Pain is the body’s way of telling the brain that something is wrong. Most of the time, the stomach pain we experience is the result of something benign and nothing to worry about. Some examples of common non-dangerous causes of abdominal pain are:
Gas – When gas builds up in the stomach, the body responds by sending signals to the brain such as stomach pain or causing your stomach to feel bloated. Gas forms in the stomach when certain foods are broken down by stomach bacteria to release hydrogen, carbon dioxide and methane gas. Belching (burping) or flatulence (farting) is how our body expels the excess gas in our stomachs.
Gas can also accumulate when you swallow excess air while eating or drinking; this happens when you eat/drink too fast, talk while eating or drink carbonated beverages. As theas builds up inside your stomach, you may experience bloating, a feeling of fullness, discomfort and even pain; these symptoms last until your body expels the gas (through belching or flatulence).
Constipation & fecal impaction – When bowel movements decrease and a person experiences difficulty passing stools, fecal waste builds up in the large intestine. This build-up can cause gas, bloating and pain in the stomach, while severe cases of constipation can develop into a condition called fecal impaction. Fecal impaction is a bulk of feces that gathers in the rectum as a result of chronic constipation, physical inactivity, lack of fibre, lack of water or a habit of holding in bowel movements. Severe cases of constipation can cause cramp-like pain in the lower abdominal area and nausea/vomiting, because the body is trying to move waste out of the body but is unable to. The discomfort caused by constipation subsides after a bowel movement, but a lingering feeling of discomfort may indicate that not all of the waste has been expelled from the body.
Constipation can be relieved with laxatives and consuming more fibre as part of your diet. However, if the pain does not subside after going to the toilet or constipation occurs frequently throughout the week, it is better to schedule an appointment with a doctor to figure out the cause of your constipation.
Menstrual cramps – Most women experience pain in their lower abdomen when menstrual cramps occur, which may also be accompanied by nausea and vomiting. Each person experiences a different level of pain; some may have mild abdominal pain while others have more severe cramps.
Take note of the pain you feel during menstrual cramps and the duration of the pain. Pain that lasts for days and interferes with your daily life should be discussed with a doctor and not dismissed as “just another menstrual cramp”. This is especially true if your menstrual cramps grow in intensity compared to previous cramps and you also develop dizziness or change in bowel habits.
Muscle pain – An overstretched muscle (also known as a muscle strain or pulled muscle) is also a common cause of abdominal pain that occurs in individuals that frequent the gym or exercise a lot. A pulled or torn abdominal muscle can present itself as a sudden, intense pain that makes it hard for the individual to move their body without hurting it. It is not uncommon for individuals to visit a doctor over abdominal pain only to find out that the cause of their pain is not a digestive disorder, but pain in the abdominal muscles.
Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) – Individuals with irritable bowel syndrome often experience abdominal pain/discomfort along with a combination of constipation and diarrhoea. The signals between the stomach and brain are poorly coordinated in IBS patients, resulting in a hypersensitive body that overreacts with stronger abdominal pain than usual.
The symptoms of IBS (stomach pain, alternating bouts of constipation and diarrhoea) can be aggravated with trigger foods and stress, which can cause frustration in your daily life as you suffer from frequent abdominal pain throughout the week or month without knowing what your triggers are. Even though patients with IBS experience a stronger pain and alternating bouts of diarrhoea and constipation, IBS is not a serious condition and can be managed with help from a doctor. Work together with a gastroenterologist to discover whether you have IBS, and if you do; figure out what triggers your symptoms so you can avoid those triggers and live a life with minimal stomach discomfort. More detailed information on IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome) can be found here: *Link to IBS vs IBD article when it goes LIVE*