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Stomach Cramps After Eating - Causes and Treatment

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Stomach cramps after eating can be due to several reasons and disorders. The article explains the causes and treatment.

Medically reviewed by

Dr. Jagdish Singh

Published At January 3, 2023
Reviewed AtMarch 22, 2024

Introduction

It happens to everyone once or several times that overindulgence while eating leads to overeating, fullness, nausea, and vomiting. This is not a problem and needs no specific treatment. The person feels better once the food is thrown out (vomiting) or digested with time. However, if these symptoms are seen along with stomach cramps in cases of regular food intake, it could be a sign of some underlying cause. In most cases, the stomach cramps after eating are not severe and can be cured at home with over-the-counter medicines. However, a doctor should be consulted in some cases of painful cramps.

What Are the Causes of Stomach Cramps After Eating?

Food: Some food items can lead to stomach cramps due to intolerance or allergy. Doctors help to find the allergens in such cases, and it is advised to avoid such food items.

Allergies: Some food items can trigger our immune responses and can cause symptoms such as stomach cramps. Allergies can be due to any food items or fluids, but some foods that have the potential to develop allergies in the majority of cases are eggs, soy, peanuts, milk, wheat (gluten), and fish.

Intolerance: It is a condition when the body's digestive system does not accept certain food items in the stomach. In cases of intolerance, there are no immune responses, unlike allergies. Intolerance leads to irritation or indigestion in the gastrointestinal tract.

Some common foods and reasons which can cause intolerance are:

Gluten: It is a protein that is found in wheat, barley, and other grains. Some people are gluten intolerant and can develop a condition known as celiac disease.

Lactose: Sensitivity to milk and dairy products is known as lactose intolerance.

Fermented Carbohydrates: Some people are sensitive to food items containing fermented carbohydrates.

Constipation: Movement of stool is slow in the digestive tract and not appropriately eliminated. Chronic constipation for several weeks can cause bloating and stomach cramps.

Sugary Alcohols: These artificial sweeteners contain neither sugar nor alcohol. These are used in the production of sugar-free gums and candies. Sugar alcohols such as sorbitol are food additives whose excess consumption can cause diarrhea, bloating, and stomach cramps.

Indigestion: It is also known as dyspepsia or upset stomach.

There is difficulty in digestion which can be due to the following reasons:

  1. Consumption of spicy, acidic, or greasy foods.

  2. Overeating food in a single meal.

  3. Consumption of excess amounts of caffeine and alcohol.

Some Medical Conditions Which Can Cause Stomach Cramps Are:

Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD): It is a chronic disorder in which stomach acid accumulates in the esophagus and irritates its lining. This can cause damage to the esophagus as it is long-lasting. The main symptoms of the disease include heartburn, the feeling of throwing out food involuntarily, chest pain, and stomach cramps.

Irritable Bowel Syndrome: Chronic inflammation affecting the large intestine, which can cause abdominal pain, stomach cramps, constipation, bloating, and gas.

Celiac Disease: Intolerance to gluten leads to celiac disease. It causes damage to the lining of the intestine and other severe conditions.

Crohn's Disease: Inflammation in different parts of the digestive system can cause stomach pain, diarrhea, and bloody stools. It can be a potentially life-threatening condition if not treated.

Ulcerative Colitis: It is an auto-immune disorder in which the body's immune system reacts abnormally and causes inflammation and ulcers on the lining of the intestine.

Peptic Ulcers: Soreness on the stomach's inner lining and the upper part of the small intestine (duodenum). The most common symptom noticed is burning stomach pain.

Acute Pancreatitis: Inflammation of the pancreas leading to symptoms such as radiating abdominal pain. It can be caused due to high triglyceride content in the body, the presence of gallstones, or alcohol consumption.

Biliary Colic: Obstruction in the bile duct due to stones. The condition causes pain after eating in the right upper quadrant of the abdomen. The pain can be continuous or intermittent.

What Are the Symptoms Seen in Stomach Cramps?

There are many symptoms associated with stomach pain.

Some of them are:

  • Nausea, a feeling of uneasiness and vomiting.

  • Diarrhea, or loose stools, which are very frequent during the day.

  • Acid reflux or accumulation of stomach acid in the esophagus.

  • Abdominal cramping.

  • Early fullness during a meal.

  • Tightness or bloating in the abdomen causes discomfort.

  • Burning sensation in the lower abdomen.

  • Vomiting, or involuntarily throwing out food from the stomach through the esophagus.

  • Gas in the stomach.

How to Diagnose Stomach Cramps?

Many investigation techniques can help to investigate the cause of stomach cramps. These include:

Endoscopy: Insertion of an endoscope through the mouth can help to locate any disorder or inflammation which can cause stomach cramps after eating.

pH Monitoring: It helps to understand the acidic or essential nature of the underlying condition, such as in cases of gastrointestinal acid reflux, the pH is low.

Colonoscopy: Insertion of a tube with a camera through the rectum to investigate the large and small intestines and any disorder if present.

  • Computed tomography and magnetic resonance imaging.

  • Blood tests to check for any deficiencies or excessive concentration of elements.

  • Stool sample to check for the presence of blood.

What Is the Treatment for Stomach Cramps?

Treatment for stomach cramps depends on the underlying condition which can cause this pain and its cure. In cases of allergy or intolerance, it is best advised to avoid the food items which cause it. No other treatment can prevent these conditions. In medical situations, every disorder has its stated cure, which the doctors should advise. Some inflammatory conditions are easily cured with medicines, whereas some serious diseases need surgical interventions too.

Conclusion

Stomach cramps after eating can be caused due to several factors, such as allergies, indigestion, intolerance, or medical conditions such as colitis, celiac disease, gastrointestinal acid reflux (GERD), and many more. The symptoms of stomach cramps include nausea, vomiting, or bloating. The treatment of pain depends on the underlying cause.

Frequently Asked Questions

1.

How to Mitigate Stomach Cramps?

Stomach spasms caused by gas, muscle strain, and dehydration can be managed by home remedies. However, severe stomach spasms require medical treatment, including antibiotics for gastroenteritis or gastritis caused by bacteria, aminosalicylates, corticosteroids for ulcerative colitis, and Crohn's disease antispasmodic medications in cases of irritable bowel syndrome or very severe spasms.

2.

Why Do Stomach Cramps Occur?

Stomach cramps commonly occur due to eating foods that irritate the stomach, food poisoning, constipation, or stomach infections. Other reasons are viral or bacterial infections, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), menstrual cramps, anxiety, appendicitis, and pregnancy.

3.

Why Does the Stomach Cramp Relieve When Lying Down?

In appendicitis, there will be inflammation in the lower abdomen; the pain will be relieved when lying down with the legs drawn up. Also, pain caused by the inflammation of the pancreas can be felt better by curling up in a ball on one side or leaning forward.

4.

What Is the Duration of Stomach Cramps?

Usually, stomach cramps caused by gas, bloating, constipation, indigestion, or stomach flu are not harmful, and they get better or go away within two hours. Stomach cramps caused by appendicitis, stomach ulcers, gallbladder stones, kidney stones, hernias, pancreatitis, and IBS will be severe and require medical attention.

5.

How to Treat Stomach Cramps Due to Diarrhea?

People having stomach cramps due to diarrhea need to be well-hydrated. A case of diarrhea caused by food poisoning requires antibiotic therapy. Also, over-the-counter (OTC) medications and herbal supplements can reduce stomach cramps and diarrhea caused by indigestion or infections. Probiotics help heal the digestive system, and natural probiotics like yogurt or probiotic supplements can be taken. 

6.

How to Treat Stomach Cramps Caused by Laxatives?

Laxatives are a type of drug that can treat constipation. Certain laxatives like Bisacodyl can cause stomach cramps as a side effect. If stomach cramps or pain occur due to taking laxatives, reduce the dosage of the drug or stop using the drug.

7.

How Do Stomach Cramps Feel?

A stomach cramp can be a mild to severe ache that can occur suddenly and with a tight feeling in the stomach muscles. It can be uncomfortable, and sometimes it hurts. Stomach 
The cramps get better or go away within two hours. 

8.

Why Do Stomach Cramps Occur Often?

There are many causes for persistent or repeated abdominal pain. However, most causes are not serious and can be managed medically. The causes include irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), Crohn's disease, ulcerative colitis, endometriosis, stomach ulcers, heartburn and acid reflux, and gastritis.

9.

What Are Stomach Cramps?

Stomach cramps are sudden, uncontrolled, tight feelings in the stomach muscles. They feel uncomfortable and, at times, hurt. Stomach cramps are not serious and do not need any medical treatment. Medical consultation is required if stomach cramps occur often, are severe, or last for more than a day.

10.

Can Menstrual Cramps Cause Stomach Aches?

Menstrual cramps can cause throbbing or cramping pain in the lower abdomen that can be very severe. The cramps can start 1 to 3 days before the period, peak 24 hours after the start, and subside in 2 to 3 days. The pain can radiate to the lower back and thighs.

11.

How Severe Can Stomach Cramps Become?

Stomach cramps are often not serious and do not require any medical attention. In some cases, like appendicitis, stomach ulcers, gallbladder stones, kidney stones, hernias, pancreatitis, and IBS, the stomach ache becomes severe and needs to be consulted.

12.

How to Reduce Stomach Cramps Caused by Food Poisoning?

Food poisoning can usually be treated at home for mild cases by drinking plenty of water. Adequate rest is required, and eat light and non-fatty meals in small portions. Antibiotics are prescribed for people with severe diseases or a higher risk of complications.
Dr. Jagdish Singh
Dr. Jagdish Singh

Medical Gastroenterology

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