Stomach pain and nausea are common health problems in children as well as in adults.
Symptoms can range from overeating and anxiety to gastrointestinal disorders and infections.
The stomach pain and nausea can be either chronic or acute. Acute means symptoms are short-lived, and may unexpectedly occur. Chronic means chronic illness.
We’re looking into some of the acute and chronic symptoms of stomach pain and nausea in this post. They also talk about self-care, when to see a doctor, diagnosis, complications and prevention.
Causes of acute stomach pain and nausea can include:
- inflammation of the stomach lining
- side effects of certain medications, such as antibiotics and cancer treatments
Viral gastroenteritis is a common cause of nausea and stomach pain. While people often refer to this illness as “stomach flu,” it is in fact an intestinal infection and does not involve the flu virus.
The most common cause of viral gastroenteritis is norovirus but in infants and young children, rotavirus infection is often the cause of this condition.
Other viral gastroenteritis signs include watery diarrhea and vomiting and some individuals may experience a fever.
Viral gastroenteritis usually lasts less than a week, and gets better without medical treatment, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK). Frequent vomiting and diarrhea, however, can lead to severe dehydration, which is especially hazardous in children and older adults. People with dehydration symptoms should seek immediate medical attention.
Gastroenteritis will also be caused by eating contaminated foods which may allow harmful bacteria, viruses, or parasites to enter the body. The signs of food poisoning are similar to those of viral gastroenteritis, so when people experience diarrhea or their symptoms are severe they should see a doctor.
Acute episodes of stomach pain and nausea may be normal in children and often the causative factors can be stress and anxiety. When a child complains of a disturbed stomach before a school exam or competitive sporting event, this may be a sign of anxiety. Helping the child deal with stress and anxiety can also help relieve stomach issues.
Causes of chronic stomach pain and nausea can include:
Gastritis is an inflammation on the lining of the stomach. This can be an acute or a chronic inflammation. Gastritis can also induce vomiting, in addition to stomach pain and nausea.
Gastritis is most commonly caused by infection with the bacteria Helicobacter pylori. Other causes include stomach lining damage, likely due to alcohol or repeated use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs including ibuprofen and aspirin.
Bowel obstructions can cause pain in the stomach, diarrhea, bloating and constipation. If a person is not receiving treatment, intestinal obstructions may lead to serious complications.
Causes of intestinal obstructions can include:
- adhesions, which are bands of tissue that can form following surgery
- inflammatory bowel disease
Functional gastrointestinal disorders
These are a category of conditions where the gastrointestinal tract doesn’t function as it should, and obvious structural problems are present.
Examples of functional gastrointestinal disorders are irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), and functional dyspepsia.
IBS may cause pain or cramps on the abdomen as well as bloating, and either diarrhea or constipation. The symptoms of functional dyspepsia can include pain, nausea and vomiting in the upper abdomen.
Functional gastrointestinal disorders affect about one in four people in the United States according to the International Foundation for Gastrointestinal Conditions.
Other chronic causes
Other causes of chronic stomach pain and nausea can include the following:
- pregnancy can cause nausea, vomiting, and stomach pain, particularly in the early stages
- central nervous system problems, including migraine headaches, intracranial pressure, seizures, and strokes, can cause nausea
- inner ear problems, such as infections and inflammation, can cause dizziness and nausea
- stress, anxiety, and depression can lead to stomach problems in some people
When to see a doctor
Stomach pain and nausea are often short-lived and are getting better by themselves. Lingering symptoms may, however, be a sign of a more severe condition.
The NIDDK suggests that people see a doctor if their indigestion lasts more than 2 weeks, which can cause symptoms such as stomach pain and nausea.
If any of the following symptoms accompany abdominal discomfort, people should see a doctor right away:
- frequent vomiting or blood in the vomit
- diarrhea that lasts for more than 2 days
- bloody or black and tarry stools
- pain in the chest, arm, neck, or jaw
- difficulty breathing or swallowing
- unexplained weight loss
Stomach pain and nausea usually resolve within a few days without medication. Resting and drinking plenty of fluids will help with recovery, however.
Those with recurrent diarrhea, vomiting, or both need to replace the lost fluids and electrolytes in order to avoid dehydration. Beverages which can help include:
- clear broths
- sports drinks
- fruit juices
The type of medical treatment for stomach pain and nausea will usually depend on the underlying cause of the symptoms and their severity.
To treat dehydration a doctor can prescribe an oral rehydration solution for people with severe diarrhea or vomiting. They may also prescribe antiemetics that can help counteract nausea and vomiting, which are drugs.
If a doctor suspects a person may have gastritis or another type of gastrointestinal disorder, medical tests, such as an upper gastrointestinal endoscopy, may be required.
Gastritis sufferers due to H. Pylori infection is likely to end an antibiotic path.
A common complication of conditions that cause extreme vomiting or diarrhea is dehydration. Signs of dehydration can include:
- dry mouth
- dark urine and urinating less than normal
- no tears when crying
- sunken cheeks or eyes
- feeling lightheaded or dizzy
The underlying cause is based on other potential complications of stomach pain and nausea. Anemia is a potential complication of erosive gastritis, for example, due to the chronic bleeding caused by the disease in the stomach.
Viral gastroenteritis and food poisoning are common causes of nausea and stomach discomfort. Good hygiene can help to avoid the health problems.
Good hygiene is key to avoiding certain germs which can cause pain and nausea in the stomach. As a norm people can try to implement the following practices:
- washing the hands frequently with soap and water, particularly after using the bathroom and before and after handling food
- storing, cleaning, and preparing food carefully and correctly
- cooking or reheating food thoroughly
- disinfecting contaminated surfaces
- handling soiled clothes and bedding carefully and always washing them thoroughly
Stomach pain and nausea are common symptoms in children and adults alike. Overeating, intestinal infections, stress and anxiety, and chronic gastrointestinal disorders may be the causes.
Stomach pain and nausea are usually short-lived and are getting better by themselves. People with persistent symptoms should however see a doctor for an assessment.
Drinking plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration is important for people whose symptoms include diarrhoea and vomiting. Individuals with dehydration symptoms should seek immediate medical treatment.