From stress and anxiety to illness, what are the possible causes of nausea and abdominal pain? When are these symptoms serious?
Understanding Your Symptoms
There are many potential factors that can contribute to nausea and abdominal pain. Some causes are not necessarily a sign of a health condition, while other possible reasons for these symptoms may be serious. Nausea is the sensation in the stomach of having to vomit. Abdominal pain is a mild or sharp pain in the abdominal area. Depending on the severity of the uneasiness and pain, and the persistence, experiencing these two symptoms together may indicate an underlying health problem.
The Stomach Flu
Commonly known as the stomach flu, gastroenteritis can cause stomach pain and nausea, as well as diarrhea, vomiting, a fever and headache. This is a relatively common illness caused by a viral, bacterial or parasitic infection. The infection causes irritation and inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract.
For most people the stomach flu goes away on its own once the body overcomes the infection. It is very important however to take in plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration, which can be dangerous. If your symptoms are consistent with gastroenteritis, drink lots of water, broth and juices, eat a bland diet when it is possible to keep down food and monitor your symptoms. If a fever reaches 102 degrees, if there is blood in the vomit or stool, of vomiting persists for more then two days or if abdominal pain is severe and/or the stomach appears swollen, seek medical attention.
Stress, anxiety, fear and other strong emotions can upset the gastrointestinal tract, which can easily lead to nausea. Emotional disturbances can also cause indigestion, constipation and if given time, stomach ulcers, which may all cause abdominal pain.
If your emotions are causing stomach problems be sure to address your psychological well-being. Over time stress can have a more severe impact on health, contributing to illness, an increase in gastrointestinal problems and cardiovascular disease. In the mean time try simple remedies such as peppermint tea, ginger and chamomile to relieve the pain and nausea. Use deep breathing to ease feelings of stress and anxiety.
Overeating, a food allergy, food poisoning or simply a poor diet can all cause a stomachache and nausea. Pay attention to your diet. Eating plenty of fruits and vegetables, nuts, seeds and whole grains while also drinking plenty of water will support digestive health and prevent problems such as constipation and gas. Eating in excess in one sitting or eating a poor diet that is high in processed foods and animal products can cause gastrointestinal problems.
If eating a specific food, for example dairy products or nuts, tends to result in symptoms, then see your doctor about getting tested for allergies. If nausea and pain are accompanied by a fever, vomiting, diarrhea and general malaise, then it may be food poisoning. As with gastroenteritis, if symptoms are severe or if they persist for more then two days then be sure to see your doctor for a proper diagnosis.
It is also possible that abdominal pain combined with nausea is a sign of gallbladder disease. Years of consuming fatty, fried and refined foods and poor digestion may be behind the formation of gallstones, which can cause the gallbladder to become inflamed and block the passage of bile. Gallbladder disease is serious and can become life-threatening. Be sure to see your doctor for a diagnosis if you experience recurrent abdominal pain, gas, bloating, nausea and possibly a fever. Intense pain in the right upper abdomen is characteristic of an inflamed gallbladder.
When to See Your Doctor
Nausea and abdominal pain are relatively common symptoms that should not be ignored. If they are clearly caused by a stomach bug, stress or the meal you ate last night, then you may not require a doctor's visit. Be sure next time you see your doctor that you talk about your experience however. If these symptoms are severe, persistent or accompanied by other symptoms it is very important to seek medical care. If unsure, play it safe and call your doctor.
Medicine Plus, http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/003120.htm
Page, Linda. "Healthy Healing: A Guide to Self-Healing for Everyone, 11th Edition" (Traditional Wisdom, 2003).
photo by Jerine Lay
photo by Ruben I