How To Know If Your Stomach Ache Is Serious

by Isadora Baum, CHC

Stomach aches are never fun, and they can really mess with your functionality and productivity during the day. While these tummy troubles are often just a nuisance, sometimes they can signify a greater problem. Knowing when stomach issues are dangerous can really help in speeding recovery and addressing the problem asap to find relief. Besides, chronic pain and inflammation in the belly region is never enjoyable, worrisome or not.

As a certified health coach, I work with clients on taming their stomach issues and finding a more balanced gut during the day. When your body is inflamed or bloated, it can lead to an enlarged stomach and some discomfort. While this can just result from a large meal, a carbonated beverage, or a high intake of sodium (and it'll probably disappear come the following day), it can also signify a larger health condition, especially if you're noting the distention and cramping on a regular basis. Here are 11 stomach issues that can actually be problematic and should be checked with a doctor upon notice.

1. Pain Associated With Acid Reflux

"Most of us will experience acid reflux at some point in our lives, the heartburn, the tummy aches and sometimes a little unexpected regurgitation. But if you're consistently dealing with acid reflux more than twice a week, you could be risking permanent damage to your esophagus as well as increasing your risk of cancer," explains Ora Organic Co-founder Erica Bryers over email with Bustle. "Tummy aches and heartburn" are common with this condition. Bryers recommends a probiotic to boost gut health.

2. Excessive Noise After Eating

"If you grab a handful of almonds and within a few minutes, your stomach begins to make noise and grumble, chances are, that food is not reacting very well with your body," says Tina Muir, Community Manager & Elite Runner for RunnersConnect over email with Bustle. "It becomes a little more difficult when you eat something that is not just one ingredient, but by testing out different foods on their own, you can find out what works for you, and what upsets your stomach," says Muir.

3. Diarrhea

Over email with Bustle, Carl Nordstrom, MD at UCLA Health explains that "some chronic conditions that could present this way include celiac disease, Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, infection, etc. These conditions can lead to serious complications if left untreated." Nordstrom includes consequences such as: weight loss, abdominal pain, bleeding, high fever, impaired sleep, and diarrhea upon fasting.

4. Pain Associated With Gall Stones

"Abdominal pain can take on many forms such as aching, burning, cramping, and stabbing. Pattern and timing of these pains can give your doctor hints to whether evaluation is needed," says Nordstrom. "For example, pain after eating that comes on gradually then gets better slowly could be due to gallstones," explains Nordstrom.

5. Pain Associated With Ulcers

"Pain due to ulcer disease can have different patterns depending on the location of the ulcer. In general, ulcers in the stomach tend to cause pain immediately after eating, whereas ulcers in the small intestine (duodenum) get better after eating," says Nordstrom. If you notice pain in these areas and with this timing, seek a physician.

6. Loss In Weight After Eating

"Pain after eating with associated weight loss is seen with various, albeit rare, vascular disorders," says Nordstrom. If you notice a change in weight after consumption, especially if this shows chronically, seek a doctor for further advice. This can lead to malnutrition.

7. Bloody Stools

If you notice blood in your stools, especially with a bout of diarrhea, it can signify a greater intestinal problem, advises Nordstrom. Nordstrom cautions against "black stool, rectal bleeding, and vomiting," which can be associated with these sort of stomach conditions.

8. Esophageal Pain

"Occasionally a large bite of food may feel uncomfortable going down after swallowing, but if food repeatedly feels as if it is becoming stuck it may mean there is a larger problem," says Nordstrom. Nordstrom cautions against "Eosinophilic esophagitis (or EE or EoE), a condition in which there is inflammation involving the lining of the esophagus that can lead to fibrosis or stiffening" and "Achalasia, a condition where the sphincter muscle at the end of the esophagus does not appropriately relax."

9. Heartburn

"Occasional heartburn should not be cause for concern, but recurrent heartburn may be indicative of gastroesophageal reflux disease or GERD," advises Nordstrom. "GERD can lead to inflammation in the esophagus, bleeding, narrowing of the esophagus, and even a pre-cancerous condition called Barrett esophagus," Nordstrom explains.

10. Rectal Bleeding

"Patient and doctors alike may dismiss the appearance of blood on stool, in the toilet water or on toilet paper as due to 'hemorrhoids,'" says Nordstrom. "While this often is the cause of such bleeding, especially in younger patients, bleeding can be seen with more serious conditions such as ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s disease, or cancer," both Nordstrom and experts at MayoClinic warn.

11. Kidney Stones

According to Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD over interview with MedicineNet, abdominal pain can be a sign of kidney stones, which are more common in people who are prone to dehydration or show symptoms of gout. There might also be a trace of blood in your urine, as a reference.

If you notice any of these symptoms, don't ignore the pain. Brushing it off could be detrimental to your health and wellbeing long-term. Instead, meet with a physician to rule out these greater conditions and to figure out the best way to reduce chronic pain.

Images: Pixabay (12)