An upset stomach is one of the most common health complaints. The condition is characterized by general discomfort or pain when the mucosal cells in the lining of your stomach become irritated or inflamed. In most cases, you generally experience the following symptoms:
- Feeling uncomfortably full
- Overall discomfort
Was it the pizza you ate last night? Are you getting your period? Determining the right upset stomach remedies can be tiresome when you’re not sure exactly what caused the issue, but the good news is that there are many things you can try. Ultimately, something is bound to work well for you.
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Determine the Cause of Your Upset Stomach
In many cases, you can’t pinpoint the exact cause of an upset stomach. Fortunately, most of the common causes for an upset stomach are not serious, and symptoms normally resolve within a few hours.
One of the most common reasons for an upset stomach is food poisoning. According to the most recent figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 25% of Americans suffer from some sort of food-related illness each year, though the agency feels that may be an underestimation due to the limitations of self-reporting. Of those people, about 371,000 end up in the hospital and around 5,700 die annually.
Constipation is another common cause for an upset stomach. According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, about 42 million people in the US suffer from persistent constipation. Constipation is characterized by straining when trying to have a bowel movement, experiencing hard stools and feeling generally bloated and uncomfortable. Causes of constipation can include:
- Taking opioids and painkillers
- Eating chocolate
- Certain vitamins like calcium or iron
- Overuse of laxatives
- Eating too much dairy
- Taking blood pressure or allergy medications
Beyond constipation and food poisoning, there are hosts of other things that can cause an upset stomach, such as:
- Indigestion, which is the pain or discomfort associated with digesting food.
- Gastritis, which is a gradual wearing away of the stomach lining that can leave you vulnerable to bleeding or ulcers. Gastritis can be either an acute or a chronic condition.
- Irritable bowel syndrome, a health condition that affects the lower gastrointestinal tract. It often involves constipation and diarrhea, and can be caused by stress, anxiety or depression.
- Peptic ulcer, which is a lesion in the stomach lining caused by a combination of pepsin and stomach acid. The infection is normally caused by a type of bacteria called H. pylori.
- Gastroenteritis, which is an inflammation of the stomach lining caused by either bacteria or a viral infection. Vomiting and diarrhea usually accompany gastroenteritis.
- Generalized Anxiety Disorder. Upset stomach is one of the common symptoms associated with generalized anxiety disorder.
- Menstrual cramps. A large percentage of women experience an upset stomach along with their menstrual cramps.
Many people are quick to turn to medications to try to relieve their upset stomachs, but there are plenty of natural upset stomach cures worth trying. A first-line option could be to hold a very warm bottle of water or pack to the affected area of your abdomen. This helps relax and loosen your stomach muscles when they’re cramping. This method works best if you’re lying down and you place the pack directly on your stomach. You can repeat this every 15 minutes or so.
If that doesn’t work, it may be time to turn to foods, drinks, or exercises to help ease your discomfort.
Try the BRAT Diet
The majority of upset stomach cases can be treated using foods you have right in your own home. Many people try natural foods to soothe an upset stomach. Adhering to the BRAT diet is a good strategy to help curb stomach discomfort. The diet relies on four main foods to help soothe stomachs, including:
- Bananas. Bananas are rich with potassium, which can prove helpful if you’re vomiting or experiencing diarrhea and have become dehydrated. They have sugar, but not enough to make you feel nauseous.
- Rice. Rice and similar starchy foods work to coat the lining of the stomach, which ultimately has a soothing effect. It also helps to move digestion along, and does not linger in the stomach long enough to initiate acid reflux.
- Applesauce. Applesauce is useful for soothing an uneasy stomach because it is easily digestible and can help curb diarrhea. If you are constipated, eat the skin of the apple, which contains peeling.
- Toast. Toast is bland and will not linger in your stomach for very long. Make sure to leave off the butter and jam, as those ingredients aren’t bland and will likely cause further discomfort.
Although the BRAT diet is an effective way to soothe an upset stomach, there are other foods that can be just as effective. As a rule of thumb: keep it simple. Possible foods include:
- Soup broth that doesn’t contain fat
- Crackers, which have a similar digestive function as rice
- Yogurt, although this is not an ideal option for people with lactose intolerance
- Oat bran, a source of both soluble and insoluble fiber
- Cinnamon, which is also recommended for morning sickness and diarrhea
- Fennel, half a teaspoon can work wonders
- Avocado, which is high in potassium, fiber and healthy oils
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Consider Natural Drinks to Soothe an Upset Stomach
Although foods can be helpful in soothing your upset stomach, sometimes you might not feel like eating. In these circumstances, a number of liquids can be equally as effective upset stomach remedies. Here are five drinks you can try:
- Chamomile tea. Chamomile helps alleviate the discomfort associated with an upset stomach while working as an anti-inflammatory agent. This is especially helpful for gastritis-related pain in which the stomach lining is inflamed. Chamomile also helps to relax the muscles located in the upper digestive track. During an upset stomach, the muscle contracts to push the food in your tract along. Relaxing it helps to soothe the pain associated with cramping and spasms. All you need to prepare a cup of chamomile tea is a tea bag or 1-2 teaspoons of dried chamomile leaves and hot water.
- The water left over after making a pot of rice. Leftover water from rice has demulcent properties, which means the water can relieve inflammation. If the base is too bitter, consider adding some honey.
- Mint tea. Peppermint tea helps to alleviate pain associated with gas or bloating and helps to relax the stomach muscles. You can also choose to suck on a peppermint candy or chew peppermint gum if you prefer. If you are experiencing heartburn, you may want to avoid peppermint. It can cause stomach acid to retreat into the esophagus, which exacerbates heartburn.
- Warm lemon water. Adding fresh lemon juice into a warm glass of water can help naturally heal an upset stomach because the extra acidity can help digest food that may be lingering. Do not go overboard with lemon because the acidity level could exacerbate your upset stomach.
- Ginger root tea. Ginger products are rife with anti-inflammatory properties that can help increase digestive juice. Ginger also contains gingerols, which is an antioxidant that can lower free radicals and reduce pain.
Address Your Upset Stomach With Exercise
Drinks and foods might help soothe your upset stomach, but if they aren’t effective remedies, exercise may help. Exercise is one of the lesser known remedies for an upset stomach. It may seem counterintuitive, but getting yourself up and moving might help. Certain yoga poses can help settle your upset stomach. The following stretches work to relieve stomach discomfort:
Forward bends and Jathara Parivrtti, which is a revolved abdominal twist, and knee-to-chest poses like Apansana can provide a soothing effect and can either kick start a slow-going bowel movement or calm a hyperactive one.
For constipation, you can move digestion along by working in some stronger poses like Uttanasana, which is a standing forward bend and Parivrtta Trikonasana, which is a revolved triangle pose.
The bridge pose can stimulate abdominal organs as well as thyroid glands, which ultimately helps to aid in digestion and can even boost your metabolism. To get into bridge pose, lie on the floor in supine pose, bend you knees and put your feet flat on the floor with your heels as close to you as possible. Then, inhale and push your pelvis up, and then exhale.
Balasana, or Child’s Pose, can help relax the muscles on the front of your body, including your abdominal muscles. To get into this pose, kneel on the floor with your big toes together while sitting on your heels. Exhale, and then lean your torso between your thighs.
It is important to remember that a healthy diet, anxiety relief techniques and regular exercise are all strategies to help you avoid an upset stomach in the first place.
Know the Signs of Something Dangerous
If symptoms of an upset stomach persist for too long, you will have to seek emergency medical attention. If you experience any of the following symptoms along with your upset stomach, seek emergency care:
- An inability to eat without vomiting
- Having a difficult time breathing or experiencing chest pain while breathing
- Feeling as though you might faint or being persistently lightheaded
- Passing a dark or black stool
- Vomiting blood
The UPMC Heart and Vascular Institute has long been a leader in cardiovascular care, with a rich history in clinical research and innovation. As one of the first heart transplant centers in the country and as the developer of one of the first heart-assist devices, UPMC has contributed to advancing the field of cardiovascular medicine.