Gut Check: Tips for Stomach Pain Relief, Better Digestion and Signs to See Your Doctor   

Gut Check: Tips for Stomach Pain Relief, Better Digestion and Signs to See Your Doctor

Woman clutching her stomach from pain

May 25, 2023

Clinical Contributors to this story:
Rosario Ligresti, M.D.

Most gut health problems or conditions can be addressed successfully by changes in diet, stress management and natural remedies. If they become chronic, however, it is important to talk to your health care provider and consider a gut check. Many people are affected by gut health problems or digestive diseases that they are unaware of. 

“From indigestion and bloating, to heartburn and stomach pain, it’s extremely common to experience some kind of digestive discomfort from time to time, and most of the time, this can be treated at home,” shares gastroenterologist, Rosario Ligresti, M.D. “However, it’s important to note your symptoms and know the warning signs in case there is a more complex root issue.”

What can I do to relieve my stomach pains?

If you are experiencing digestive problems and symptoms, most of the time they can be treated and resolved without seeing a doctor, through different lifestyle changes. These changes include:

Avoid Certain Foods

Depending upon the individual, what you eat and drink can trigger stomach problems, especially for someone with a sensitive stomach. A “sensitive stomach” is a non-medical way to describe a stomach that can get upset easily or frequently, with symptoms such as bloating, gas, nausea, diarrhea, constipation or vomiting.

If you have a sensitive stomach or experience discomfort after eating often, try to avoid: 

    • Insoluble fibers, which can worsen diarrhea by speeding up the movement of food in your body or worsen symptoms for those with chronic digestive issues
      • Oats, nuts, seeds, lentils, barley, peas and beans
    • High FODMAP foods, or “fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides, and polyols,” can trigger bloating, abdominal pain and gas
      • High FODMAP vegetables: garlic, onion, beans, avocado, celery, mushroom, cauliflower, asparagus and pickled vegetables
      • High FODMAP fruits: pears, ripe bananas, mango, apples, peaches, berries, grapefruit, and watermelon
      • High FODMAP meats: sausages and chorizo
      • Other high FODMAP foods: soy milk, tea, molasses, sweeteners, bran cereals, dairy products, honey and products containing wheat
    • Dairy products, some people are lactose intolerant, which means they cannot digest lactose and experience bloating, cramping, stomach pain, gas, nausea and diarrhea when dairy is consumed
      • Even if you are not lactose intolerant, dairy products can irritate your upset stomach, and are better to avoid when experiencing any stomach issue
    • Fatty/fried foods, if you are experiencing diarrhea or vomiting, these foods can worsen your symptoms because they are difficult to digest
      • Fried foods: fast food, anything that has been fried
      • Fatty foods: high fat meats or cheese, whole or 2% milk, sour cream and other creams or foods with added butter/oil/margarine
    • High sugar foods/drinks, high sugar products can lead to dumping syndrome, where the stomach empties its contents into a part of the upper intestine, causing watery diarrhea
      • Cookies, cake, ice cream, flavored yogurts, fruit juices, sugary sodas and sports drinks

Food and Drinks That Help With Digestion

Now that you’ve heard all the foods to avoid, are there any that actually can help with stomach issues? If you are experiencing stomach pain, a quick solution to reduce the negative effects certain foods can have on your digestive system is to follow the BRAT diet: bananas, rice, applesauce and toast. This diet is helpful if you are experiencing nausea, vomiting, diarrhea or if you cannot tolerate any foods. 

Besides the BRAT diet, which is useful in short-term situations, incorporating certain foods and food groups into your diet can improve your gut health in the long run, including: 

  • Ginger, can reduce bloating and other digestive problems
  • Fiber (try to eat 20 to 30 grams daily), can help regulate stool, guard against gut-related illnesses and reduce constipation/diarrhea 
  • Rice, reduces constipation and regulates the digestive system
  • Peppermint, calms the muscles in your stomach and improves the flow of bile, which is used to digest fats
  • Hot water with lemon, boosts gastric acid secretion - fluid in the stomach that helps your body break down and digest food
  • Carrots or carrot juice, increases saliva and can improve digestion by providing essential nutrients, minerals and enzymes 
  • Chamomile, can soothe symptoms of acid reflux, reduce gas and bloating and help to relax your digestive muscles
  • Apple cider vinegar, can raise stomach acid levels to improve digestion

Practicing Healthy Habits and Lifestyle Changes

In addition to dietary changes, there are steps you can take to address less serious issues, such as:

  • Eating more slowly to allow time for proper digestion
  • Eating smaller meals at regular intervals can help to manage digestive conditions such as acid reflux, heartburn and gastritis
  • Refrain from late night eating or snacking
    • Digestion slows down throughout the day, while we are sleeping our body’s energy is typically focused on other areas, so having to digest would take energy away from these areas 
    • Eating during the day allows for your body to digest properly so you don’t go to bed with an upset stomach, which can lead to other problems such as acid reflux or indigestion
  • Reducing stress can lower gut inflammation, keep you nourished and ease gastric distress
    • When your body is stressed, digestion is rerouted so your body can focus on triggering your fight or flight response
    • If a stress response is triggered often, your body has a difficult time recovering and can cause an upset stomach, or possibly irritable bowel syndrome or ulcers.

When should I see a doctor for stomach aches?

Although everyone can experience a stomach ache every so often, some symptoms can require attention from a doctor and cannot be ignored, such as: 

  • Prolonged diarrhea: three to four times per day for two days or more
  • Severe cramps after eating
  • Trouble swallowing
  • Sudden, intense abdominal pain 
  • Intense bloating or a swollen abdomen
  • Blood in your stool
  • Unexplained weight loss – accompanied by abdominal pain
  • Chronic/prolonged constipation
  • Frequent, severe or worsening heartburn
  • Feeling full while barely eating

These symptoms can often be signs of underlying digestive diseases, such as:

  • Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) 
  • Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
  • Crohn's disease
  • Lactose intolerance

These digestive diseases can be manageable. Talk to your health care provider about finding a course of treatment and building a dietary plan that works for you. 

“When gut problems become chronic, they can be indicative of more serious conditions,” says Dr. Ligresti.“Ongoing digestive problems require screening and diagnostic procedures to determine the exact cause of the problems and the best treatment options.”

In some cases, these symptoms can signal more serious underlying conditions. These conditions can pertain to specific areas of your body, such as your upper or lower abdomen, as well as the right or left quadrant of your abdomen. Your doctor can help to source where this pain is coming from and what it is being caused by.

If you are concerned about having a more serious condition related to your stomach pain, it is time to talk to your health care provider and get your gut checked. Together you can create next steps, undergo diagnostics and figure out what is causing your gut health issues. 

Next Steps & Resources:

The material provided through HealthU is intended to be used as general information only and should not replace the advice of your physician. Always consult your physician for individual care.


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