A burning sensation in the stomach is not always hunger pangs. It can be a symptom of some stomach problem. Yet all too often these different signals are confused for one another. Gastrointestinal complaints that present with a burning stomach sensation or pain are common throughout the globe. In many of these conditions, eating seems to help ease the pain in part or completely. But it is only short term relief. These changes in eating patterns leads to obvious consequences that are undesirable – the main one of which is weight gain. But it also has other equally severe consequences like disturbance in sleeping patterns.
Understanding why your stomach burns and why it is eased by frequent eating will help you seek the appropriate treatment for the underlying condition. When we say that we have a burning stomach pain, we more often than not are referring to the entire upper gastrointestinal tract and in particular the esophagus, stomach or first part of the small intestine known as the duodenum. It is often difficult to identify pain as originating specifically and solely from the stomach. Upper left side abdominal pain, where the stomach is primarily located, can in fact be due to a number of causes that may not even involve the digestive system. However, a burning sensation or pain that responds to eating is in all likelihood a problem originating from the digestive system.
Acid In The Esophagus
When the acidic stomach contents spill into the esophagus, we commonly refer to it as acid reflux. It is more correctly known as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). A burning sensation in the chest (heartburn) and upper abdomen are common symptoms. Acid reflux is one of the most common upper gastrointestinal complaints across the globe. And eating may relieve it. Chewed food, along with saliva mixed with it, often ‘soothes’ the esophageal lining and therefore relieves the burning. But it will only offer short term relief and in fact acid reflux often worsens a short while after eating. Many people will therefore eat frequently to soothe the pain or even prevent it without even realizing why the pain arises.
Inflamed Stomach Wall
The wall of the stomach has mechanisms to protect it against the corrosive stomach acid but sometimes these mechanisms may fail. Stomach acid and the strong digestive enzymes can then irritate and inflame the stomach wall. This inflammation is known as gastritis. Two of the most common causes are the chronic and excessive use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, and infection with the H.pylori stomach bacterium. Both these causes compromise the stomach’s protective mechanisms against the acid within it. Food usually helps ease this discomfort but the subsequent increase in stomach acid production after a meal can eventually worsen the pain. Here as well a person may tend to eat frequently to ease the pain or prevent it from arising.
Ulcers In The Stomach
The stomach wall, like all tissue, is prone to injury of various types. Severe and continuous injury can eventually erode the inner lining of the stomach wall and cause an open sore (ulcer). This is often a complication of gastritis. Stomach ulcers tend to be very painful and difficult to heal due to the continuous injury from the acid. The pain tends to start after eating, sometimes by as much as 3 hours later. However, many people mistaken the pain for hunger pangs and may opt to eat frequently to satisfy the hunger. Ulcers are not always confined to the stomach. It may occur further up in the esophagus or lower down in the duodenum. Collectively it is known as peptic ulcer disease (PUD) and the symptoms of ulcers at any of these sites may be largely the same.
Portion Of Stomach Slipping
A hiatal hernia is a condition where a portion of the stomach slips through the esophageal hiatus (hole in the diaphragm) and into the chest cavity. It leads to gastroesophageal reflux and a person may experience pain. However, the stomach can slide back into place only to become displaced again later. While a hiatal hernia may cause pain and discomfort after eating, smaller meals are generally better tolerated. A person may start eating small meals frequently to avoid a large meal which may trigger symptoms. These changes in eating patterns may occur unknowingly. Smaller hernias often cause no symptoms. And gradually as symptoms start to develop, it is often thought to be some of the other more common gastrointestinal complaints, like acid reflux, gastritis and peptic ulcers. The frequent eating may continue as medication for these other complaints will not treat a hiatal hernia.
Ulcers In The Duodenum
Duodenal ulcers are more common than stomach ulcers. But the term stomach ulcers continues to be used more frequently. Both types of ulcers, along with esophageal ulcers are known as peptic ulcer disease. Often duodenal ulcers are closely linked to stomach acidity, as the duodenum cannot deal with large amounts of stomach acid. Eating may initially stimulate the secretion of water, bile and enzymes which can neutralize some of the acid in the duodenum. This will provide some initial relief in the event of duodenitis (duodenal inflammation) and duodenal ulcers. However, eating eventually increase stomach acid production which may then irritate the duodenum.
Indigestion Without Ulcers
Sometimes stomach symptoms like indigestion occurs for no known reason. Despite extensive investigation, the exact cause cannot be identified. It is then referred to as a functional disorder. In the case of stomach symptoms like indigestion, burning in the upper abdomen and sensation of fullness in the region of the stomach, the condition is known as functional dyspepsia or non-ulcer dyspepsia. It should only be diagnosed when all other possible conditions like gastritis, a hiatal hernia and peptic ulcer disease have been excluded. With these symptoms often comes a change in eating habits. Some people may find that eating frequently helps to minimize the symptoms while for others it can aggravate the symptoms. And often eating has no relation to the onset, worsening or easing of the symptoms.
Persistent Hunger Pangs
Hunger is a complex process. Initially we perceive hunger due to the activity of the hunger centers in the brain. Eventually the stomach begins to act in accordance with the hunger sensation by secreting more stomach acid and contracting strongly. It is this action of the stomach that we often refer to as the hunger pangs or pains. Eating will gradually cause the pangs to subside and eventually ease totally for at least a few hours if the food intake is sufficient. But sometimes the hunger pangs persist or return very soon after eating. There are many reasons why a person may feel hungry after eating. Sometimes the pain and burning sensation which are symptoms of conditions like gastritis and peptic ulcer disease are incorrectly construed as hunger pangs. Therefore a person may eat more frequently to allay these symptoms.