Feeling sick to your stomach? Indigestion, gas, stomachache, bloating, nausea, diarrhea? Having an upset stomach (dyspepsia) or belly ache is not unusual. Most everyone has experienced this at some time in their lives, regardless of age or lifestyle. Generally it is caused from eating too much unhealthy food, too quickly. Most often the cause of stomach upset can be a problem specific to one of the many organs in your abdomen. What are the causes of dyspepsia and how can this be treated naturally?
Causes of Nausea, Indigestion, and Related Symptoms
There are many reasons why someone may be experiencing tummy trouble. If you are in distress from abdominal pain, nausea, cramping or other symptoms, it’s best to consult with your doctor or trusted health care practitioner can determine what is causing the problem. Here are a few causes of digestive disorders:
- Gastroenteritis (stomach flu) – The stomach flu is caused by a virus (such as denovirus and astrovirus, or rotavirus) that attacks the stomach and intestines. Rotavirus is common in babies and infants. Gastroenteritis is a flu that cannot be prevented by “flu shots.” Symptoms include low-grade fever, body aches, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and cramping.
- Stress or Psychopathic (“Nervous Stomach”)- Stress is often the cause of a feeling of fluttering in the stomach, or knots in the stomach, abdominal pain, diarrhea, constipation, heartburn, nausea, or cramping, loss of appetite, indigestion, and weight loss or weight gain, among other symptoms. Stress can also cause irritable bowel syndrome.
- Sedentary Lifestyle – Those who sit for most of the day at a desk, don’t get enough exercise and have a sedentary lifestyle can be more susceptible to digestive problems such as indigestion, constipation, cramping, bloating, gas, etc. Sitting for long periods of time can deprive the digestive system of blood. A healthy digestive system requires daily physical activity or exercise to trigger the body to release chemicals necessary for digestion. However, a lack of exercise slows down our metabolism making digestion laborious and delayed. The most common digestive problems of those who get insufficient exercise are constipation, heartburn and bloating.
- Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) – IBD can cause pain and inflammation inside the small and large intestine. The inflammation can cause diarrhea and rectal bleeding, and also affect skin, joints, spine, liver, eyes and other organs. IBD refers to a group of intestinal diseases, of which the two most common are ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease. It affects people of all ages and is most commonly discovered and diagnosed in young adults. It can be serious and cause changes in bowel tissue or increase your risk of colorectal cancer.
- Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) – Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) is not the same as Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD), although they are sometimes confused. IBS is sometimes considered to be less serious, although a small percent of individuals can have serious or severe problems. IBS is a more common disorder affecting the large intestine (colon). Common symptoms are cramping, abdominal pain, bloating, gas, diarrhea and constipation. It is a chronic condition which will need to be monitored for a lifetime and usually can be controlled by a change in lifestyle and diet.
- Eating Late at Night – For most people, the stomach takes a few hours to empty after we eat a meal. If we work late hours or eat a second meal before going to sleep the stomach s still digesting food while we sleep. Additionally, as we age, or if we have acid reflux, digestion takes longer. This can lead to heartburn, nausea, constipation, gas, bloating, diarrhea, or acid relux or GERD. If a person eats just before lying down to sleep, it’s much easier for acid to spill out of a full stomach in a horizontal position, rather than a sitting position.
- Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) – GERD is a digestive disorder resulting in the backup of stomach acids or bile into the esophagus. This spilling out of the acid can cause symptoms such as stomach upset, nausea, gas, bloating, heartburn, hoarseness, chronic throat clearing, and even asthma. The backwash of stomach acid into the esophagus will irritate, inflame, and eventually wear away the lining if the condition is not corrected. The cause of GERD can be an ineffective esophageal sphincter, the circular band of muscle around the bottom of the esophagus which opens and closes to allow food and liquid to flow down into the stomach. Obesity and being overweight is a recognized cause of GERD, including those who have gained weight due to pregnancy.
- Pregnancy – Constipation, hemorrhoids, indigestion, heartburn, flatulence, and belching are all very common to pregnancy. The more serious disgestive disorder is acid reflux or GERD, as described above, as this may lead destroy the lining of the esophogus if not treated. GERD is reported in up to 80% of pregnant women due to weight changes and hormonal changes, resulting in prolonged gastric emptying time. Iron supplements taken during pregnancy can cause stomach upset and constipation. An increase in hormone levels relaxes the bowel muscles and makes it more difficult for them to work efficiently, delaying the digestion process, resulting in indigestion or other symptoms.
- Gallstones – Gallstones can cause swelling and pain on the right side of the abdomen, usually after eating meals high in fat. Gallstones form in the gallbladder. There are two main types of gallstones: cholesterol stones and.pigment stones. Gallstones are more common with women and elderly people Obesity is one of the biggest risk factors. It can cause a rise in cholesterol and keep the gallbladder from emptying completely, resulting in gallstones. Those who are pregnant are also at a higher risk for gallstones and those who have a genetic predisposition.
- Medications – Particular medications can cause constipation or stomach upset. For example, there are more than 20 traditional nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs or NSAIDs, including aspirin, ibuprofen (Advil and Motrin), naproxen(Aleve), indomethacin (Indocin), and piroxicam (Feldene). These drugs can bother the gastrointestinal tract. These medications are often given for arthritis pain and can cause upset stomach or bleeding ulcers. It’s advised to only use for a short term and to take with plenty of food and water. Right Diagnosis lists over 1,000 medications that cause stomach upset, including Amoxopine, Chlortrimeton, Dramamine, Elavil, Hydrocortizone, and many others.
- Serious diseases or health conditions – Minor indigestion can sometimes be indicative of serious diseases of the pancreas, appendix, intestines, heart, or digestive system or other major systems and organs, which should be checked by a doctor. Some maladies may include:
- Peptic ulcer
- Swallowing disorders
- Chronic intestinal ischemia
- Coronary disease
- Thyroid disease
- Chronic renal disease
- Adrenal Fatigue
- Malignant tumors, cysts or cancer
14 Natural Treatments for Indigestion and Stomach Ache
If you are experiencing chronic indigestion, diarrhea, constipation, or other more serious digestion problems, see your trusted doctor or health practitioner. People over age 55 should always check with a trusted health practitioner even for minor indigestion symptoms. The following suggestions maybe be helpful in alleviating and preventing minor symptoms.
- Drink lots of fluids. Water and fruit juices soften stools and keep digested waste passing through the bowel. (Prune juice can be very helpful in alleviating constipation). If you are taking medications that are prone to irritating the stomach, consult with your doctor. It is sometimes recommended to take medications with food or plenty of water to protect the stomach.
- Eat fiber-rich foods. Certain foods are especially good at keeping stools soft and at making sure they pass easily through the bowel. These foods include many of the highly nutritious foods recommended for a healthy diet during pregnancy: fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes (dried beans and peas). Do not eat fiber-rich foods if you are experiencing diarrhea.
- Limit sugary, processed foods. Fructose (a sugar found in fruits and sodas) and lactose (a sugar found in dairy products) are common causes of gas, bloating, abdominal cramps, and diarrhea. Sugary foods can also be binding and cause constipation, when eaten in excess.
- Avoid foods that cause excess gas, bloating and indigestion. Foods such as beans, legumes, broccoli, and onions can cause gas. Fruits, sodas, and milk products also are known to cause flatulence. Among the most common foods for producing gas are:
- Brussels sprouts
- Exercise. Exercise can help to bring blood circulation and more oxygen to all organs (including the bowels) to help you better digest your food. Avoid sedentary jobs or lifestyle and if you must sit for long hours, take stretch breaks often.
- Avoid medications that cause stomach upset – Do not self-medicate with over-the-counter drugs that are likely to irritate the stomach. Some common medications that irritate the stomach are: Allegra, Amoxil, Celebrex, Chor-Trimeton, Claritin-D, Dimetabs, Hydrocortisone, Interferon Beta, Penicillin, Seroquel, Viagra, and many more. For more information, refer to this comprehensive list by RightDiagnosis. Check with your trusted healthcare professional or doctor for alternative prescriptions, or natural supplements, which do not trigger stomach irritation.
- Eliminate foods that weaken the lower esophageal sphincter muscle. These foods include chocolate, peppermint, fatty foods, coffee, and alcoholic beverages.
- Avoid foods and drinks that can irritate a damaged lining. Citrus juices, tomato products, and pepper can irritate a damaged esophogeal lining, resulting in stomach upset. If you have GERD or acid reflux and believe you have damaged your esophagus, consult with your doctor for a diet that is healing and supportive to you.
- Introduce good bacteria to the stomach. Probiotics can help further normalize and support the digestive system. Probiotics are microorganisms such as live bacteria and yeasts that are good for our health. Good bacteria is naturally present in the body but sometimes introducing good bacteria is necessary to bring balance. It is particularly helpful if a person is taking antibiotics. Lactobacillus acidophilus and bifidobacterium are the most common probiotics. You can find it in yogurt and other fermented foods. Probiotics can help with diarrhea and may help with people who can’t digest lactose, the sugar in milk. Work with a nutritionist or trusted health professional to determine which probiotics and how often you should take them.
- Use digestive enzymes with meals to help break down food. Digestive enzymes help to break down the chemicals in foods into components that are more absorbent and more easily digested. Enzymes are basically in three categories: 1. Amylases break down starches into sugars, 2. Proteases break down proteins into amino acids, and 3.Lipases break down fats. Check with your doctor, nutritionist, or health practitioner to determine if supplementing your diet with digestive enzymes would be helpful to you.
- Try herbal remedies or herb teas – For the stomach flu, try sipping clear broth, Pedialite, or herbal tea such as peppermint or ginger tea. Chamomile tea can help with nausea and relax the muscles that cause cramping. Ginger ale has been used for many years to help induce burping and relieve stomach upset. Look for natural, organic products in your local health food store without the added artificial ingredients. Ginger has been an effective Chinese herbal remedy for thousands of years. Lemon water or lemon tea can also be helpful. For pregnant women, some herbs are NOT recommended. See our article, “Herbal Remedies During Pregnancy.”
- Chew fennel seeds – Fennel contains anethole, which stimulates the secretion of digestive juices. It reduces inflammation, and pain. It may provide some relief from gastritis or stomach inflammation. Do not eat fennel if you are pregnant. Chew the seeds thoroughly after a meal.
- Try a hot pack or heating pad – Put a hot pack or heating pad on the belly. Hot packs and heating pads can be purchased at a local pharmacy. Heat helps to loosen and relax muscles and alleviate cramping and pain. You can make a hot pack using towels, ziplock bag, and a microwave
- Find a hand towel that will fit into a large ziplock bag
- Wet the towel thoroughly with water
- Ring or squeeze towel until damp and not dripping with excess water.
- Put one towel in the ziplock bag.
- IMPORTANT – Leave the bag open so as not to cause it to burst.
- Place the bag in the microwave and heat on high for two minutes.
- Remove the bag carefully from the microwave.
- Before applying heat, be careful test the temperature thoroughly as to not burn or irritate the skin or affected area
- Apply your homemade heating pad to the belly
- Eliminate stress – Stress can be a major trigger stomach ache or indigestion. A variety of treatments are avialable to help reduce or eliminate stress such as : counseling or psychotherapy, music therapy, sleep, art therapy, exercise, energetic healing or Reiki, massage, prayer or meditation, essential oils and aromatherapy, and more. For more tips and techniques about alleviating stress, see our article on this blog, Stress Less! – Alternative and Natural Approaches and 20 Natural Approaches to Stress and Choosing Food to Enhance Your Mood.
Should You Take Medications?
Over-the-Counter and Prescription Antacids – Over-the-counter antacids such as Alka Seltzer, Rolaids, or Tums can be effective in eliminating indigestion symptoms such as bloating, belching, heartburn, or excess gas. They are generally made of calcium carbonate (CaCO3) and magnesium hydroxide and/or combined with analgesics such as aspirin. Alka Seltzer becomes sodium Acetylsalicylate, Sodium Citrate and Sodium Hydrogen Carbonate when dissolved in water. The antacid neutralizes the stomach acid and helps reduce or eliminate symptoms. Doctors may also prescribe antacids. The most common are:
- Famotidine (Pepcid)
- Cimetidine (Tagamet)
- Ranitidine (Zantac)
- Esomeprazole (Nexium)
- Lansoprazole (Prevacid)
- Omeprazole (Prilosec)
Over-the-counter antacids and analgesics are not recommended as the treatment of choice. Generally it is best to first change the lifestyle habits that have led to the ailment and to consult with a health practitioner or trusted health specialist for proper diagnosis and treatment. It is always recommended to consult with a trusted professional to avoid delaying diagnosis and treatment of potentially dangerous disorders or diseases.
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Jean Dart, M.S. Special Education from Illinois State University, is a published author and has written hundreds of health articles as well as hosting a local television program, “Making Miracles Happen.” She is a Registered Music Therapist, Sound Therapist, and Master Level Energetic Teacher, and is the Executive Director, founder and Health and Wellness Educator of the Monterey Bay Holistic Alliance. To find out more about our Health Educators, or to apply as a Monterey Bay Holistic Alliance writer or volunteer, visit our website at www.montereybayholistic.com
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