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What exactly is hunger pain?

Hunger pains or pangs are caused by the irritation of the stomach lining.

After a meal, the irritated walls of the empty stomach rub against each other, causing a severe gnawing feeling. Hunger pains are classified as 'false hunger', since eating provides relief by separating the walls from rubbing against each other. This condition results in over-eating in many people.

What may be causing Hunger Pains?

You can experience hunger pains or a burning sensation in your stomach. Some of the most common causes include:

  • Food poisoning

This is a food-borne illness, resulting from the consumption of food contaminated with bacteria, viruses, parasites, and toxins. Symptoms develop within 2-6 hours, and include diarrhea, vomiting, and abdominal cramping (similar to those in hunger pains).

  • Gastritis

This is a swelling, erosion, or irritation of the stomach lining. It can be acute or chronic. Gastritis can be caused by excessive alcohol intake, frequent vomiting, or regular use of certain drugs (aspirin or anti-inflammatory agents). Other causes include bacterial infection, pernicious anemia, bile reflux, and viral infections. Typical symptoms include abdominal discomfort and a gnawing sensation in the stomach.

  • Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)

IBS is a common condition centered in the colon (large intestine). Among its many uncomfortable symptoms are hunger pain, cramping, and abdominal distress, which may also be due to diarrhea or bloating gas. Patients are usually unable to express how they feel. Hunger pains and burning sensations are seen in most cases.

  • Peptic Ulcer

The lining of the stomach and intestine is covered with a layer of mucus to protect it against the digestive acids of the stomach. If this layer is damaged in any way, the acids start digesting the lining of the stomach, resulting in a peptic ulcer. This causes severe abdominal pain and burning especially after meals.

  • Acid reflux or Hyperacidity

Sometimes, if gastrointestinal valves do not function properly, acid produced by the stomach moves back up into the esophagus. This is one of the most common causes of heartburn and abdominal pain similar to that of hunger pain.

  • Not chewing food sufficiently

Larger chunks of food take longer to digest. This requires the stomach to over-work and produce extra acids which damage the lining of the stomach. This causes symptoms similar to peptic ulcer.

  • Consuming too much of a particular ingredient

Eating too much of a certain nutrient, such as protein, causes the stomach to produce insufficient juices and is unable to aptly digest it.

  • Haphazard food combinations

Every type of food has its own digestive mechanism. Haphazard grouping of foods delays and disrupts digestive patterns, damaging the stomach lining as well.

  • Stretching the stomach beyond its natural limit

Sometimes, consuming too much liquid and food in a single sitting causes excessive digestive juices to flow into the stomach, making it move and stretch extensively. If this occurs frequently, chronic irritation of the lining may occur.

  • Consuming hot and spicy foods regularly

  • Drinking very hot or scolding beverages frequently

These are the possible causes of the mentioned symptoms, but anyone with long-term symptoms should see a doctor. The doctor will perform a proper physical examination and will advise some investigations which will rule out fatal disorders that present with similar symptoms.

Until you visit your doctor, you are advised not to:

  • Overeat

  • Eat spicy foods

  • Eat junk or fast food

  • Eat just before going to bed

  • Drink too much tea or coffee

  • Keep your stomach empty for a long time

This should help you get some relief from your symptoms.

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