Symptoms A-Z

Reasons Abdominal Pain Can Worsen After Eating & Relief Options

Having abdominal pain after eating, also known as postprandial pain, can also be associated with nausea or diarrhea immediately after eating. Abdominal pain that gets worse after eating commonly occurs when there is infection or irritants to the organs of the digestive system. While most postprandial pain causes are non-serious, read below for more information other related symptoms and treatment options.

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Abdominal Pain That Get Worse After Eating Symptoms

Abdominal pain that gets worse after eating, or postprandial pain, can have an extensive number of causes and present in different ways for different individuals.

Common characteristics of abdominal pain that gets worse after eating

Postprandial pain is characteristic given its strong correlation with food. Most people can pinpoint which foods trigger their symptoms the most. For example, most people experience symptoms after spicy foods or food with high in fat content. Furthermore, indigestion is also a common characteristic. Indigestion (also known as dyspepsia) is persistent discomfort or pain in the upper abdomen.

Common accompanying symptoms of abdominal pain that gets worse after eating

Postprandial pain can have many associated digestive and even systemic symptoms such as:

  • Fever
  • Heartburn
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Constipation and/or diarrhea
  • Bloating
  • Belching
  • Jaundice: This is a yellow tint or appearance of the skin.

Depending on the cause, the postprandial pain and associated symptoms can be very severe and last for many minutes. Make an appointment with your healthcare provider as soon as you notice any of these symptoms.

Abdominal Pain That Get Worse After Eating Causes

Postprandial pain occurs when there is either inflammation/irritation of the structures of the digestive tract or obstruction of these components. You experience the pain after you eat because your body is attempting to proceed with its normal function of digesting food in the context of injury.

Inflammatory

Any of the organs of the abdomen can become inflamed due to infectious causes or irritation from a variety of substances, including certain foods.

  • Infectious: There are many pathogens, both bacterial and viral, that can infect the organs of the abdomen, particularly in the upper right quadrant. For example, hepatitis is a viral infection that can infect the liver.
  • Irritation: Since the upper abdomen is the primary location for the processing of food for digestion, it is susceptible to irritation in multiple ways. Toxic substances such as alcohol and smoking can also cause irritation that leads to inflammation and ulceration. Certain medications such as nonsteroidal inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can lead to irritation of the stomach lining with overuse. Moreover, the acid that the stomach makes to digest food can irritate the components of the digestive tract, including the esophagus, and this can also cause postprandial pain.

Obstructive

Obstructive causes of abdominal pain that can get worse after eating include the following.

  • Cancer: Cancer can develop in any organ of the abdomen/digestive tract. Malignancies of the pancreas or stomach are often related to postprandial pain given their inherent relation to food digestion.
  • Gallstones: The right upper quadrant of the abdomen is specifically home to the gallbladder. The gallbladder is part of the digestive system and responsible for making bile, a fluid that helps break down fat. Often, stones (gallstones) can form inside the gallbladder. These gallstones can vary in size and cause many problems that may result in postprandial pain when the body tries to break down fats.

10 Possible Abdominal Pain That Get Worse After Eating Conditions

The list below shows results from the use of our quiz by Buoy users who experienced abdominal pain that get worse after eating. This list does not constitute medical advice and may not accurately represent what you have.

Stomach ulcer

A peptic ulcer is a sore in the lining of the stomach or the first part of your small intestine (the duodenum), which causes pain following meals or on an empty stomach.

Rarity: Uncommon

Top Symptoms: fatigue, nausea, loss of appetite, moderate abdominal pain, abdominal cramps (stomach cramps)

Symptoms that never occur with stomach ulcer: pain in the lower left abdomen

Urgency: Primary care doctor

Acid reflux disease (gerd)

GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease) in infants refers to the passage of stomach contents into the throat causing troublesome symptoms, such as feeding intolerance, inadequate oral intake of calories and/or poor weight gain. Vomiting or visible regurgitation ...

Indigestion (dyspepsia)

Indigestion, also called upset stomach, dyspepsia, or functional dyspepsia, is not a disease but a collection of very common symptoms. Note: Heartburn is a separate condition.

Common causes are eating too much or too rapidly; greasy or spicy foods; overdoing caffeine, alcohol, or carbonated beverages; smoking; and anxiety. Some antibiotics, pain relievers, and vitamin/mineral supplements can cause indigestion.

The most common symptoms are pain, discomfort, and bloating in the upper abdomen soon after eating.

Indigestion that lasts longer than two weeks, and does not respond to simple treatment, may indicate a more serious condition. Upper abdominal pain that radiates to the jaw, neck, or arm is a medical emergency.

Diagnosis is made through patient history and physical examination. If the symptoms began suddenly, laboratory tests on blood, breath, and stool may be ordered. Upper endoscopy or abdominal x-ray may be done.

For functional dyspepsia – "ordinary" indigestion – treatment and prevention are the same. Eating five or six smaller meals per day with lighter, simpler food; managing stress; and finding alternatives for some medications will provide relief.

Rarity: Common

Top Symptoms: nausea, stomach bloating, dyspeptic symptoms, bloating after meals, vomiting

Symptoms that always occur with indigestion (dyspepsia): dyspeptic symptoms

Symptoms that never occur with indigestion (dyspepsia): vomiting (old) blood or passing tarry stools, rectal bleeding, bloody diarrhea, fever

Urgency: Self-treatment

Irritable bowel syndrome (ibs)

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a chronic disorder of the large intestine. It is characterized by recurrent abdominal pain and bowel movement issues that can be difficult to treat. Signs and symptoms of IBS are usually not severe or life-threateni...

Gallstones

Gallstones are small, round deposits found in the gallbladder, the organ where bile is stored. Gallstones can be subclassified a number of ways. Oftentimes, gallstones will be referred to as either cholesterol stones or pigment stones depending on the makeup of the gallstone.

Gallstones can also be class...

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Colon damage from impaired blood flow

Acute intestinal ischemia means that the blood flow to the large and/or small intestines has been cut off. It is also called acute mesenteric ischemia, or AMI.

The ischemia is caused by blockage in one of the arteries leading into the abdomen, usually due to atherosclerosis (plaque) or a blood clot.

Most susceptible are those with very high or low blood pressure; heart disease; or using illegal drugs such as cocaine or methamphetamine.

Symptoms include sudden, severe pain in one area of the abdomen; nausea and vomiting; and repeated, urgent bowel movements, often with blood.

Acute intestinal ischemia is a life-threatening medical emergency. If it is suspected, take the patient to the emergency room or call 9-1-1.

Diagnosis is made through arteriogram, which involves injecting dye into the abdominal arteries under x-ray in order to find the exact location of the blockage.

Treatment involves "clot-busting" drugs to destroy a clot, or emergency surgery to remove whatever is causing the blockage and possibly some of the damaged intestine as well.

Rarity: Rare

Top Symptoms: abdominal pain (stomach ache), nausea, loss of appetite, diarrhea, being severely ill

Urgency: Hospital emergency room

Diverticulosis

Diverticulosis is the common condition of small, sac-like pouches forming and pushing outward along the inside of the colon, called diverticula. With diverticulosis, there may be changes in bowel movement patterns as well as severe abdominal pain, bloating, constipation, diarrhea, or rectal bl...

Chronic pancreatitis

Chronic pancreatitis is an inflammation of the pancreas that does not improve, but slowly gets worse over time.

Causes include alcoholism; a blocked pancreatic duct; autoimmune disease, where the body's natural defenses turn against itself; and possible genetic factors.

Chronic pancreatitis is most common in men from age 30 to 40 with a history of alcoholism and a family history of the disease, but anyone can be affected.

Symptoms include severe pain in the back and abdomen, especially with eating; weight loss; nausea and vomiting; and diarrhea with oily-appearing, pale-colored stools.

The pancreas is vital for blood sugar control and for secreting certain digestive enzymes. If not treated, chronic pancreatitis can lead to permanent pancreatic damage, diabetes, malnutrition, and chronic pain.

Diagnosis is made through patient history, physical examination, and imaging such as x-ray, CT scan, or ultrasound.

Treatment involves pain management through both medication and surgical procedures. Lifestyle improvements through diet, exercise, and stress management can also be very helpful.

Rarity: Rare

Top Symptoms: fatigue, abdominal pain (stomach ache), nausea or vomiting, loss of appetite, abdominal pain that comes and goes

Urgency: Primary care doctor

Celiac disease

Celiac disease is also called gluten-sensitive enteropathy, coeliac, or sprue. It is an autoimmune response in the gut to gluten, a protein in wheat, rye, and barley.

  • Repeated exposure to gluten causes damage to the lining of the small intestine.

Most at risk are Caucasians with:

  • Family history of celiac disease.
  • Down syndrome.
  • Type 1 diabetes.
  • Rheumatoid arthritis.
  • Autoimmune thyroid disease.

Symptoms include digestive upset with gas, bloating, and diarrhea. The malnutrition causes fatigue, weight loss, fragile bones, severe skin rash, mouth ulcers, anemia, and damage to the spleen and nervous system.

A swollen belly, failure to thrive, muscle wasting, and learning disabilities are seen in children, and normal growth and development can be severely affected.

Diagnosis is made through blood testing and endoscopy, and sometimes biopsy of the small intestine.

There is no cure for the condition, but celiac disease can be managed by removing all gluten from the diet. Nutritional supplements will be used and sometimes steroid medication is given to help heal the gut.

Rarity: Rare

Top Symptoms: fatigue, stomach bloating, nausea, constipation, diarrhea

Urgency: Primary care doctor

Lactose intolerance

Lactose is a sugar that naturally occurs in milk. Someone is considered "lactose intolerant" when the small intestine cannot produce enough of the enzyme that digests lactose called lactase.

In primary lactose intolerance, the enzyme is produced during childhood but declines sub...

Abdominal Pain That Get Worse After Eating Treatments and Relief

Treatment for your postprandial pain will be very dependent on the cause. There are multiple treatment modalities you or your healthcare provider may try.

At-home treatment

Fortunately, since most causes of postprandial are relatively benign, there are treatments you can try at home to help alleviate your symptoms. Antacids are common over-the-counter medications (Tums, Pepto-Bismol, etc.) are very helpful in relieving some causes of postprandial pain because they work to neutralize excess stomach acid. Though many causes of postprandial pain are due to irritation of the abdominal lining, antacids will not help with obstructive or inflammatory causes of postprandial pain.

When to see a doctor

If your symptoms persist despite the at-home remedies above, make an appointment with your doctor to receive a proper diagnosis. After your doctor makes the appropriate diagnosis, he or she may suggest:

  • Medications: Depending on the cause of your pain, your healthcare provider will prescribe specific medications to treat your symptoms. For example, in the case of gallstones, there are some medications that can break them up without the need for surgery. If your symptoms are due to infection, you may receive antibiotics to relieve your condition.
  • Surgery: Surgery to remove gallstones or the gallbladder entirely is a very common procedure, especially for people who suffer from chronic gallstones. Often, the entire gallbladder is removed.
  • Bowel rest: Your doctor may suggest a lighter diet that will allow your intestines and digestive system to recover after inflammatory or infectious causes of your abdominal pain [2].

When it is an emergency

Seek immediate medical attention if you experience symptoms including:

  • Sudden, severe pain
  • Fever
  • Bloody stools
  • Nausea and vomiting that persists
  • Weight loss
  • Severe tenderness when you touch your abdomen
  • Swelling of the abdomen

These could be signs of a serious obstruction or inflammation of the organs of the abdomen that needs immediate assessment.

Prevention

There are also many preventative strategies you can try in order to stay a step ahead of your symptoms.

  • Limit NSAID use: Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) or naproxen (Aleve) can cause and/or aggravate postprandial pain. Talk to your doctor about alternatives you can use.
  • Limit consumption of spicy, fatty or acidic foods: Certain foods in these categories (caffeine, carbonated beverages, citrus fruits or juices, etc.) are thought to be prime triggers of postprandial pain.
  • Avoid alcohol and quit smoking: Alcohol and smoking are associated with an increased production of stomach acid which can cause irritation to the abdominal lining.

FAQs About Abdominal Pain That Get Worse After Eating

Can I prevent postprandial pain?

Yes, depending on the cause. Postprandial pain that occurs due to ulceration of the stomach lining (for example in peptic or gastric ulcers) can be prevented with lifestyle changes such as limiting the use of alcohol or NSAIDs. Quitting smoking can also go a long way in preventing symptoms.

What is Helicobacter pylori?

Helicobacter pylori are a group of bacteria that specifically infect the gastrointestinal tract. They are a very inflammatory/irritating bacteria that cause conditions such as gastritis and peptic ulcer disease and can even lead to the development of gastric cancer. More half of the world’s population is colonized by this bacterium [3]. Fortunately, the management and treatment of the sequelae of Helicobacter pylori infection is well-studied.

How are Helicobacter pylori transmitted?

Though there are many hypotheses for how Helicobacter pylori are transmitted, its major mode of transmission is not specifically known. Possible routes of infection include oral-oral (from human saliva to human saliva), fecal-oral (accidental contamination of food with feces), and sometimes spread via inadvertent use of unsterile medical equipment such as probes or endoscopes [4].

How can I live without my gallbladder?

Gallbladder removal is a very common surgery. Removal of the gallbladder does not affect digestion significantly because the liver can also make bile to help with the digestion of fatty foods. Symptoms after gallbladder removal include gassiness, bloating, or more watery bowel movements. After the removal of the gallbladder, there is very small likelihood that gallstones will recur.

Is postprandial pain life-threatening?

Some causes of postprandial pain such as pancreatitis can be very serious and severe. According to a large epidemiologic study from the United States, approximately 15 to 25 percent of patients with acute pancreatitis develop severe pancreatitis [5]. Severe pancreatitis can result in fever, hypotension, and organ failure and require monitoring in the intensive care unit. It is important to not ignore symptoms of pain in the upper abdomen and seek medical attention before the condition worsens.

Questions Your Doctor May Ask About Abdominal Pain That Get Worse After Eating

To diagnose this condition, your doctor would likely ask the following questions:

  • Have you experienced any nausea?
  • Any fever today or during the last week?
  • Have you lost your appetite recently?
  • Have you been feeling more tired than usual, lethargic or fatigued despite sleeping a normal amount?

The above questions are also covered by our A.I. Health Assistant.

If you've answered yes to one or more of these questions

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Abdominal Pain That Get Worse After Eating Symptom Checker Statistics

People who have experienced abdominal pain that get worse after eating have also experienced:

  • 12% Abdominal Pain (Stomach Ache)
  • 8% Nausea
  • 6% Stomach Bloating

People who have experienced abdominal pain that get worse after eating were most often matched with:

  • 50% Stomach Ulcer
  • 37% Acid Reflux Disease (Gerd)
  • 12% Indigestion (Dyspepsia)

People who have experienced abdominal pain that get worse after eating had symptoms persist for:

  • 41% Less than a day
  • 34% Less than a week
  • 11% Over a month

Source: Aggregated and anonymized results from visits to the Buoy AI health assistant (check it out by clicking on “Take Quiz”).

Abdominal Pain That Get Worse After Eating Symptom Checker

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References

  1. Stenschke F, Nemetz A, Dancygier H. Chronic abdominal pain aggravated by eating: diagnosis by video capsule endoscopy. Gut. 2006;55(4):443, 497. NCBI Link
  2. Badillo R, Francis D. Diagnosis and treatment of gastroesophageal reflux disease. World J Gastrointest Pharmacol Ther. 2014;5(3):105-12. NCBI Link
  3. Kusters JG, van Vliet AH, Kuipers EJ. Pathogenesis of Helicobacter pylori infection. Clin Microbiol Rev. 2006;19(3):449-90. NCBI Link
  4. Cave DR. How is Helicobacter pylori transmitted?. Gastroenterology. 1997;113(6 Suppl):S9-14. PubMed Link
  5. Fagenholz PJ, Castillo CF, Harris NS, Pelletier AJ, Camargo CA. Increasing United States hospital admissions for acute pancreatitis, 1988-2003. Ann Epidemiol. 2007;17(7):491-7. PubMed Link

Disclaimer: The article does not replace an evaluation by a physician. Information on this page is provided as an information resource only, and is not to be used or relied on for any diagnostic or treatment purposes.