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Gastric Pain: What’s Normal & What’s Not

Gastric Pain: What’s Normal & What’s Not


by Khor Sulin, Pharmacist

Gastric pain is generally used to describe upper abdominal pain, located above the belly button and
below the ribs. Almost everyone has experienced abdominal pain, which is mainly associated with
meals and not caused by serious medical problems.

However, there are times when gastric pain is not as simple as it feels. This article will provide
insights on what the common gastric pain is and when it isn't normal.

Symptoms of gastric pain

Gastric pain has symptoms such as acid indigestion, heartburn, bloating or abdominal distension.
The pain may vary from a dull ache to a severe, throbbing pain.

Sometimes, gastric pain is associated with symptoms like vomiting and diarrhoea. During diagnostic
tests, the symptoms will help to identify the underlying cause of gastric pain.

Causes & types of gastric pain

Various characteristics of the pain can be used to differentiate the underlying causes of gastric pain.

Pain onset

A sudden onset of abdominal pain may be due to a blockage of the bile duct by a gallstone or
insufficient blood supply to the colon.

Pain pattern

Steady pain that typically lasts for up to several hours at a time may be due to the presence of
gallstones or kidney stones.

A cramping pain that occurs in waves may indicate that an intestinal problem may be present.
Conversely, a severe pain that radiates from the upper abdomen to the upper back may be due to
the inflammation of the pancreas.

Pain location

Localised pain may point to a problem with organs in the abdominal region. For instance, it may be a
case of appendicitis if there is pain on the lower right side of the abdomen.

Pain in the lower left side of the abdomen may be caused by diverticulitis, a bowel condition where
pouches are formed on the bowel wall. The individual may be suffering from a gall bladder disorder
if he/she feels pain in the upper right side of the abdomen.

Pain duration

Gastric pain due to irritable bowel syndrome may appear periodically and last for years, while biliary
colic (a type of gall bladder disorder) usually lasts for a few hours.

Other possible causes of gastric pain include gastric ulcers, constipation, bacterial or viral infections
and menstrual cramps.

Medications for gastric pain

Treatment for gastric pain differs according to the cause of the pain. Available medications include
those that target inflammation, gastro-oesophageal reflux disease, ulcers, or infections.

Surgery may be required for severe cases such as appendicitis and hernia.

Self-treatment for gastric pain

You can relieve mild gastric pain at the comfort of your home with these simple tips:

  • Sip water or other clear fluids
  • Eat foods that are easily digested, and avoid solid food for the first few hours
  • If vomiting occurs, wait for about 6 hours and take small amounts of bland food. Avoid dairy products
  • Avoid citrus, high-fat foods, fried or greasy foods, tomato products, caffeine, alcohol and carbonated beverages

If the pain is high up in the abdomen and occurs after meals, it may be a case of heartburn or indigestion.

When to consult a doctor

You should see your family doctor if the gastric pain is severe and persistent, or is accompanied by
any of the following symptoms.

  • Fever
  • Vomiting blood or bloody stools
  • Jaundice
  • Unable to swallow food for several days
  • Unable to pass stool, especially if it is associated with vomiting
  • Painful or unusually frequent urination
  • Pain that occurs during pregnancy
  • Abdomen that is tender to the touch
  • Pain due to a previous injury to the abdomen

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