By ARIADNE WEINBERG, Featured Columnist
A pinching sensation in the abdomen is never pleasant. Whether the pain is due to something temporary, like indigestion or menstrual cramps, or chronic, like irritable bowel syndrome or pancreatitis, the sensation definitely interferes with your life.
If you experience stomach pain regularly, this may just be how your body works and digests food. Don’t feel alone. At least in the case of irritable bowel syndrome, 20% of North Americans are estimated to have the disease.
There are many other possible causes for upper stomach cramps, and often they are just temporary, such as gas and constipation. However, there are some warning factors you should look out for, such as your stool being a black color or bloody.
If you are feeling light-headed and faint or blacking out, that is of course, also a bad sign. Go see a doctor immediately under those circumstances, as they could be something serious, such as cancer or gastrointestinal bleeding.
In more benign cases, usually the combination of a change of diet, certain medications, and lifestyle changes will help your abdomen feel less crampy and painful. Read on to find some practical solutions to upper stomach pain.
Prokinetic Drugs for Gastroparesis
Sometimes that cramping comes on because the food won’t digest at a normal rate.
Gastroparesis occurs when you have an extremely delayed digestion response after eating.
According to a 2015 report from Ulrike Von-Arnim from the Otto-Von-Guericke University in Magdeburg, Germany, prokinetic drugs are currently the preferred therapy for gastroparesis.
If you’re diagnosed, ask your doctor for all the options, of course. Sometimes gastroparesis can be a side effects of type 1 or type 2 diabetes, affirms Reza Hejazi from the Texas Tech University. In his 2015 report, he recommends ghrelin agonists and newer 5-HT4 agonists. If you suffer from gastroparesis along with diabetes, ask your doctor if either of these options would work for you.
2. Diet Changes and Weight Loss for Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease
Also known as GERD this chronic form of aid refluxs is a prime and common cause for the upper stomach cramping up.
Luckily, gastroesophageal reflux disease is often triggered by diet, and therefore can be alleviated by an improvement in what you eat.
A 2016 study from Iris Mone at the University of Medicine in Tirana, Albania, confirmed that a mediterranean diet could have a positive effect on the symptoms of acid reflux.
Mone and colleagues conducted a cross-sectional study in Albania.
Participants were interviewed about their dietary patterns. They were then broken into two groups: predominantly Mediterranean (frequent consumption of composite/traditional dishes, fresh fruit and vegetables, olive oil, and fish) and predominantly non-Mediterranean diet (frequent consumption of red meat, fried food, sweets, and junk/fast food).
Bottom line --- Eating a non-Mediterranean diet increases your risk for gastroesophageal reflux disease, while eating a Mediterranean diet decreases your risk.
If you have acid reflux, another option is to lose weight and see if the condition improves. Obesity is also a risk factor for gastroesophageal reflux disease; there are several pathophysiologic mechanisms linking the conditions, affirms Abraham Kahn from the New York University School of Medicine in his 2016 report.
3. Fiber for Constipation
If you have the sensation that most North Americans don’t get enough fiber, you’re right. Also, 95% of people from the U.S. suffer from functional constipation.
These two pieces of information are intricately linked. If you’re pretty sure your abdominal pain comes from constipation, try incorporating a little more fiber into your diet first. J.K. Schiemer and colleagues from Exponent Incorporated in Chicago searched medical literature in 2014 for fiber statistics.
They found that adding just one gram of additional fiber per day leads to a 1.9% reduction in constipation prevalence.
To get enough, an increase of 9 grams a day is necessary for most people. However, you don’t have to be a perfectionist. Just incorporate a fibrous food per day into your diet. My favorite is oatmeal, but there are also more traditional cereals fortified with fiber, as well as vegetables, such as artichokes, peas, and sweet potatoes, amongst others.
4. Stool Softeners for Bleeding
If you are having abdominal cramps accompanied by bleeding, chances are that is due to some kind of emergency --- perhaps bleeding in the lower half of the digestive system, perhaps cancerous or benign polyps, perhaps inflammatory bowel disease or hemorrhoids.
The American Cancer Society affirms that people with cancer who have hemorrhoids can ease the passage by using stool softeners. Debra Sullivan, dietician at the Kansas University Medical Center, also recommends getting diagnosed and having polyps removed if necessary.
5. Combine Techniques for Pregnancy Symptoms
Pregnancy is a complicated one. Because if you know your upper abdominal pain is a pregnancy side effect, it could be due to many factors.
According to the American Pregnancy Association, there are several kinds of upper abdominal pain that are not serious, including: round ligament pain, gas and constipation, and Braxton Hicks contractions.
General symptoms such as pain, gas, and constipation can be treated with regular techniques such as drinking more water, incorporating foods with more fiber, taking stool softeners, and exercising. Braxton Hicks contractions may feel like you are about to go into labor, but won’t be as painful as the real thing. They are sometimes caused by dehydration.
Serious abdominal problems associated with pregnancy include: ectopic pregnancy (where the egg is planted somewhere besides the uterus), placental absorption (when the placenta separates from the uterus before the baby is born), or a miscarriage (where there is often back pain, bleeding, and cramps).
According to a 2012 study by Lucy Spallato from Brown University, MR imaging is especially helpful to diagnose what’s up in the case of unidentified abdominal pain during pregnancy. The technique uses cross-sectional imagery without ionizing radiation or harm to the fetus.
6. Adjust Lifestyle for Irritable Bowel Syndrome
If you have chronic upper abdominal pain, irritable bowel syndrome is a likely cause.
According to the National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse, 20% of Americans experience irritable bowel syndrome symptoms. (Irritable bowel syndrome is more common for women.) The disease may be due to a sensitive colon or immune system.
Kenneth R. Hirsch, South-Dakota based internal medicine doctor, recommends various tips for living with irritable bowel syndrome (there’s no cure-all so far), including: exercise, reduction in caffeine intake, eating smaller meals, avoiding deep-fried and spicy foods, minimizing stress, and using probiotics. Linaclotide and lubiprostone are drugs that can work for constipation. Ask your doctor if they could work for you.
7. Antioxidant Therapy for Acute Pancreatitis
Acute pancreatitis is one of the more serious possible causes of upper abdominal pain. If you have been diagnosed with acute pancreatitis, you can ask your doctor about antioxidant therapy (which involves removing oxygen-derived free radicals and high-energy oxidants).
A 2015 report by Maziar Gooshe from the Tehran University of Medical Sciences revealed that antioxidant therapy significantly reduced the length of hospital stay, based on results from 34 trials and 4,898 patients.