A simple belly ache can signal several different health concerns. Here’s when to grab a hot water bottle and when to worry…
By Amanda Khouv
Struggling with belly pain? Whether you’re suffering from indigestion, period pains or something more serious, tummy pain can offer an insight into underlying health conditions, so it’s worth finding out the source of your discomfort.
We speak to Dr Luke Powles, lead physician at Bupa Health Clinics, about the most common stomach issues to put your mind (and your belly) at rest:
Pain in the upper abdominal area
Discomfort in the upper abdominal area is usually related to issues with acids in the diet, so antacids should help and eventually the pain should pass.
If the pains persist, it could be linked to more serious conditions in the stomach, heart, lungs, aorta and other organs. ‘If it doesn’t settle down after a few days, or if antacids don’t seem to work, see a doctor,’ says Dr Powles.
Bloating and gas alongside tummy pains
Bloating is an extremely common complaint when it comes to tummy pains and is often linked to diet. ‘Certain foods can cause pain, discomfort or a bloated feeling,’ says Dr Powles. ‘Avoid rich, fatty foods and see if that helps.’
Pain in the upper abdomen and chest
Finished your dinner only to be left with pain and discomfort in the abdomen and chest? It is most likely the speed at which you eat your food.
‘People can get this if they’ve eaten too quickly or if they’ve eaten something that’s greasy and heavy, especially if they aren’t used to those kinds of foods,’ says Dr Powles.
It’s a good idea to keep a food diary to spot any patterns, or groups of foods that affect you.
Digestive issues such as this can often be resolved with over-the-counter remedies. Ask your pharmacist for advice.
This food-coma feeling, although common, can also be confused with a food intolerance or IBS. ‘It’s a good idea to keep a food diary to spot any patterns, or groups of foods that affect you,’ says Dr Powles. Take your food diary with you when you visit your GP so you can identify the cause together.
Lower abdominal pain
Lower abdominal pain is incredibly common, and for women it is often linked to the menstrual cycle. If you suffer from period pains particularly badly, Dr Powles has a few ways to help relieve the pain – aside from painkillers. ‘Gentle exercises like walking or swimming may help, or putting a hot water bottle on your stomach,’ he says.
Lower abdominal pain is incredibly common, and for women it is often linked to the menstrual cycle.
That being said, do keep a watchful eye out for severe pain in the lower abdominal area if it comes on quickly. ‘This could be a symptom of appendicitis, so keep medical advice immediately,’ says Dr Powles.
The pain will usually begin in the middle of the abdomen, however, and may come and go initially. ‘Within a few hours, the pain typically travels to the lower right-hand side and becomes constant and severe.’
💡If you get lower abdominal cramps over a week before your period is due, this could be implantation cramps, which can happen in early pregnancy, when the newly fertilised egg burrows itself into the wall of your uterus. If your period doesn’t arrive, take a pregnancy test.
Again, abdominal cramping can more often than not be something that comes alongside your period.
If you’re experiencing these kind of pains throughout the month, rather than just in the days leading up to your period, visit your GP. It’s best to get fibroids, pelvic inflammatory disease, endometriosis or adenomyosis ruled out by a health professional. ‘These often require medical treatment, so it’s best to see a doctor sooner rather than later,’ says Dr Powles.
Wind, bloating and diarrhoea
Abdominal pains that come hand-in-hand with excessive wing, bloating and diarrhoea can often present themselves along with itching and skin rashes, and can be a symptom of intolerance.
‘There are no specific tests for food intolerances, so it’s important to keep a food diary if you think you have this issue,’ says Dr Powles.
If you experience these discomforts frequently, it’s well worth taking a look at what food and drink you’re regularly consuming. ‘Cut down on caffeinated drinks including tea and coffee and reduce how much alcohol you drink,’ recommends Dr Powles.
‘Quitting smoking, losing weight if you’re overweight, not skipping meals, trying to stay upright during the day and having your head more raised at night can help,’ he adds. ‘Minimise your intake of rich, fatty foods and try not to have too much spice.’