Why does my stomach hurt – The 6 stomach pains you should NEVER ignore… from indigestion to feeling sick – The SunOctober 15, 2021
WE'VE all had a tummy ache here and there, whether it's from chomping our food too fast or because we've been sitting at our desk all day.
Tummy pain is usually nothing to worry about and for most people, it goes away on its own.
But stomach pain can, occasionally, be a symptom of something serious, such as bowel cancer.
If it comes with other symptoms, or keeps coming back, you may want to keep track of the issue and see a doctor.
After the Covid pandemic, in which the public delayed seeking medical help, the NHS has urged people to keep seeing their GP.
Here experts reveal the different types of stomach ache and the ones you shouldn't ignore.
1. Pain accompanied by blood in your poo – bowel cancer
Dr Sarah Jarvis, director at Patient Access said without doubt, one of the most serious causes of blood in your poo is bowel cancer.
It's one of the red-flag signs that you could have the disease – so if you spot any, book a GP appointment straight away.
Bowel cancer is the fourth most common form of the disease in the UK, after breast, prostate and lung cancers.
More than 42,000 people in the UK are diagnosed with the disease each year, according to Bowel Cancer UK. Around 268,000 people living in the UK today have been diagnosed with bowel cancer.
Symptoms include pain in the abdomen, a change in your normal toilet habits, a lump in your back passage, needing to strain to do a number two and blood in your poo.
Blood can also be a sign of:
- a stomach ulcer
- Ulcerative Colitis
But before you freak out, just make sure that it really is blood.
If you eat things like beetroot, liquorice or blackberries, that can turn your stools a red-ish colour which can often look like blood.
Certain medicines like Pepto-Bismol can also do funny things to the colour of your poo.
If you've not been chowing down on any of those, however, then definitely get yourself to a doctor ASAP. Remember, there's absolutely no need to be embarrassed – they've heard it all before!
2. Sharp pain – appendicitis or stomach ulcer
Dr Jarvis said that sudden, sharp pain could be a symptom of a number of unpleasant conditions.
"A sudden, very severe pain is much more likely to signify something serious going on, so it’s worth getting it checked out quickly.
Possible causes include:
- kidney stones
- perforated ulcer
- ectopic pregnancy (pregnancy outside the womb) in women
- obstruction of the bowel
3. Pain accompanied by feeling sick – tummy bug
"Feeling sick with stomach pain can be an indication of a tummy bug or food poisoning (pain is often all over the tummy and colicky, and often accompanied by diarrhoea)," Dr Jarvis said.
She also said that it could be:
- gall bladder problems (pain over the top right of the tummy, which can be colicky)
- irritable bowel (bloating that tends to get better and worse over the day)
- indigestion (pain tends to be at the top of the tummy and burning)
Again, appendicitis can also make you feel pretty sick so if you feel unwell and you're suffering from sharp pains, definitely get it checked out ASAP.
4. Pain accompanied by unexplained weight loss – cancer
Unexpected weight loss may sound like the answer to many of our dreams but if you aren't actively trying to lose weight, it's often an extremely concerning sign that something's wrong.
If it's accompanied by belly pain, it could be a sign of:
- an IBD like Crohn's or Colitis
Even if you don't have pain, it's still worth getting checked out – but it's absolutely necessary if you do have a tender tummy too.
5. Pain accompanied by a fever – inflammation
"Fever often suggests infection or inflammation," says Dr Jarvis.
Possible causes would include:
- appendicitis (pain often starts around the tummy button then moves to the bottom right of the tummy)
- food poisoning or tummy bug
- infection in the gall bladder (pain on the top/top right of the tummy)
- diverticulitis (inflammation in pockets in the colon)
- pelvic infection in women or an abscess in the stomach cavity
6. Long term belly pain – indigestion
Dr Jarvis says: "How long you should wait to see your GP depends very much on how severe the pain is and whether you have any of the ‘red flag’ symptoms".
The most common causes of stomach pain are period pains in women and indigestion.
Indigestion commonly causes burning pain in the top of the tummy, often with bloating, burping and feeling sick. Your pharmacist should be your first port of call here.
Most of the time, stomach pain is going to totally normal – just trapped wind or indigestion.
And if it goes on for a while, it might be worth looking at what you're eating, your posture and activity levels, how fast you're eating and how much you're chewing.
But if you have any of these other factors, then it's crucial that you are seen to by your GP.
Catching anything nasty early on gives you a much better chance at fighting it.
It really isn't worth simply putting up with chronic pain or embarrassment.
May Simpkin, Nutritionist and Consultant to Enzymedica UK explained that there are other less serious reasons as to why you could have stomach pain.
These she said are:
- Gluten intolerance or allergy
- Too much caffeine
- Eating too late in the evening
May explained that you should aim to finish your meal at least three hours before heading to bed to allow enough time for your digestive system to fully process the meal.
She added: "Eating large amounts of food on a regular basis can also put a strain your digestive system, triggering wind and bloating."
Symptoms you need to get checked by a GP
To recap, you should always see a doctor if you have tummy pain which is associated with these "red flags":
- passing blood when you open your bowels
- losing weight unintentionally
- black, tarry poos
- not passing any poo or wind
- persistent bloating (not the kind that comes and goes)
- persistent vomiting
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