Taking Care of Tummy Trouble
Know the signs and symptoms that your stomach pain may be an emergency
By David T. Williams, DO
Oh, that aching belly! We’ve all experienced discomfort from eating too much, or the occasional gas and constipation. Most of the time, your tummy trouble can be attributed to something simple, like stress or your diet. But it’s important to know the symptoms that signal a potentially more serious health situation that warrants a call to the doctor – or a trip to the emergency room.
Pain, Pain, Go Away
Most stomach pain can be alleviated with at-home remedies: a heating pad, a warm bath, acetaminophen or over-the-counter antacids. If your stomach pain is due to excess intestinal gas or constipation, fiber supplements, over-the-counter laxatives and drinking plenty of water will relieve the pain. A heating pad, applied to the affected area may also provide relief. If you decide to try over-the-counter pain relievers, stick to acetaminophen (such as Tylenol or Anacin). Avoid aspirin or ibuprofen, which can contribute to bleeding and worsen your pain.
If you think your stomach pain may be due to excess stomach acid, eat bland foods – such as bread or crackers – which can absorb some of the acid and won’t further irritate your tender stomach. Ginger is a natural remedy used to treat stomach pain and nausea, available in many forms including fresh ginger, ginger ale, ginger tea and lozenges. If heartburn or indigestion is the culprit of your pain, avoid citrus; fried, greasy or high-fat foods; tomato products; caffeine; alcohol; or carbonated beverages. If antacids don’t provide relief, an H2 blocker (Tagament, Pepcid or Zantac) is a stronger method. However, if these medications worsen your pain, contact your doctor immediately.
Sometimes, stomach pain is a prelude to food poisoning or intestinal flu. If this is the case, your body will rid itself of the toxins naturally, through vomiting or diarrhea. Drinking plenty of water and clear fluids will help prevent dehydration during the process.
When to Call the Doctor
Sometimes, stomach pain can be serious. Don’t ignore the pain if it comes on suddenly, is intense or long-lasting, or resists home treatment methods. Stomach pain is also a common denominator in many serious conditions: gallstones, an ulcer or appendicitis – all of which require prompt medical attention and treatment.
You should seek immediate medical help, call 911 or proceed to the emergency room if your stomach ache is accompanied by any of the following symptoms: a belly that is rigid, hard and tender to the touch; chest, neck or shoulder pain; pain in your shoulder blades with nausea; sudden, sharp abdominal pain; blood in your stool or you are vomiting blood; or you are unable to make a bowel movement.
Non-emergency stomach pain symptoms that warrant a call to your doctor – but not a trip to the emergency room – include abdominal pain that lasts one week or more; bloating that lasts more than two days; chest pain; a burning sensation during urination, or frequent urination; diarrhea for more than five days for an adult or more than two days for a child; vomiting for more than 12 hours (child); a fever of more than 100 degrees F; prolonged loss of appetite or unexplained weight loss. For infants under three months of age who develop diarrhea or vomiting, contact your pediatrician immediately.
Your doctor will ask a variety of questions to try to pinpoint the cause of your pain. If no medical emergency exists, your doctor may order one or more of the following tests: a barium enema; upper GI and small bowel series; blood, urine and stool tests; endoscopy of the upper GI (gastrointestinal) tract; or ultrasound or x-rays of your abdomen.
Most stomach pain can be prevented by making healthy lifestyle choices: eat frequent, small meals that are balanced and high in fiber – including plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables; drink plenty of water; exercise regularly; eat your last meal of the day least two hours before bedtime; and get plenty of rest.
For more information on stomach pain, visit the Health Resources link on sunburyhospital.com