Family Health Checklist: Stomachache

pizza and upset stomach

Photo by Peter Ardito

Photo by Peter Ardito

What it feels like

  • Heartburn
    A burning sensation in your esophagus or chest; sometimes sour-tasting stomach acid rises into the back of the mouth 
  • Bloating
    Increased pressure in your abdomen as if a balloon were being inflated; may be accompanied by constipation 
  • Nausea
    An uncomfortable feeling of sickness in the pit of your stomach with an urge to throw up; often leads to vomiting. Note: A quick sniff of rubbing alcohol may alleviate nausea. In fact, it was found to be nearly as effective as a drug commonly used to treat chemo-related nausea. Source: San Antonio Uniformed Services Health Education Consortium

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Heartburn and your weight
“The number one way to reduce heartburn is with lifestyle changes, particularly through losing weight,” says Deborah A. Fisher, MD, MHS, spokesperson for the American Gastroenterological Association and associate professor of medicine at Duke University. “Excess belly fat puts pressure on your abdomen and stomach acid has to go somewhere—so it rises.” Note: When suffering from heartburn, try sleeping on your left side.

Possible causes

Heartburn

  • Abdominal pressure caused by tight clothing or obesity
  • A weak esophageal sphincter
  • A large hiatal hernia
  • Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), which occurs when the muscle at the end of the esophagus doesn’t close properly
  • Smoking

Bloating

  • Trigger foods (see below)
  • Constipation
  • Medications that slow down the GI tract
  • Pregnancy

Nausea

  • Food poisoning and food sensitivities
  • A viral or bacterial sickness
  • Some medications, including OTC drugs, supplements, vitamins and teas
  • Pregnancy

Examine your diet
Spicy foods, tomato or citrus products, and large or fatty meals can spark heartburn, as can caffeine, peppermint and alcohol. Gum, bubbly drinks or foods such as beans, cabbage and Brussels sprouts can lead to bloating, but water helps push high-fiber foods along. Also, some food sensitivities (like lactose intolerance) can cause nausea.

Don’t panic
All these issues are common and don’t warrant a doctor’s visit if they occur only occasionally. If you experience heartburn several times a week over the course of a few months or it’s accompanied by chest pain, see your doctor. If nausea lasts longer than 72 hours, schedule an appointment. Getting full quickly with pain or vomiting could indicate a blockage, says Fisher. 

Find the right treatment

  • Heartburn: an antacid (like Tums) or a histamine-2 blocker (like Pepcid)
  • Bloating: Beano to break down complex carbs, Gas-X or digestion-friendly fennel seeds 
  • Nausea: Pepto-Bismol, acupressure wristband or ginger root capsules
  • Rx meds (ask your doc)

Yoga pose that relieves gas 
Lie down and hug your knees. Extend one leg straight out on the floor. Hold for a few breaths, then switch legs.