Most people find spicy food enticing, if not on a regular basis, then at least occasionally. These foods are also described as being hot but this is not related to the temperature. Instead it refers to foods that cause a burning sensation of the lips and mouth when consumed. However, eating spicy food is not entirely without any consequences. Symptoms like stomach pain and diarrhea may occur in some people after eating a spicy meal.
The most obvious symptoms of eating hot and spicy foods is burning of the lips and mouth. There may also be temporary dulling of the sense of taste and excessive salivation. These localized symptoms may last for a few minutes and can be eased to some extent with fluids. The irritation may then extend further down the digestive tract and cause symptoms anywhere from the throat to the anus.
Why does spicy food cause stomach pain?
Stomach pain after eating is a common symptom for many people after a spicy meal. The substances responsible for giving these foods a spicy taste and hot sensation are chemical irritants. Therefore it may inflame the lining of the digestive tract, including the stomach. This can cause pain especially if there is underlying conditions such as gastritis or peptic ulcers.
Gastritis is inflammation of the stomach lining and is a common problem. Sometimes this inflammation can lead to erosions in the stomach wall. Peptic ulcers are open sores in the wall of the stomach of duodenum. These ulcers may also occur in the esophagus. Most people experience stomach pain in the upper left quadrant of the abdomen where the stomach lies.
Abdominal Pain with Spicy Food
The abdomen is sometimes incorrectly referred to as the stomach. Therefore stomach pain actually refers to abdominal pain and not just pain in the left upper quadrant of the abdomen where the stomach is located. Most of the abdomen is occupied by the digestive tract – the stomach, small intestine and large intestine. Therefore irritation and pain from these other organs need to be considered as well.
Abdominal pain after eating spicy foods may be due to irritation of the other parts of the digestive tract, in a similar way as stomach pain with consuming spicy foods. It may also occur with the faster movement through the bowels which may also arise with irritation caused by spicy foods. This can disturb the activity of the bowel wall muscles and upset the secretion and reabsorption of water in the bowels.
Why does spicy food cause diarrhea?
Diarrhea after eating spicy foods is just one possible symptom. Depending on the spicy food in question and individual sensitivity to the substances within it, diarrhea may or may not occur. When it does happen with spicy foods, the reason for this watery and frequent stool may be due to the same mechanisms as stomach pain discussed above.
Firstly, the chemicals with spicy foods are irritant and if it is irritants the lower digestive tract then diarrhea is one of the consequences. The bowel walls may become inflamed, movement through the bowels may speed up and water is not fully reabsorbed in the colon. This causes watery stool and simulates more frequent bowel movements.
Sometimes the acute diarrhea from eating spicy foods and even substances within these foods can disrupt the normal intestinal flora. This is the naturally-occurring bacteria within the bowels that play an important role in bowel health. When these bacteria have been disturbed, like when the population decreases in the bowels, then it can lead to diarrhea as well.
Other Signs and Symptoms
Apart from diarrhea and stomach pain, there may also be other symptoms that arise due to eating spicy and hot foods. This includes:
- Heartburn – burning chest pain due to acid reflux.
- Nausea – sensation of wanting to vomit.
- Bloating – sensation of fullness.
- Excessive belching.
- Burning of the anus.
- Flushing, especially of the face.
- Feeling unusually hot.
- Profuse perspiration.
- Runny nose and sometimes watery eyes.
Not all of these symptoms may affect every person who eats hot and spicy foods. It largely depends on an individual’s tolerance to the substances in these spicy foods. It also depends on the quantity of the irritant substances in specific foods. The greater the quantity of irritants and the lower the tolerance to these substances, the more severe the symptoms.
Remedies for Spicy Foods Diarrhea and Stomach Pain
Medical attention should always be sought for persistent symptoms after eating spicy foods. However, a few simple dietary and lifestyle measures may be helpful.
- Avoid any further spicy foods. Opt for bland foods and ensured a balanced meal. Do not switch to a liquid diet unless there is vomiting.
- Ensure adequate hydration with oral rehydrating solutions (ORS) and water. Do not consume sodas and fruit juices which could aggravate the diarrhea.
- Milk and other alkaline beverages may help soothe the stomach pain for short periods. However, milk and other dairy can worsen the diarrhea.
- Increase fiber intake by consuming more fruit, vegetables and wholegrains. Fiber supplements may also be useful but it is always advisable to source fiber from natural foods.
- Probiotics may also be helpful in restoring the colonic bacteria. Live culture yogurt can be helpful in this regard but there are also probiotic supplements available.
Treatment for Spicy Food Diarrhea and Stomach Pain
In most cases the diarrhea and stomach pain from consuming spicy foods is temporary. It resolves with a day or two and usually does not recur unless spicy foods are consumed again. No medical treatment may be required unless there are complications. However, when there are underlying conditions like peptic ulcers or inflammatory bowel disease that aggravates due to spicy foods then medical treatment may be necessary.
- Antacids and acid-suppressing medication may help relieve the stomach pain in conditions like gastritis and peptic ulcers.
- Antidiarrheal drugs should not be the first option. However, these drugs can be helpful in the short term. Never use these drugs if there is an infection causing digestive symptoms like diarrhea.
- Probiotics and fiber supplements may be helpful in easing or even stopping diarrhea. However, these effects are short-lived.
Diarrhea can lead to complications such as dehydration due to the excess loss of fluid and electrolytes. If the signs of dehydration become evident then immediate medical attention is required. Depending on the severity of dehydration, intravenous (IV) fluid administration may be necessary and this could require hospitalization.