Abdominal or stomach pain is one of the most common ailments that causes people to see their doctor.
Most of the time a stomach ache has a benign cause, but sometimes it can be serious, says John Pandolfino, chief of gastroenterology at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago.
Stomach aches that are associated with unstable vital signs like a high fever, low blood pressure and a rapid pulse along with shortness of breath, severe pain, evidence of nausea and vomiting or blood in the stool should be addressed urgently, he says.
However, most abdominal pain is non-urgent and is associated with symptoms such as:
“The cause of these types of symptoms can be related to gastroesophageal reflux, possibly an ulcer and even a mild infection if the symptoms are associated with vomiting or diarrhea,” Pandolfino says. Additionally, abdominal pain can be associated with functional bowel disorders that are related to dysregulation of the brain-gut relationship.
Based on the type of symptom, some over-the-counter and natural remedies may be useful in easing the discomfort of a stomach ache if there are no signs of a more serious cause, he says.
It’s important to keep in mind that discomfort that lingers for more than a week or two despite the use of OTC or natural remedies should prompt a call to your primary care provider.
Here are eight medicines and natural remedies to treat stomach aches:
- Acid blockers.
- Prune juice.
- White toast.
1. Antacids. Many stomach aches are caused by the effects of acid in the stomach, which can irritate the esophagus or lead to an ulcer in people who take non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs or have an infection with bacteria. “Antacids typically contain a buffering agent like calcium carbonate, aluminum hydroxide or magnesium hydroxide,” Pandolfino says. “These agents neutralize the acid and remove the irritating and erosive properties of the stomach juice and can improve heartburn or the growing discomfort of ulcers.” Antacids are effective medicines for intermittent heartburn and a sour stomach.
2. Acid blockers. This type of medication can also reduce acid and improve stomach ache symptoms.
3. Applesauce. Cool, smooth and comforting, applesauce is not only gentle on a troubled tummy but also quite hydrating, as apples consist of about 85% water, says Beth Stark, a registered dietitian nutritionist based in the Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, area. “Applesauce also contains pectin, which is a natural thickening fiber that may improve symptoms of diarrhea by binding loose stools. Consider keeping a jar or single-serve cups of unsweetened applesauce in your pantry for when a GI disturbance strikes,” she says.
4. Anstispasmodics. This type of medication helps with spasming pain by relaxing the smooth muscle of the intestine, Pandolfino says. “There are also natural agents like peppermint oil that can reduce muscle contractions and help with crampy pain,” he says. Immodium reduces motor activity in the GI tract and can be helpful for diarrhea that’s not related to a serious infection.
5. Pepto-Bismol. This pink-colored, OTC medication has slight antacid and anti-inflammatory properties, says Dr. Christine Lee, a gastroenterologist at Cleveland Clinic. Pepto-Bismol “can coat and soothe the intestinal lining and help with uncomplicated upset stomach pains,” Lee says. The medication shouldn’t be taken by anyone who’s pregnant or allergic to aspirin or aspartame, as well as those who have phenylketonuria. Seek medical attention if symptoms – including fever, nausea, vomiting, severe abdominal pain and the inability to keep food or liquids down – worsen.
6. Prune juice. This juice is an excellent source of fiber and can help relieve the discomfort of constipation, Lee says. Whole prunes are also a great source of fiber.
7. Simethicone. People suffering from bloating sometimes benefit from simethicone, an anti-flatulent medication that is available under such brand names as Phazyme, Mytab Gas and Bicarsim. “Simethicone acts by breaking down stomach bubbles,” Pandolfino says.
8. White toast. It may offer little in the way of nutritional value, but nibbling lightly toasted white bread often does wonders to settle an upset stomach, Stark says. “With its low fiber content and virtually no fat or protein, easy-to-digest white toast is a simple starter to ease you back into eating after your appetite has been zapped due to a GI bug,” she says. Since dry toast can be tough to swallow, add butter or jelly sparingly for a touch of added flavor and moisture.