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A Guide to Severe Abdominal Pain After Eating

written by: BStone • edited by: Diana Cooper • updated: 4/15/2011

What causes severe abdominal pain after eating? Learn what may be behind the pain and what can be done about it.

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    Abdominal Pain

    There are many possible causes of abdominal pain, ranging from minor digestive issues to chronic conditions. Severe abdominal pain after eating may be the result of an inability to absorb some foods, digestive system irritation or it may be a sign of an underlying problem such as gallstones or a hiatal hernia. If this symptom is persistent, be sure to see your doctor for proper diagnosis and treatment. The following guide can help you understand what may be going on with your body.

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    Gas

    Gas is probably the most common cause of pain in the abdomen after eating. The body naturally produces gas when the bacteria in the large intestine acts to help break down food. Foods that the body has trouble digesting because of a lack of necessary enzymes or that are simply difficult to absorb and digest may cause gas. Dairy products, beans, and some vegetables and whole grains may all lead to gas. This problem may be accompanied by burping, flatulence, bloating and sometimes severe abdominal pain, which some people mistake for other more serious health conditions.

    If you notice a severe pain after eating, try to pay attention to what foods are causing the symptoms. Also, if other gas-related symptoms are present, it may only be that excess gas is forming. Chronic gas and related symptoms can be a sign of another more serious health condition. Gas itself can be treated with dietary changes and over-the-counter medications.

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    Heartburn

    Heartburn is another common cause of severe pain in the abdomen, brought on by eating. With heartburn, the esophagus has become irritated and possibly damaged by the flow of partially digested food and stomach acids back into the esophagus from the stomach. If symptoms are chronic, you may have gastroesophageal reflux disease or GERD. This condition can lead to more serious health problems over time and does require some form of treatment.

    If you are experiencing heartburn, the pain is likely to occur in the upper abdomen/chest area. There may also be burning in the throat and difficulty swallowing. Changes to your diet, such as eating smaller meals and avoiding trigger foods, and lifestyle modifications can reduce heartburn. There are also both over-the-counter and prescription medications which you can talk to your doctor about taking.

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    Gastritis

    Gastritis can also be behind your abdominal pain, which is aggravated by eating. This condition occurs when the lining of the stomach becomes inflamed. Smoking, alcohol, the use of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs and a bacterial infection are all potential causes. The symptoms include pain in the abdomen, indigestion, loss of appetite, dark stools, nausea and vomiting. See your doctor if you are experiencing these symptoms. Gastritis can be treated with lifestyle changes and medications to neutralize stomach acids.

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    Hiatal Hernia

    A hiatal hernia can lead to upper abdominal pain after eating, particularly after consuming a large meal. With a hiatal hernia a small part of the stomach slides up through the hiatus, which is an opening in the diaphragm. People who have a hiatal hernia are likely to experience GERD symptoms. This is a relatively common condition in people over fifty and even more common in older people who are overweight and who smoke. In severe cases, surgery may be recommended but for most people with a hiatal hernia eating smaller meals and seeking treatment for GERD symptoms is all that is needed.

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    Gallstones

    Often gallstones do not cause symptoms, but when they do, expect pain in the upper abdomen and upper back, as well as nausea, possibly vomiting and general digestive issues such as gas, bloating and indigestion. If symptoms are present, it is important to seek medical care. In severe cases, your doctor may recommend gallbladder removal.

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    Living with Abdominal Pain and Digestive Issues

    If you have severe abdominal pain after eating you should talk to your doctor to find out the cause. Many digestive issues can be helped with dietary and lifestyle changes. If necessary there are also medications to relieve symptoms and surgical procedures to prevent further problems. You certainly do not have to live with abdominal pain, but with better health and medical care you can take care of your specific problem.

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    References

    WebMD. The Digestive System and Gas. http://www.webmd.com/digestive-disorders/digestive-diseases-gas

    National Institutes of Health. Gastritis. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMH0002135/

    WebMD. Heartburn and GERD. http://www.webmd.com/heartburn-gerd/heartbrun-and-gerd

    WebMD. Hiatal Hernia. http://www.webmd.com/heartburn-gerd/hiatal-hernia