Stomach Ache Causes (Children, After Eating, During Pregnancy)

Stomach ache is a general term to describe sensations ranging from mild discomfort to severe pain in the upper abdominal area. It may be due to pains in the stomach or a number of non-gastric causes of right upper quadrant (RUQ) abdominal pain. Stomach ache usually presents with other symptoms like nausea, vomiting, heartburn or hunger. Even with the lack of other signs and symptoms, the modalities of stomach ache (factors that aggravate or relieve the pain) may provide some indication to the possible causes.

Refer to Stomach Location for the anatomical position of the stomach.

Causes of Stomach Ache

The most common causes of stomach ache includes :

  • Non-ulcer dyspepsia
  • Gastritis
  • Peptic ulcer disease (PUD)
  • Gastroenteritis
  • Overeating
  • Eating indigestible substances (especially in children)

While acid reflux (GERD/gastroesohageal reflux disease) causes esophageal pain, this may often be accompanied by or mistaken for stomach pain.

Non-gastric and less common gastric causes include :

  • Gastric outlet obstruction
  • Hiatal hernia
  • Food intolerances – lactose, fructose, gluten
  • Pancreatitis
  • Gallstones
  • Irritable bowel syndrome
  • Inflammatory bowel disease
  • Constipation
  • Spleen pain
  • Kidney pain (refer to kidney pain location to differentiate with the position of the stomach)

Stomach Ache in Children

Stomach ache is a common complaint in children and may be due to a  number of pathological causes. However, it is important to consider psychogenic causes. Whereas adults tend to experience headaches with stress, fear and anxiety, children tend to report stomach ache as the primary reason for feeling unwell, especially when faced with a situation they would prefer to avoid. Nevertheless, every case of stomach ache should be taken seriously and investigated.

Some of the more common causes in children are :

  • Eating indigestible substances, especially in toddlers
  • Gastroenteritis (stomach bug)
  • Overeating

In babies, infantile colic accounts for most cases of stomach ache. The exact cause of infantile colic is unknown but it may be due to excessive gas as a result of feeding quickly and thereby swallowing air (aerophagia) or lactose intolerance. In toddlers, the ingestion of indigestible substances like sand, cement and hard objects, may cause stomach ache. Bowel obstruction needs to be excluded in these cases, especially if there is projectile vomiting.

Stomach Ache after Eating

Gastritis, non-ulcer dyspepsia, and gastroenteritis may often lead to stomach ache after eating which may arise within minutes after swallowing food. With peptic ulcers, the pain tends to ease temporarily after eating. Other causes of stomach ache after eating includes :

  • Hiatal hernia
  • Gastric outlet obstruction
  • Food intolerances
  • Gallstones
  • Pancreatitis

Kidney pain, spleen pain, or pain due to IBS and inflammatory bowel disease does not usually aggravate immediately after eating, if at all.

Stomach Ache in Pregnancy

Stomach irritation is common in pregnancy, especially in the first trimester, where morning sickness and adapting to the changes associated with pregnancy can affect many organs. However, stomach ache in pregnancy should not be taken lightly as there are a number of obstetric causes of abdominal pain that could jeopardize the fetus or even the mother’s life. These conditions are discussed under Abdominal Pain in Pregnancy.

Pica, which is the craving for indigestible substances, is not uncommon in pregnancy. Ingesting these substances and overeating may cause a stomach ache. The pregnant uterus which is constantly expanding due to the growing fetus can also press upon abdominal structures and thereby apply pressure to the stomach. This may cause a stomach ache when lying flat, which may be relieved by lying on the side.

Other Causes of a Stomach Ache

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