Stomach ache and abdominal pain are common symptoms that are experienced by most individuals and are usually self-limiting problems caused by issues that resolve on their own.
Almost everyone has experienced some stomach-related pain and discomfort after eating and most often is as a result of the type of food that is consumed.
Various factors will help point one to the possible cause of the stomach pain after eating and these will be discussed further.
Type of stomach or abdominal pain
A type of pain that may be experienced after eating can be described as dull, like a full feeling one gets after eating a lot.
A sharp or stabbing pain may be experienced with food poisoning (where food is contaminated with bacteria) or inflammation/infection of the small intestines (gastroenteritis).
A burning stomach pain may be due to ulcers of the stomach or as a result of gastro-oesophageal reflux disease (GORD) where there is excessive production of stomach acid resulting in persistent inflammation of the stomach lining.
A colicky pain (dull and cramping experience) in the abdomen can be caused by gallstones in the gallbladder or bile ducts. Although this doesn't have to do with the stomach or small intestines, the gallbladder is technically part of the digestive system so is included in this description.
When does it occur?
Stomach pains that are recurrent and occur after eating certain foods may indicate an allergy or intolerance, such as to gluten or lactose.
A pain that occurs a few hours after eating may indicate a stomach/gastric ulcer or food poisoning from consuming contaminated food. Interestingly enough, if a patient has abdominal pain that is relieved by eating then this indicates a possible duodenal ulcer.
Gastroenteritis may occur soon after eating as the consumed content may start to irritate the lining of the tissue as they pass through the gut.
Location of the pain
Abdominal pain between the chest and the navel may point to issues affecting the stomach and/or intestines. If the pain occurs in the centre of the abdomen a few hours after eating, then this may indicate an ulcer.
The colicky pain caused by gallstones is usually experienced in the right upper quadrant of the abdomen and the pain may refer to the right shoulder blade.
Pain in the lower abdomen usually indicates food poisoning or gastroenteritis, especially if the symptom is associated with nausea, vomiting, and/or diarrhea.
As mentioned, the causes of stomach pain after eating may be benign and harmless in most cases, but there are scenarios that can be serious.
Any persistent pain after eating needs to assessed further by a doctor and they will order the correct special investigations to try and get to the correct diagnosis.
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