Upset stomach. Most people have stomach complaints from time to time, for example after an extensive meal or in periods when there is more stress: a painful feeling in the upper abdomen, sometimes at the same time as regurgitation, nausea, or heartburn. Stomach complaints are complaints related to the lower part of the esophagus, the stomach, and the first part of the duodenum.
The stomach wall consists of a mucous membrane in which the stomach acid and substances for digestion are made. On the outside are muscles that provide the propulsion (peristalsis) of the food mash. In case of an upset stomach, the stomach wall may be damaged or the propulsion of food may be disturbed.
Upset stomach symptoms
Gastric acid is needed to digest food. This acid is located in the stomach. The wall of the stomach is covered with the gastric mucosa. This mucous membrane produces stomach acid and at the same time protects the stomach wall. This gastric mucosa can become locally thinner for various reasons. This reduces the protective effect. If the protective effect of the gastric mucosa decreases, the stomach wall can become locally irritated by the action of the acid.
- Stomach ache
The action of stomach acid on the stomach wall creates a painful feeling in the upper abdomen that is often described as heartburn or stomach pain. These complaints usually arise after meals and at night.
Stomach pain is often the result of gas, burping or regurgitation in the intestines. With frequent belching, regurgitation and vomiting, stomach acid regularly enters the esophagus. It is not designed for this acid and there is a burning sensation behind the breastbone. This heartburn is also called ‘reflux complaints’.
- Bloated feeling
Another common complaint is a so-called ‘bloating’. After the meal, a tense feeling arises in the stomach area. This can be accompanied by an urge to let wind. All this is the result of gas accumulation in the gastrointestinal tract.
Peptic ulcer In severe cases, the lining of the stomach or duodenum may become so irritated that damage occurs. This is called a stomach ulcer. Persistent stomach upset can eventually lead to an ulcer. A stomach ulcer can also develop if the wall of the esophagus is damaged.
How do stomach complaints arise?
Upset stomach can have various causes:
- wrong eating habits (not chewing properly, eating too quickly, or eating too much)
- smoking, alcohol, coffee, tea, food that is too greasy, spicy foods
- irregular life
- bacterial contamination (especially the Helicobacter Pylori)
- delayed stomach function
- medicines (including certain painkillers)
Pregnant women also often suffer from heartburn, because the stomach has less space available in the abdominal cavity. However, this has nothing to do with a reduced function of the gastric mucosa and is therefore not something to be concerned about.
Is it serious and what can you expect?
Although the complaints sometimes cause a lot of nuisance, non-specific stomach complaints hardly ever cause permanent damage to health. Almost all people who consult a doctor with an upset stomach will no longer have problems after a while. The reason for this is that stomach upset usually goes away on its own. However, stomach complaints can return.
In the rare cases where the complaints are caused by a stomach or duodenal ulcer, there is a small chance of complications.
When to go to the doctor?
If you vomit blood in case of stomach complaints, if you lose weight for no apparent reason or if you feel that food (and drink) is stuck, it is wise to consult your doctor. Also do this if you have a lot of pain in your stomach or black stools.
Even if you regularly have stomach complaints or if the complaints persist for longer, it is best to visit your doctor to see whether there is reason for further investigation.
What can you do about it yourself?
You can partly prevent stomach upset by making certain changes to your lifestyle and eating habits (see ‘General advice and precautions’).
See also, Non-specific stomach complaints
General advice and precautions
- Avoid large portions and heavy or fatty foods, eat too quickly and chew the food well.
- Eat regularly and take time for your meal.
- Don’t drink too much coffee, tea, alcohol, or carbonated soft drinks.
- Be cautious about using garlic, legumes, onions, cabbage, chocolate and spicy herbs.
- Try to quit smoking.
- Try to lose weight if you are overweight (obese).
- Try to avoid severe stress and take enough time to relax.
- Do not wear clothes that pinch at the waist.
- Limit the use of painkillers (NAIDS)
Try to teach yourself not to bend too quickly, but to slowly bend your knees. This will reduce the chance of stomach acid entering the esophagus. The head of the bed can also be placed upwards (15-25cm). An extra pillow under the head alone is not enough.
If you feel bloated, it is better not to hold back ‘winding’; letting wind is actually good for relieving tension in the stomach area.
See also, Anxiety with stomach upset
Medicines If the complaints persist, it may be necessary to use medication. There is a choice of gastric acid-binding and gastric acid inhibitors.
- Gastric acid binders
These ensure that the stomach acid does not have a chance to work on the stomach wall. They are best taken as a drink. You can use these resources for incidental complaints.
These reduce the production of stomach acid, which reduces pain. You can use these resources if the complaints persist for a longer period of time.
You can go to your pharmacy yourself and get advice on which medicine seems best for you. However, do not use them for more than two consecutive weeks without consulting a doctor, as persistent symptoms could also be the result of a serious condition. We therefore recommend that you visit your doctor if the complaints have not improved after two weeks.
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