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What Are Your Stomach Pain Symptoms Trying to Tell You?


Updated July 08, 2014

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

If you are suffering from stomach pain, you need to find the cause before you can start a treatment. Listed below are a few of the conditions that can cause stomach pain. As always, you should discuss your symptoms with your doctor for an evaluation to diagnose the cause.


Heartburn is a digestive symptom that occurs when stomach acid comes into contact with the lining of the esophagus, causing irritation.

The symptoms of heartburn include a burning sensation behind your breastbone that may also travel to your throat. Other symptoms may include chest pain, difficulty swallowing, persistent cough, and a sour taste in the mouth. Symptoms can get worse soon after you eat or if you lie down shorty after eating.

There are various causes of heartburn. These causes include eating foods that can trigger heartburn, pregnancy, asthma, diabetes, and hiatal hernias.

You can eliminate the heartburn in a number of ways, including chewing gum (although for some patients this worsens the pain), drinking seltzer, or taking an antacid. If you have frequent heartburn, you should see your doctor for evaluation. If you are diagnosed with gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), your doctor may suggest the use of H2 blockers or proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) for relief from heartburn. First steps, however, will be to make some lifestyle modifications and avoid foods that can cause heartburn.

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Peptic Ulcer

A peptic ulcer is an erosion or sore that forms either in the lining of the stomach (gastric ulcer) or in the lining of the duodenum (duodenal ulcer).

Symptoms of a peptic ulcer vary from patient to patient, but can include a burning or gnawing pain in your stomach that often feels worse when your stomach is empty, and better after you have eaten.

The most frequent cause of a peptic ulcer is Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori). Other causes of peptic ulcers may include alcohol and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). The most common NSAIDs are aspirin, ibuprofen, and naproxen sodium.

Treatment of peptic ulcers depends on the cause. If the cause is H. pylori, the standard treatment is antibiotics. A proton pump inhibitor may also be prescribed. If NSAIDS are the cause of your ulcer, you should stop taking them. During the healing process for an NSAID-induced ulcer, your doctor may recommend the use of antacids to neutralize the acid, and H2-blockers or proton pump inhibitors to reduce stomach acid production.

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There are two types of gallstones -- cholesterol stones and pigment stones. Cholesterol stones are the most common type of gallstone, occurring in approximately 80% of patients with gallstones. Cholesterol stones are made mostly of hardened cholesterol, and are usually yellowish-green in color. Pigment stones are made of bilirubin, and are usually small and dark in color.

Symptoms of gallstones can include pain in the upper abdomen that rapidly worsens and can last from a few minutes to a few hours, nausea and/or vomiting, and heartburn. Gallstone pain often feels sharper and more localized than heartburn or ulcer pain. If the pain doesn't go away within a few hours, or if you are vomiting or have a fever, you should go to your doctor.

Causes of gallstones are usually the result of too much cholesterol or bilirubin in the bile. There are risk factors for developing gallstones, and these can be a combination of factors, including heredity, body chemistry, body type, gender, and maybe even diet.

Treatment of gallstones depends partly on whether you are experiencing symptoms or not. If you have symptoms, especially severe pain, surgical removal of the gallbladder is the most common treatment. If you have no symptoms, you and your doctor may decide that no treatment is needed.

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