Stomach Turning – Meaning and Causes of Turning Stomach Feeling

The sensation of the stomach turning is a common way that many people describe nausea, indigestion or cramps. This may be an acute sensation, which arises suddenly and last only for a short while. However, in some instance a turning stomach sensation can be an ongoing problem for long periods and is associated with various stomach diseases. It is often accompanied by vomiting, changes in appetite, excessive belching or overactive stomach noises (borborygmi).

Meaning of Turning Stomach

The stomach is one only one part of the digestive tract, or more correctly the gastrointestinal tract (gut). When looking at a symptom like a turning stomach, the stomach should not be the only organ that is considered. The confusion arises with the incorrect reference to the abdomen as the stomach. In fact, nausea, indigestion and cramps may not always arise or even involve the stomach.

A turning stomach sensation is not a typical symptom. As with many sensations, the experience is subjective. However, in most cases a stomach turning sensation is intended to describe a feeling in the stomach or abdomen that may occur with motion sickness. Nausea alone does not fully describe this sensation and indigestion can also be vague. Therefore a turning stomach feeling means a combination of these symptoms and sensations.

Read more on sick stomach.

Causes of Turning Stomach

Although the term stomach may be extended to the abdomen, the causes discussed below have been isolated to the stomach. There are various other abdominal causes of a stomach turning sensation, including enteritis, pancreatic and gallblader disease as well as kidney and liver disorders. Pregnancy may also be a factor in a turning stomach sensation.

The accompanying sign and symptoms can overlap across most of these conditions. It is therefore important to consult with a doctor in order for the the cause of a  turning stomach feeling is accurately diagnosed.  Some of the causes can be acute environmental factors and the feeling resolves once the causative factor is removed. At other times, the sensation is due to diseases involving the stomach.


Motion of any form can trigger a turning stomach sensation. This is usually referred to as motion sickness. For some people it may arise only with rocking motions as is common with sea travel, hence the term sea sickness. However, even land and air travel can be a trigger. Sometimes motion sickness may arise with even phsyical actibities like jumping repeatedly as may occur on a trampoline. Whatever the activity, motion of some sort is the trigger.


From overeating to consuming unusual and less palatable foods, this is one of the leading causes of nausea and indigestion. Spicy and greasy foods, large quantities of caffeinated beverages and alcohol may also be responsible. The turning stomach sensation may commence when eating or immediately after it and can lead to vomiting. It may also arise when hungry as hunger pangs intensify with no intervention by consuming food.

Sights and Odors

A host of visual and olfactory stimuli can also trigger nausea and indigestion. Sensitivity to individual stimuli varies from person to person. Usually visual stimuli of blood and gore or very offensive odors like feces may cause a turning stomach sensation. It can be worse if these sights and smells are encountered immediately after eating and may result in vomiting of an entire meal.

Caffeine and Alcohol

Caffeinated and alcoholic beverages can be irritants. Individual tolerance varies and some people may experience a turning stomach sensation with even a small quantity of these substances. It is more likely to occur in people with pre-existing stomach problems like gastritis and stomach ulcer. However, any consumption of these substances in large quantities will eventually lead to nausea, indigestion and sometimes stomach cramps.

Inflammation and Infection

Stomach inflammation, known as gastritis, is a common problem. It can occur for a variety of causes but is most often due to Helicobacter pylori infection and the excessive use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). Various other infections may also involve the stomach although it is usually not as persistent as H.pylori.  Viral, bacterial and protozoal infections or toxins from these pathogens can cause gastroenteritis or food poisoning.

Ulcers (Open Sores)

Open sores, known as ulcers, can form in the stomach. This is often due to persistent gastritis and associated with infections like H.pylori. These ulcers usually cause more severe symptoms and while pain be be present at times, nausea and discomfort tend to persist at other times. A serious complication of untreated ulcers is the potential tear or rupture in the stomach wall.

Read more on stomach ulcers.

Tumors and Cancer

Various growths may arise in the stomach. Some of these tumors can be benign (non-cancerous) while other tumors may be malignant (cancerous). Benign tumors like most stomach polyps may not seem as serious as cancerous growths. However, these large polyps can affect stomach functioning, such as when it blocks the stomach outlet. Stomach cancer on the other hand is serious and can lead to death if the cancer spreads.

Gastric Acid and Reflux

The stomach is well designed to content with the gastric acid and highly corrosive stomach enzymes. However, when there are disturbances with the gastric acid levels then it can cause stomach problems. In a condition like Zollinger-Ellison syndrome there is excessive gastric acid secretion. Reflux of bile from the duodenum into the stomach can also cause irritation and indigestion. Acid reflux into the esophagus (gastroesophageal reflux disease) may not affect the stomach but can cause symptoms that may be perceived as a stomach turning sensation.

Obstruction (Blockage)

Blockage of the stomach can cause a host of symptoms, including many of the symptoms that may be described as a turning stomach. Polyps, cancer and narrowing of the end portion of the stomach (pyloric stenosis) causes gastric outlet obstruction. Sometimes the inlet into the stomach can also be blocked as may be seen with achalasia. Slow emptying of the stomach with weak stomach muscles (gastroparesis) can also cause stomach contents to be backed up although there is no obstruction.

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