Stomach Pain and Nausea: Causes, Symptoms, Treatments, and When to See a Doctor

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Stomach pain and nausea are very unpleasant conditions that happen to most of us from time to time. Digestive issues are often the cause of achy stomach cramps, pain, and feeling like you want to throw up. But other issues such as kidney stones, appendicitis, or even stress and anxiety, can all result in nausea and cramp-like dull stomach aches or sharp, burning abdominal pain.

Finding out the exact cause of stomach pain and nausea can be a challenge. Various gastrointestinal conditions can cause headaches, excess gas, belching, constipation, or diarrhea with stomach pain.


Conditions connected to a woman’s menstrual cycle can also result in sharp, stabbing pain in the stomach and nausea at certain times of the month.

There are many home remedies that help to treat the symptoms of stomach pain and nausea. For example, ginger and chamomile tea have soothing properties that help to reduce intestinal pain and relieve nausea. Placing a warm compress on your abdominal area can really help to calm cramping stomach pain and relieve nausea.

In this article, I will look at what scientific research has revealed as to the reasons for stomach pain and nausea.

Nausea vs. Vomiting

Although closely related, there is a difference between nausea and vomiting.

Doctors from PubMed Health say that nausea is a feeling of sickness or discomfort in the stomach that may come with an urge to vomit. The feeling of nausea often precedes vomiting and usually goes away after a person has vomited.1

Vomiting is the action of ejecting the contents of the stomach through the mouth.2

Having feelings of nausea and retching where nothing comes out is sometimes called dry heaving.

Symptoms Related to Stomach Pain and Nausea

It is very common that stomach cramps and nausea are associated with other symptoms. Knowing the symptoms related to abdominal cramping and feeling like throwing up can help to identify the underlying cause.

Stomach pain and nausea can be associated with these symptoms:

Common Causes of Stomach Pain and Nausea

Let’s look in more detail as to what it can mean if you have stomach pain along with nausea.

Gastroenteritis (stomach flu)

Gastroenteritis is a common reason for sharp pain in the stomach and nausea. Irritation or infection of the intestines or stomach is the reason for cramping stomach pain and feeling like vomiting.

Researchers on PubMed Health report that bacteria, viruses, or parasites are often to blame for gastroenteritis symptoms. In cases of severe gastroenteritis, you may have extreme abdominal pain with vomiting, headaches, fever, and chills.3

The journal Viruses stated that viral infections like the rotavirus or norovirus will cause bouts of mild to severe diarrhea.4

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A potentially serious complication of gastroenteritis is dehydration. This means that along with nausea, diarrhea, and stomach pain, you may pass dark urine and feel fatigued all the time.5

Tapeworm infections or other intestinal parasites can also cause abdominal discomfort and other signs of gastroenteritis.

Food poisoning

Consuming contaminated food or drink can cause stomach infections that result in severe nausea and stomach pain. Very often, food poisoning causes you to start throwing up frequently as your body tries to get rid of the poisons.

The book Medical Microbiology reports that Salmonella can cause severe bouts of epigastric pain (pain below the ribs). The upper abdominal pain is usually accompanied by extreme nausea that results in vomiting. The most common symptom of food poisoning is diarrhea that may become explosive.6

Stomach aches and pain along with nausea can last between 2 and 7 days. In some cases, the stomach sickness is accompanied by bloody diarrhea, mucus in the stool, and leukocytes in your poop.

Related: How Long Does Food Poisoning Last and How to Recover Faster.

Constipation

A buildup of hard stool in your intestines can lead to persistent abdominal pain that causes feelings of sickness.

Although constipation can be a symptom of other digestive problems, it in itself can be a reason for stomach pain and nausea.

According to Dr. Norton J. Greenberger, a Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School, constipation can be caused by poor diet or a digestive problem like IBS. In some cases, IBS can be to blame for the chronic stomach pain and nausea. However, constipation can also be the cause of nausea, abdominal pain, and vomiting.7

Doctors at Johns Hopkins Medicine say that sometimes, the sharp pains across your abdomen when you are constipated can also be caused by excess gas.8

Related: How to Get Rid of Constipation: The Best Home Remedies That Really Work.

Indigestion and heartburn (acid reflux)

If you have burning stomach pain and nausea, especially after eating, it could mean that you have heartburn or indigestion.

The book Clinical Methods reports that a burning sensation in your stomach after eating is a symptom of indigestion. The pain of indigestion is usually felt in the upper part of your abdomen. Feeling nauseous after your meal can also accompany acid reflux and chest pains.9

Related: Proven Home Remedies for Heartburn (Acid Reflux) & Natural Antacids.

Peptic ulcers (stomach ulcers)

Having a peptic ulcer in your digestive system can a cause a feeling of frequent pain under your ribs and a desire to throw up.

The journal Primary Care reports that peptic ulcers can cause stomach pain so severe that it can wake you from sleep. If you suffer from an intestinal ulcer, you will frequently have epigastric pain and nausea. Vomiting after eating is also common in people with peptic ulcers.10

Related: Natural Treatments for Heartburn and Stomach Ulcers.

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Gastritis

Inflammation of the stomach lining is called gastritis and it can lead to bouts of acute upper stomach pain and feelings of nausea.

Researchers from the National Institutes of Health report that the symptoms of gastritis are not felt by everyone. However, the most common symptom is stomach pain and heartburn. You may also experience mild to severe nausea that can result in throwing up, bloating, and belching after a meal.11

The symptoms of gastritis are similar to other digestive conditions like gastroenteritis, irritable bowel syndrome, or acid reflux.

Food intolerances

Having a food intolerance can cause digestive problems and make you feel nauseous and your stomach ache.

Doctors from the Cleveland Clinic describe food intolerances as an unpleasant reaction to consuming a certain food. The cramping abdominal pain and nausea occurs because the digestive system has trouble breaking down the food. Food intolerances can also cause excessive gas, vomiting, headaches, greasy stools, and diarrhea.12

Common types of food intolerances include being lactose intolerance or having an increased sensitivity to gluten.

Digestive Conditions Causing Chronic Nausea and Stomach Pain

Some chronic digestive conditions can result in persistent or frequent bouts of an upset stomach with epigastric pain, nausea, and gas.

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)

Irritable bowel syndrome often causes stomach cramps and nausea where the symptoms come and go.

The journal Medscape General Medicine reported that IBS often causes lower abdominal pain. In many cases, you may have a camp-like abdominal pain after eating which can cause significant discomfort. Irritable bowel syndrome can cause cramping stomach aches with diarrhea or constipation.13

Interestingly, a study from 2012 found that many women with IBS report having both lower abdominal cramping and nausea. Doctors said that the reason for IBS causing nausea in women more than men was because women are more prone to delayed gastric emptying.14

Related: The Best Herbs and Natural Treatments to Relieve IBS.

Celiac disease

Celiac disease is a severe intolerance to gluten that can cause severe abdominal bloating and pain along with a feeling of nausea.

A 2016 review into many studies of celiac symptoms found that just under 70% of celiac patients reported various degrees of chronic abdominal pain. This was accompanied by diarrhea and nausea. Many people with celiac also reported having frequent headaches, joint pain, and tingling in the hands and feet.15

Doctors have also observed that celiac disease can cause white or pale colored stools, bloating and flatulence.

Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)

Inflammatory bowel disease describes inflammation anywhere in the digestive system and often results in stomach cramps and nausea.

Crohn’s disease. Dr. Minesh Khatri on WebMD says that Crohn’s disease can cause nausea and vomiting. Depending on where else IBD affects your intestines, you may also experience dull cramping pain on the lower right side of your abdomen.16

Ulcerative colitis. Another type of IBD that causes cramps and nausea is ulcerative colitis. Dr. Khatri says that ulcerative colitis can cause cramping stomach spasms before or during a bowel movement. Other complications of ulcerative colitis include nausea that affects your appetite, bloody diarrhea, and disrupted sleep patterns.17

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Diverticulitis

Diverticulitis is a disease of the digestive system. It occurs when small, bulging pouches called diverticula form in the lining of the digestive tract and become infected. Diverticulitis can cause severe stomach pain, nausea, fever, gas, bloating, hard stomach and diarrhea or constipation.

According to doctors from the Mayo Clinic, diverticulitis can cause persistent abdominal pain that stays constant for a few days. Usually, inflammation of the intestines affects the lower left abdominal region but the right abdomen can also become painful.  Your abdominal area may be tender to touch and you could have frequent bouts of nausea and vomiting.18

Related: The Best Home Remedies for Diverticulitis.

Stomach Cramps and Nausea: Causes Affecting Women Only

If you are a woman, there are many conditions that affect your reproductive system that can cause stomach and lower back pain along with nausea.

Menstrual cramps

Hormonal changes during your menstrual cycle can result in mild to severe abdominal cramping before or during your period.

The International Journal of Women’s Health reported that up to 60% of adult women experience recurring lower abdominal cramping. For many women, the colicky pain occurs during the first few days of the menstrual bleeding. During this time, you may also suffer from nausea, abdominal bloating, and fatigue.19

Mittelschmerz. Mittelschmerz literally means “middle pain” and it can be a source of mid-cycle cramping pelvic pain. Sudden pain in the pelvic area can be one of the signs of ovulation.

Doctors say that, depending on which ovary releases the egg, the sharp abdominal ovulation pain may be on the left side or right side.19

Related: The Best Natural Ways to Relieve Menstrual Cramps.

Endometriosis

Endometriosis can cause pain that starts just before your period and lasts for several days. Endometriosis is a disorder in which tissue that normally lines the inside of your uterus — the endometrium — grows outside your uterus (endometrial implant). During your period, you may also feel like throwing up because of the stomach cramps.

A review of cases looking into the connection of endometriosis and stomach cramps with nausea was published in 2015. There, doctors found that endometriosis can cause significant abdominal pain. Many women also reported that nausea and vomiting frequently accompanied the abdominal pain.20

Studies have also found that women with endometriosis can suffer from chronic stomach pain and nausea because of an increase in gastrointestinal symptoms. For example, endometriosis can also aggravate IBS symptoms, cause constipation, diarrhea, and rectal pain.20

Ovarian cysts

If you have ovarian cysts, you will probably have right-sided abdominal pain or left-sided pain depending on where the cyst is.

Very often, ovarian cysts appear and disappear without causing any noticeable symptoms. Doctors from the Mayo Clinic say that larger cysts on the ovaries can cause dull achy pain or sharp intense pain in the lower abdomen. If the ovarian cyst twists or tears, you may have sudden severe pelvic cramping along with nausea.21

Pregnancy

Changes to your uterus and hormonal fluctuations mean that stomach pain and nausea are common at the start of pregnancy.

Dr. Charles C. Kilpatrick, who is an obstetrician and gynecologist, reports that abdominal cramps, nausea, and vomiting affect up to 80% of pregnant women. This is common during the first trimester.22

However, severe and persistent stomach cramps that occur with vaginal bleeding, nausea, and vomiting should be reported to your obstetrician.

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Abdominal Pain and Nausea Caused by Medications

Stomach pain and nausea could be the side effects of certain medications. For example, some drugs can irritate the stomach and cause increased gas, diarrhea, constipation, and make you feel that you want to throw up.

Dr. William Blahd says that some of the common medications that can cause nausea and stomach pain are:23

  • Aspirin. The continual use of aspirin can erode your stomach lining and lead to ulcers. This can cause upper abdominal pain, burning sensation in your chest, and a possible upset stomach.
  • Antibiotics. If you need to take antibiotics to treat serious bacterial infections, you might find that they make you nauseous with a sore stomach. Dr. Everett Stephens on eMedicineHealth says that antibiotics can also cause severe watery diarrhea, gas, and vomiting.24
  • Opioid painkillers. Powerful painkillers can cause stomach cramps, nausea, and make you constipated.
  • Iron supplements. If you take iron supplements to address the symptoms of anemia, you may suffer from digestive discomfort. This can include dull stomach pain, nausea, constipation, and a metallic taste in your mouth.

Other Causes of Stomach Pain, Nausea, and Vomiting

Severe cramping abdominal pain that occurs suddenly and is accompanied by nausea and vomiting could be caused by issues in your kidney, gallbladder, or appendix.

Kidney stones

Kidney stones can cause excruciating pain in your back and lower abdominal region that makes you want to throw up.

The journal Urologic Surgery reports that kidney pain in your middle back can come and go in waves. When the kidney stones move, you will probably have severe pain anywhere from your middle abdomen to your groin, but you may also have other kidney stone symptoms. The cramping stomach pain can be so bad that you feel nauseous and may even vomit.25

Along with the “worst abdominal pain you have felt in your life,” you may notice blood in your pee, have a fever, and need to lie down until the kidney stone pain gets better.

Related: How to Use Apple Cider Vinegar (ACV) for Kidney Stones.

Gallbladder attack

A gallbladder attack because of gallstones or blockage in your biliary system can cause upper right abdominal pain that comes on suddenly. Nausea and vomiting are also characteristic of gallbladder pain.

According to radiologist Dr. William J. Bufkin, gallstones can cause nausea, vomiting, and right upper abdominal pain. In some cases of a biliary duct obstruction, you may notice that your stools are pale and your urine is dark. In cases of severe gallbladder pain, gallbladder removal is the only option to completely eradicate gallstone pain.26

Appendicitis

Intense lower right-sided abdominal pain that is accompanied by nausea and vomiting are some of the main symptoms of appendicitis.

Inflammation in your appendix is a serious medical emergency. The journal BMJ reports that appendicitis usually starts as dull cramping pain behind your belly button followed by vomiting. As the pain intensifies, it spreads to your lower right abdomen where the appendix is located.27

Usually, your right lower abdomen will feel tender to touch and you may have difficulty passing gas.

Stress and anxiety

In some cases stress and anxiety may cause stomach cramps, nausea, and vomiting.

According to an expert in psychology, Dr. Tracy A. Dennis, stress and anxiety can affect all aspects of your body and this includes your digestive system as well. This often results in stomach cramps, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.28

Dr. Dennis recommends taking steps to reduce daily stress naturally to help improve stress-related stomach upset. Taking some time out and breathing deeply can do much to soothe stress.

How to Treat Stomach Pain, Cramping, and Nausea

There are a number of natural home remedies to help relieve stomach cramps, pain and nausea.

Home treatment for stomach pain and cramping

Here are some ways to treat stomach pain at home:

Drink chamomile tea to soothe an irritated stomach and get rid of gas pain. A report from 2010 found that chamomile has anti-inflammatory properties that can help to also reduce muscle spasms.29

Place a warm compress on your stomach to help calm stomach cramps. A study from 2012 reported that a warm heating pad on your abdomen has an analgesic effect. Heat therapy was as effective as ibuprofen in relieving stomach pain.30

Consume baking soda and water. Mix ½ teaspoon baking soda in a glass of water and drink after each meal to reduce stomach pain caused by indigestion. Use for up to 2 weeks.

Home remedies for nausea

There are also some very effective ways to treat nausea at home.

  • Drink ginger tea to help alleviate feelings that you want to throw up. A scientific study from 2016 found that active ingredients in ginger help to prevent nausea, abdominal pain, and indigestion.31
  • While you are suffering from feelings of nausea, change to a bland diet. A diet consisting of bland foods puts less strain on your digestion and reduces digestive upset.
  • Avoid foods that have strong odors.
  • Avoids fried, greasy, sweet, or fatty foods.
  • Increase your fluid intake to prevent the complications of dehydration if you have been vomiting or have diarrhea.

When to See a Doctor

Most of the time, stomach pain and nausea are just temporary feelings of discomfort that should get better in a day or two when using home remedies.

However, in some cases, you should see a doctor to find out the root cause of abdominal cramps and nausea.

Dr. Jerry R. Balentine on eMedicineHealth recommends seeing a doctor for stomach cramping in the following circumstances:32

  • Your abdominal pain becomes constant and lasts for more than 6 hours
  • You frequently have stomach cramping and nausea after eating
  • Stomach pain causes you to vomit more than 3 or 4 times
  • Pain starts off in the center of your abdomen and spreads to your lower right abdomen
  • Severe abdominal pain with or without nausea
  • Abdominal pain during pregnancy, especially if accompanied by vaginal bleeding

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