treatments. For example, proton pump inhibitors can upset your stomach.

In general, you don’t want to ignore GERD because, over time, acid reflux from your stomach to your throat can damage the lining of your esophagus. This can lead to serious conditions like Barret’s esophagus, which increases the risk of esophageal cancer.

So even if you’re not too bothered by stomach pain from GERD, it’s best to discuss possible GERD treatment options with a doctor to prevent long-term complications.

Just as you could treat your GERD-related stomach pain by adopting certain lifestyle habits, these same strategies can help you prevent GERD and the painful symptoms that can accompany it.

Let’s look at these prevention strategies in more detail.

Avoid certain foods

Certain foods are known to trigger episodes of GERD, such as:

  • fatty and fried foods
  • spicy foods
  • citrus and juice
  • tomatoes and tomato products
  • garlic and onions
  • alcohol
  • soft drinks
  • coffee
  • caffeinated tea
  • pepper mint
  • Chocolate

You can limit or avoid some or all of these foods to manage your GERD symptoms.

Change the way you eat

You don’t have to just edit what you eat. You can change How? ‘Or’ What you eat too. Try forgoing large, heavy meals and instead opt for smaller, more frequent meals to see if that improves your symptoms.

Lose weight if you are overweight or obese

GERD is linked to obesity. If you are overweight or obese, losing weight can help reduce symptoms like heartburn and stomach pain.

Stop smoking

If you smoke, this can be one of the hardest steps to take, but it’s worth it: quitting smoking can improve your health in many ways.

In addition to improving your cardiovascular health, blood pressure, and lowering your risk of many cancers, quitting smoking can help lower your risk of GERD and its pain-related symptoms.

Raise your head when you sleep at night

Keeping your head slightly elevated can help prevent stomach acid from backing up into your esophagus.

Raise your head with a wedge pillow under the top of your mattress when you sleep. You can also try sleeping on your side to see if it makes a difference, as side sleeping may be linked to certain health benefits.

GERD pain is most often felt in the upper abdomen. If you have pain in other parts of your abdomen, it may be caused by something else.

Some possibilities include:

  • Annex problems. An inflamed or infected appendix can cause pain in the middle of your abdomen, which then travels to the lower right quadrant of your abdomen.
  • Irritable bowel syndrome. This chronic digestive system disorder can cause a variety of symptoms, including stomach pain, gas, bloating, and diarrhea.
  • Gas or bloating. The trapped gas can cause sudden, sharp abdominal pain, bloating, and cramping.
  • Constipation. If you have trouble having a bowel movement, it can hurt your abdomen.
  • Food intolerance. Eating something your body can’t tolerate can cause stomach pain, diarrhea, bloating, cramps, headaches, and rashes.
  • Stomach virus. Gastroenteritis can cause vomiting, diarrhea, fever or chills and stomach pain.
  • Foodborne illness. If you have eaten something that has been contaminated with bacteria or other pathogens, it can cause stomach pain, cramps, nausea, vomiting, and fever.
  • Menstrual cramps. Menstrual cramps can cause pain in the lower abdomen and lower back.
  • Intestinal blockage. When something blocks your intestine, it can cause severe pain in your belly. You may also have nausea and vomiting.
  • Abdominal aortic aneurysm. This condition is a medical emergency. The pain from this type of aneurysm can be dull or sharp. It can occur in the chest, lower back, or groin, as well as in the abdomen.

Stomach pain may not be the main symptom of GERD, but it can often accompany acid reflux and regurgitation, which are the most common symptoms.

If you find that over-the-counter treatments and lifestyle changes aren’t improving your stomach pain and other GERD-related symptoms, talk to a doctor about other treatment options that might be right for you.

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