The human body is an intricate machine. At any given point, a multitude of factors are impacting how well it functions, and how you feel — including what you've eaten, environmental factors, and how you're feeling emotionally. Thus, when you're feeling under the weather, it can be hard to determine why. For instance, there are a number of sources of stomach pain that could help explain your cramps, bloating, sharp pains, or whatever else is ailing you. Find the source, and you have a better chance of alleviating your discomfort.
Stomach (or abdominal) pain can be categorized based on the specific area where you're experiencing it. Commonly, the abdomen is divided up into four sections, says Medscape, although science has also identified up to nine regions. The four include the right upper, left upper, right lower, and left lower quadrants. Determining the location of your pain can also help pinpoint the cause. For example, according to the Physician Partners of America, pain in the left upper quadrant could be happening in your stomach, spleen, or part of your colon.
Most of us aren't doctors; and understandably, we're not well enough versed in human anatomy to understand anything other than we have a pain in our stomach. If abdominal discomfort is leaving you in agony, here are 12 common causes that could be behind it — but remember, you should always consult a doctor for an actual medical diagnosis before making any assumptions or engaging in any self-treatment.
1. Lactose Intolerance
Many believe most adults have at least some degree of lactose intolerance. Our bodies need to produce lactase in order to digest milk; and according to WebMD, 40 percent of us stop producing enough of it as young as two years of age. If you're one of these people, you might experience a stomach ache, bloating, gas, or diarrhea. This happens because your body can't break down the sugar in milk, and it ends up in your colon (instead of your bloodstream). Once in the colon, the sugar can start to ferment, and that's what causes these symptoms.
Dr. Travis Stork explains the connection between stress and stomach pain. Your guts enteric nervous system is connected to your central nervous system. When you're stressed, your body takes blood flow away from your gut and gives it to your brain and limbs. This means digestion can slow down. When that happens, you might be left with annoying stomach issues.
3. Side Effects Of Your Medication
According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, your medication can cause stomach complications for a number of reasons. For instance, stomach pain can be a result of diarrhea, which is a common side effect of antibiotics. Other kinds of medicines can cause constipation, which can lead to stomach aches. Certain medications, like anti-inflammatory drugs (ibuprofen), make it harder for your stomach lining to resist acid, and the lining will become inflamed. Other times, medicine may interfere with the passage of food into your stomach after you've swallowed it, increasing the odds of acid reflux.
4. Thyroid Problems
The thyroid is so powerful, most people would be surprised to learn just how much damage it can do, if not functioning properly. Yes, symptoms are often directly hormone-related; but it goes even further than that. Sure enough, research by Chris Sweet, Abhishek Sharma, and George Lipscomb found a connection between abdominal pain and hypothyroidism — plus nausea and vomiting.
5. Gluten Intolerance
"Gluten-free" now crowds the shelves of grocery stores; and the conversation of gluten intolerance has become so overwhelming, there are people who are all for it or total nonbelievers. U.S. News explains gluten is a protein found mainly in wheat, barley, and rye; and yes, for some, it can have negative effects on your health. Some people experience discomfort from bloating, diarrhea, and constipation. Regardless of people's various personal opinions, you can always reduce or eliminate gluten temporarily to see if and how it helps.
6. Urinary Tract Infection
Your urinary tract starts at your kidneys and ends at your urethra, and UTIs can affect the tract at any point. This could help explain the connection between UTIs and stomach pain — or, more specifically, pelvic pain, says Healthline. Nausea is another common symptom, which could leave you with an upset stomach.
Indigestion often targets your upper abdomen, says the Mayo Clinic. It's frequently accompanied by an unnatural feeling of fullness, even early on in a meal, as well as bloating. While indigestion can be a side effect of a digestive disease, you might also be able to fix it on your own with some changes to your lifestyle.
8. Acid Reflux
Acid reflux happens when your stomach's contents start to travel back up into the esophagus, according to the Mayo Clinic. This occurs because the opening to your stomach isn't functioning properly. The result is often heartburn. While acid reflux is somewhat common, if it's coupled with stomach pain, you should definitely talk to your doctor.
Constipation, which is when you're experiencing difficulty having a bowel movement, happens to all of us at some point, and can be caused by a variety of factors — like stress or dehydration, says WebMD. Because bloating and a feeling of straining from trying to go often occur, stomach pain is a common symptom.
Gas isn't just annoying and embarrassing — it can also be quite painful. Your abdomen may look and even feel swollen or hard to the touch, says Healthline. Gas won't just mysteriously pop up; something needs to trigger it. Possible causes include acid reflux, constipation, lactose intolerance, and gluten intolerance.
12. Food Allergies
Food allergies happen because the body mistakes an ingredient, often a protein, as something dangerous. In response, your immune system creates antibodies to fight it. Cramping and pain in the abdomen are common responses, and allergies are most often triggered by shellfish, nuts, milk, peanuts, eggs, and fish, according to the Cleveland Clinic.
Bear in mind, though, for any of these potential sources, that if your symptoms persist or interfere with your quality of life, you should see a medical professional for a diagnosis and treatment plan.