Stomach pain is a common and usually short-lived, benign symptom. Almost everyone has experienced a bout of stomach pain after eating, often as a result of dietary indiscretions. But if you frequently have stomach pain after eating, or if pain is severe, see your medical practitioner; recurring stomach pain after eating can coincide with potentially serious health issues.
Stomach pain after eating can be dull, such as a feeling of fullness, or sharp as a stabbing pain. Simple overeating can cause dull abdominal pain, while a sharp pain after eating may indicate food poisoning or gastroenteritis. Stomach pain described as “burning” may occur with ulcers or with gastroesophageal reflux, or GERD. Colicky pain comes in waves; gallstones can cause colicky pain in the abdomen.
Timing of stomach pain can supply your practitioner with clues about the cause. Recurrent stomach pain only after eating certain foods indicates intolerance or allergy. Pain that occurs a few hours after eating and temporarily improves when you eat can indicate a stomach ulcer. Food poisoning often occurs within hours of eating contaminated food. Gastroenteritis can occur fairly soon after eating because any activity in the intestinal tract irritates the inflamed tissues. Gastroesophageal reflux occurs more often if you lie down after eating. Heartburn often occurs after a large meal; alcohol exacerbates heartburn and GERD.
The location of your pain after eating also provides clues to the cause. Stomach and intestinal pain can affect the abdomen anywhere from the chest to the navel. Lower abdominal pain after eating more often indicates gastroenteritis or food poisoning, especially if accompanied by diarrhea, nausea or vomiting. Pain in the center of abdomen a few hours after eating may indicate an ulcer, while gallstone pain often occurs in the upper right quadrant of the abdomen. Different people may experience pain in different areas; there are no hard and fast rules.
Most of the time, your medical practitioner can determine the cause of your pain from your medical history. In some cases, blood tests or more invasive tests such as x-ray studies, ultrasound, dye tests or endoscopy, looking into the gastrointestinal tract with a lighted scope, may become necessary to make the diagnosis or assess the severity of the problem.
Stomach pain after eating has numerous causes, most benign, but some serious. Any pain that recurs frequently after eating needs medical investigation. Severe pain after eating also needs diagnosis. Keeping a food diary to see if your stomach pain occurs only after eating certain foods can help diagnose lactose intolerance, food allergies or other food sensitivities.
A registered nurse with more than 25 years of experience in oncology, labor/delivery, neonatal intensive care, infertility and ophthalmology, Sharon Perkins has also coauthored and edited numerous health books for the Wiley "Dummies" series. Perkins also has extensive experience working in home health with medically fragile pediatric patients.