An upset stomach does not require medical attention in most cases. Pain or discomfort from an upset stomach is typically acute and will go away on its own, or with home treatment. However, it’s important to realize that many different things can cause an upset stomach or stomach pain. Be aware of these causes, find out how to treat an upset stomach, and learn when to speak to a medical professional.
What causes an upset stomach?
Many different things can cause pain or discomfort in the stomach. Some causes are more severe than others, and the treatment for stomach pain varies accordingly. Gas or bloating after a meal can be managed at home. However, drinking contaminated water while traveling requires care from a medical professional. Chronic health problems that cause stomach pain must be managed long term with the help of a healthcare professional.
Common causes of stomach pain include
- greasy or fatty foods
- alcohol and caffeine
- intolerance to foods
- allergic reactions
- food poisoning
- stomach flu
- parasites such as Giardia and cryptosporidium
- bacteria such as salmonella or E. coli.
- chronic conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome and Crohn’s disease
Treatments for an upset stomach
Drink plenty of liquids, but do so in small amounts; water is a good choice. Sports drinks and coconut water help replenish electrolytes, which can help if you experience vomiting. Try clear, carbonated, and caffeine-free beverages such as tonic water, club soda, or ginger ale. Teas containing peppermint, chamomile, or ginger may help settle an upset stomach.
Eat bland foods such as bananas, rice, applesauce, and white bread. Soup, broth, or bullion are good options if you do not have an appetite, or if you have trouble keeping solid food down. Avoid dairy and whole grains, as well as rich, spicy, greasy, and fatty foods.
Other things that can help treat an upset stomach:
- Avoid smoking, drinking alcohol, and caffeinated beverages.
- Over-the-counter antacids can help relieve an upset stomach.
- Wear loose-fitting clothing, especially pants.
- Sit upright and avoid lying down or bending over at the waist.
When to talk to your doctor about an upset stomach
An upset stomach typically goes away on its own within 48 hours. Sometimes stomach pain indicates a more serious health problem, however. Know when to speak to a healthcare professional for stomach pain.
- Speak to a medical professional if your symptoms do not go away after a day or two.
- If you have other symptoms such as fever, severe abdominal pain, vomiting, diarrhea, or blood in vomit or stool, make an appointment with your doctor.
- Talk to your doctor if you can’t keep liquids or foods down, and you notice signs of dehydration.
- Pay attention if you notice a pattern, or you have recurring stomach pain. Maybe you have stomach pain after you eat dairy, or you get an upset stomach after eating pasta with red sauce. Maybe you regularly have an upset stomach but haven’t noticed a pattern. Discuss your symptoms with your doctor.
There’s no threshold for contacting your primary care provider. If you are worried or uncertain about your symptoms, call your doctor’s office.