My stomach hurts – what could it be?

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At Triborough GI in New York, our gastroenterologists know that abdominal pain has many potential causes.

The most common causes — such as gas pains, indigestion or a pulled muscle — usually aren’t serious. Other conditions may require urgent medical attention.

While the location and pattern of abdominal pain can provide important clues, its time course is particularly useful when determining its cause.

Here are some of the most common signs your tummy troubles need more than an over-the-counter remedy.

1. Severe stomach pain after eating a fatty meal 

If you find yourself doubled over after eating a high-fat meal, you may be experiencing a gallbladder attack. Women are especially prone to gallbladder disease, overweight women in their 40s are at highest risk.

The pain becomes worse after eating, lasts 30 to 60 minutes, and may come and go, becoming more constant and severe over time.

Get ahead of your abdominal pain (and boost your gut health) with a diet that’s rich in nutrients and fiber and low in fatty foods.

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2. Upper abdominal pain between the ribcage

If you develop an aching or stabbing pain or pressure in the upper abdominal area just under the ribs, this may indicate a heart-related problem.

Physicians say this pain is often accompanied by shortness of breath and is concerning if the pain persists.

People often assume this type of pain is indigestion, and while that may be the case, anyone with risk factors such as diabetes or hypertension should see a doctor as soon as possible.


If you do struggle with acid reflux, it may be time to talk to a gastroenterologist. They can help you manage your symptoms through medications, lifestyle changes and diet.

3. Gallstones or sludge 

The gallbladder is a small digestive organ that sits under the liver and stores bile. Bile is released upon digestion and helps to digest fats.

High consumption of fatty foods and proteins can encourage the development of gallstones, which are hardened pebbles of bile.

Once these travel in the bile duct, they can cause pain and abdominal problems. Also, sludge, or thick bile, can build up in the gallbladder and cause similar problems as gallstones.

If your doctor determines that the stones and sludge have damaged the gallbladder, surgery to remove the gallbladder may be recommended.

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4. GERD 

Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease is a condition in which stomach acid flows back up the esophagus, causing that burning sensation you feel in your chest.

Sometimes it is worse after eating highly acidic foods or lying down after eating. The root cause may be dietary, but in some cases, a hernia may be to blame. Make sure you see your doctor because over time, the acid can cause permanent damage to the esophagus.

Usually over-the-counter medication or changes in diet can dramatically improve this condition.

5. Hiatal hernia 

This tiny bulge in the stomach wall can push up against the diaphragm and trigger acid reflux or GERD.

If you are suffering with excessive acid reflux, it is a good idea to have your doctor rule out a hernia.

6. Ulcerative colitis

This condition causes inflammation and sores in the lining of the colon (large intestine).

It may come and go, but flare-ups can be severe. There are medications to help manage the condition, but in some cases, surgery may be required to remove damaged portions of the colon.

7. Crampy pain with diarrhea or constipation

Lower “crampy” abdominal pain accompanied by bloating and diarrhea or constipation can be signs of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).

It’s exceptionally common and affects 15% of the U.S. population, particularly younger women, although it can happen at any age.

Symptoms of IBS can usually be controlled by managing diet, lifestyle, and stress. Medication and counseling may be needed in some cases.

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8. Heart attack

Yes, believe it or not, we can sometimes incorrectly assume we are having “acid reflux”, but it may be a sign of a heart attack.

See your doctor right away, particularly if this is combined with occasional shortness of breath or tightness in your chest.

As you can see, symptoms overlap so it will take some investigation and a visit with your gastroenterologist at Triborough GI, New York, to make a correct diagnosis.

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