Nausea and stomach cramps, whether they occur together or separately, are common symptoms that every person experiences at some point in life. It is usually acute, meaning that it may be intense but it is short lived and often resolves without medical treatment. The causes in these acute cases are usually not serious. Most of the times it occurs with digestive problems but nausea and stomach cramps can be related to kidney, gynecological and even mental health conditions.
Meaning of Nausea and Stomach Cramps
Both nausea and stomach cramps are symptoms. It occurs with several different diseases. Nausea is a sensation of wanting to vomit although a person may not always vomit even with intense nausea. Sometimes vague digestive symptoms are also described as nausea. Stomach cramps is a muscular type of pain that is felt in the left upper quadrant of the abdomen, including under pain under the left ribcage. However, many people refer to the entire abdomen as the stomach so stomach cramps could therefore refer to abdominal cramps.
A problem in the upper digestive tract usually gives rise to nausea and stomach cramps. However, it is not uncommon for disorders or diseases in other organs within the area of the stomach to also cause similar symptoms. Apart from diseases of the digestive or abdominal organs, both nausea and stomach cramps may also occur with anxiety and therefore be seen with related mental health disorders. Sometimes severe hunger can also cause nausea and stomach cramps, that are usually referred to as hunger pangs.
Causes of Nausea and Stomach Cramps
The diseases that cause stomach cramps and nausea have been discussed below. As mentioned it can occur with mental health disorders and may even be due to severe hunger. Sometimes it may also be seen with strenuous physical activity on an empty stomach and with extreme dieting. These symptoms may also be side effects that occur with certain drugs.
Acid Reflux and Indigestion
The backward flow of the stomach juices (acid and digestive enzymes) into the esophagus causes symptoms like heartburn and nausea. Stomach pain is usually not present unless there is gastritis or the acid reflux occurs as part of indigestion. The problems is usually with a dysfunction of the lower esophageal sphincter (LES) which normally prevents backward flow of the stomach juices. In indigestion there are additional symptoms like bloating.
Gastritis is a common condition where the stomach is inflamed. It is mainly due to H.pylori infection and overuse of anti-inflammatory drugs. Spicy foods, alcohol, caffeine and other problem foods may irritate the stomach lining and trigger symptoms but do not cause gastritis. Sometimes the inflammation occurs without any breach in the stomach wall lining (non-erosive) while at other times there may be open sores in the stomach lining. A dull to gnawing or burning stomach pain is common along with nausea.
Gastroenteritis is inflammation of the stomach and bowels usually caused by infections. Most cases are viral in nature and commonly referred to as the stomach flu. Depending on the cause of infectious gastroenteritis it can be transmitted through droplets (airborne), fomites (inanimate objects), contaminated food and water. The infection is usually acute and is marked by intense symptoms like nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain and diarrhea.
Peptic Ulcer Disease (PUD)
Peptic ulcer disease is a common condition that is often associated with gastritis. It is a condition where open sores (ulcers) form in the stomach or duodenum. The stomach ulcers or duodenal ulcers can persist for long periods of time until properly treated or if it heals fully on its own. The symptoms are usually more intense when hungry or shortly after eating as the strong digestive enzymes irritate the ulcer. Nausea and stomach pain is common. Vomiting is sometimes present.
Gallbladder disease like gallstones can also cause symptoms like nausea and abdominal pain. In gallbladder disease the pain does not emanate from the stomach but from the gallbladder itself. Gallstone pain is usually episodic, lasts for a few hours at a time and often arises after eating particularly an oily or fatty meals. Gallstones can affect any person but is more commonly seen in women. Very large gallstones or many stones in the gallbladder that is not passed out or surgically removed can lead to complications.
Both nausea and abdominal cramps may be seen with certain bowel diseases. Cramps are common in irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) although nausea is usually not present. It can also occur with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), enterocolitis, small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO), bowel obstruction and a strangulated hernia. Both symptoms may also occur with peritonitis which may occur as a complication with certain bowel diseases.
Pancreatitis is a condition where there is inflammation of the pancreas. It is often associated with excessive alcohol consumption. In pancreatitis the digestive enzymes normally produced by the pancreas are prematurely activated within the gland. This causes significant injury and damage to the pancreas. It can be acute or chronic. Nausea, severe abdominal pain radiating to the back, vomiting, fever (sometimes) are some of the symptoms seen in pancreatitis.
Kidney diseases can cause abdominal pain and nausea. The pain is usually in the upper flanks and left kidney pain can be mistaken for stomach pain sometimes. The nausea that occurs in kidney diseases may be associated with the pain or a build up of toxins that are not being efficiently removed from the body by the diseased kidneys. Apart from the abdominal pain and nausea, there are usually urinary symptoms present such as frequent urination, small volume urination, or no urination, alterations in urine color and so on.
A number of gynecological problems can present with pain and nausea. The pain is usually in the lower abdomen and pelvic area, arising from the ovaries, fallopian tubes or uterus. Both abdominal cramps and nausea is seen with severe cases of premenstrual syndrome (PMS) and painful periods (dysmenorrhea). Pain may also occur with polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), endometriosis and in ectopic pregnancy. Nausea may or may not be present in these conditions.