Health

What Causes an Upset Stomach?

Your discomfort may be caused by more than uncooked food.

Everyone has eaten something that at one point or another has unsettled their stomachs indefinitely or worse, has sent them running to the nearest bathroom. Embarrassing – yes, but it happens. So, what causes an upset stomach exactly?

The one thing many people tend to do is question their food – was it cooked thoroughly? Was harmful bacteria consumed? What we tend not to do is to question ourselves, particularly our intestines which play a large role in how food is digested and thus, how it affects our bodies.

There are a number of conditions that can be the cause of an upset stomach after consuming food. Let’s take a look at five of them.

Two of these potential problems include functional gastrointestinal disorders, namely constipation and irritable bowel syndrome.

Functional gastrointestinal disorders are characterized by symptoms such as gas, indigestion, diarrhea/constipation, or a general upset stomach that takes place on a reoccurring basis. However, these kinds of disorders may not be diagnosable through routine medical practices such as X-rays, endoscopic exams, or blood tests. That is why they’re so hard to pinpoint.

Chronic Constipation

Characterized by infrequent or difficult bowel movement, constipation can be a functional gastrointestinal disorder or a condition on its own. A healthy person typically goes to the bathroom three times a day to three times a week; however, infrequency, irregularity, and difficulty using the bathroom is a telltale sign of constipation.

One of the best ways to combat this problem is to take a look at your diet. Are you eating enough greens and fiber? Drinking the daily recommended amount of water and exercising are also critical for maintaining good gut health.

Probiotics and over the counter laxatives are extremely effective in aiding the good bacteria within our gut; however, the latter solution should be discussed with a physician.

Surprisingly, coffee, or rather, caffeine is a great way to stimulate bowel movement. Though it may irritate your intestinal lining if you suffer from another gastrointestinal disorder, coffee works wonders for those who simply need a little help.

upset stomach
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Irritable bowel syndrome

Constipation can be a symptom of this next medical condition. Irritable bowel syndrome, or IBS, is characterized by bloating, abdominal pain, and irregular bowel movements. Like other functional gastrointestinal disorders, there isn’t a specific medical test able to diagnose the condition.

However, there are ways to aid symptoms. As in the case of constipation, consume a good amount of fiber and drink numerous glasses of water per day. Unlike constipation, if you think you are suffering from IBS try avoiding beverages that have caffeine.

It may also be helpful to eliminate specific food groups for a period of time to test the possibility of a food allergy or intolerance. Take note of when your stomach gets upset, specifically after certain foods are eaten in order to help you narrow it down.

Food Allergens/ Intolerance  

As a significant contributor to IBS and constipation, many underlying symptoms of functional gastrointestinal disorders are caused by allergens and intolerance to certain foods groups such as dairy and wheat.

Allergens can be inherited or naturally developed.

While we typically tend to think of allergies being associated with dust, animals, sneezing, or watery eyes, food allergens can cause a number of gastrointestinal symptoms such as nausea, bloating, upset stomach, and headaches – all possible symptoms of an allergic reaction or intolerance.

You may notice many of these symptoms are similar to those related to functional gastrointestinal disorders, so it can be hard to narrow down what is causing ailments. However, the good thing about food allergens is that they can be “sampled.” Try eliminating food groups to see what’s causing your discomfort.

Wheat allergens, characterized by feelings of bloating or gas, can be indicative of Celiac Disease or a gluten intolerance. An upset stomach due to dairy can be caused by an allergy to milk protein or lactose. There are also soy allergens and problems caused by the consumption of eggs.

The possibility of one of these food groups causing your gastrointestinal discomfort is high – try eliminating and then reintroducing foods within these groups to see how you feel.

what causes an upset stomach
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Crohn’s Disease

Crohn’s Disease is an inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) distinct from IBS. This condition is primarily characterized by inflammation of the digestive track which in turn causes diarrhea, weight loss, abdominal pain, and other symptoms. Currently, there is no cure for Crohn’s Disease, but symptoms can be alleviated through the use of immunosuppressants and steroids. Talk to your doctor about these potential remedies.

Acid Reflux Disease

If you’ve ever experienced heartburn, a burning sensation in your stomach, or felt something acidic rising in your throat, you could be suffering from Acid Reflux Disease. This occurs when your lower esophageal sphincter doesn’t close when food passes through it.

As a result, acid from the stomach is able to rise into the esophagus. As uncomfortable as this condition is, acid reflux disease can be managed by taking over-the-counter medications such as Pepcid. Just like most of these ailments, your doctor should always be consulted.

Not being able to enjoy your favorite foods without pain is hard. Even more so is not knowing what’s causing this pain. Take a look at what you’re eating, how much you’re eating, and then go about it from there. Talk to a nutritionist, general physician, or gastroenterologist to help pinpoint the cause of unrest. It can be hard, but being observant and taking the proper steps will definitely allow both you and your gut to be happier!

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Isabelle is a senior at Cornell University minoring in English and...