Why You May Have Pain After Eating

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The term " postprandial" refers to the body changes that occur after eating. Postprandial pain or pain after eating can be a symptom of a wide variety of digestive disorders . In this review, we will look at some of the reasons why you may experience pain after eating.

You should report any unusual or persistent pain to your healthcare professional. Severe pain may require immediate medical attention.

Bundit Bingsook / EyeEm / Getty Images

Common causes

Certain digestive ailments can cause postprandial pain.

Dyspepsia

Pain after eating in the upper half of the abdomen (also called "epigastric pain") may be dyspepsia. Dyspepsia is another name for indigestion.

Dyspepsia can also cause a burning sensation in the same area and a feeling of fullness at the beginning of a meal. Bloating and nausea may also appear.

It is recommended that you consult your doctor to make sure that dyspepsia is not just a symptom of another problem. At screening, between 20% and 30% of people with dyspepsia are diagnosed with the cause of their symptoms.

If the cause is not found, the person has "functional dyspepsia." Functional dyspepsia is a type of functional gastrointestinal disorder .

Functional dyspepsia is subdivided into:

  • Epigastric pain syndrome (SBP) , when pain or burning sensation in the epigastrium predominates.
  • Postprandial distress syndrome (PDS) , when a feeling of fullness and early satiety occurs

Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)

People with gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) have a chronic burning sensation ( heartburn ) in the esophagus, pain when swallowing, or a taste of acid or undigested food in the throat or mouth.

Although many people occasionally have GERD, people with GERD have symptoms on a regular basis and the acid present can damage the esophagus, so it is a good idea to speak with your healthcare provider if you have persistent GERD.

Pancreatitis

Pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas) can cause pain after eating that begins in the upper abdomen and often spreads (spreads) to the back. Other possible symptoms are nausea and vomiting.

The most common cause of pancreatitis is gallstones, but there can also be genetic causes. Drinking alcohol and smoking cigarettes are risk factors for developing pancreatitis, so you may be asked to stop drinking and smoking if you have pancreatitis.

Signs that you should seek immediate medical attention for pancreatitis include:

  • Severe abdominal pain
  • Fast heartbeat
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • A yellowing of the skin or whites of the eyes called jaundice.

These could be signs that you have developed an infection or a potentially dangerous blockage.

Peptic ulcer

Peptic ulcers , ulcers in the lining of the stomach or duodenum, can cause pain after eating, especially if the ulcer is in the stomach (stomach ulcer). Peptic ulcer pain most often occurs somewhere between the breastbone and the belly button and can sometimes occur when the stomach is empty.

Taking various medications for NSAIDs (such as ibuprofen, aspirin, and naproxen) or long-term use of NSAIDs can be a risk factor for developing peptic ulcer.

Many ulcers are caused by a common stomach bacteria called Helicobacter pylori ( H. pylori). It is important to treat H. pylori , as it can cause certain types of bowel cancer if left untreated.

Gallstones

Gallstone pain can occur after eating, especially if the food was heavy and / or greasy. Some people experience gallbladder pain (also known as "biliary colic") on an empty stomach, sometimes waking them up from sleep.

It is important to evaluate for this type of pain because gallbladder inflammation can become severe and may require surgery.

Pain caused by gallstone disease usually occurs in the middle or right side of the upper abdomen. The pain can also occur behind the breastbone or spread to the upper back or right shoulder. The pain may feel like "grabbing" or "gnawing." Other symptoms of gallstones include nausea and vomiting.

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)

Irritable bowel syndrome is a health condition in which people experience chronic abdominal pain. By definition, this pain is associated with bowel movements, not food. However, the process of eating can lead to excessive intestinal contractions that can lead to stomach pain.

Up to 30% of people with dyspepsia also have IBS.

The pain caused by irritable bowel syndrome can occur in the upper, middle, and lower abdomen, but it can also spread to the upper torso.

Less common causes

The following health conditions can also cause pain after eating:

When to contact a healthcare provider

Body pain means something is wrong. If you feel pain after eating only once in a while and it does not fatigue you, you can tell your doctor the next time you see it.

But if you feel pain after eating quite frequently, it's important to make an appointment with your doctor right away to make sure you get an accurate diagnosis and plan treatment.

If the pain is severe, debilitating, and is accompanied by jaundice, fever, a racing pulse, chills, or severe vomiting, you should seek emergency help.

Frequently asked questions

  • Home treatment options for abdominal pain depend on the problem. For example, you may consider taking over-the-counter medications for gas or diarrhea, or NSAID pain relievers for mild stomach cramps. Drinking water, peppermint or ginger tea, avoiding spicy foods and sodas, and eating small meals slowly can help you avoid or relieve stomach pain in the first place.

  • Not directly, but you can contribute. Pregnancy does not necessarily cause postprandial pain on its own. However, pregnancy increases the chance of developing gallstones and GERD, which can cause abdominal discomfort after eating.

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