Picture of the stomach
The stomach is a muscular organ found on the left side of the upper abdomen. Food makes its way to the stomach through the oesophagus. As food reaches the end of the oesophagus, it enters the stomach through a muscular valve called the lower oesophageal sphincter.
The stomach secretes acid and enzymes that digest food. Ridges of muscle tissue called rugae make up the lining of the stomach. The stomach muscles regularly contract, churning food to help digestion. Then, a muscular valve known as the pyloric sphincter opens to allow food to pass from the stomach into the small intestine.
Seek medical advice if you have persistent or repeated bouts of stomach ache. The cause is usually not serious and can be treated easily.
Causes of stomach pain include:
Trapped wind: This is a very common problem, which can be easily treated with over the counter medication.
Cramps with diarrhoea: This is often caused by a viral or bacterial infection of the stomach and bowel. A common cause is norovirus. Your immune system usually fights this off in a few days.
Gastritis: Inflammation of the stomach, which often causes nausea, pain or both. Gastritis can be caused by alcohol, certain medicines, H. pylori infection or other factors.
Gastroesophageal reflux: Stomach contents, including acid, can travel back up into the oesophagus. There may be no symptoms, or reflux may cause heartburn or coughing.
Gastroesophageal reflux disease ( GORD): When symptoms of reflux start troubling you or happen frequently, they’re called GORD. Sometimes, GORD can cause serious problems of the oesophagus.
Dyspepsia: Another name for stomach upset or indigestion. Dyspepsia may be caused by almost any benign or serious condition that affects the stomach.
Gastric ulcer (stomach ulcer): An erosion in the lining of the stomach, often causing pain, bleeding or both. Gastric ulcers are most often caused by H. pylori infection, and some are caused by non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs ( NSAIDs)
Peptic ulcer disease: Doctors consider ulcers in either the stomach or the duodenum (the first part of the small intestine) peptic ulcer disease. A perforated ulcer is when an open sore develops and breaks through the stomach or intestinal lining.
Stomach cancer: Gastric cancer is a relatively uncommon form of cancer in the UK. There are more than 7,000 new cases a year in the UK, with 95% developing in the cells of the stomach lining, and known as adenocarcinoma. Less common types include lymphoma and gastrointestinal stromal tumours (GISTS).
Zollinger-Ellison syndrome (ZES): One or more tumours that secrete hormones that lead to increased acid production. Severe GORD and peptic ulcer disease result from this rare disorder.
Gastric varices: In people with severe liver disease, veins in the stomach may swell and bulge under increased pressure. These veins are called varices and are at high risk of bleeding, although less so than oesophageal varices are.
Stomach bleeding: Gastritis, ulcers or gastric cancers may bleed. If you see blood or black material in vomit or a stool, treat it as a medical emergency.
Gastroparesis (delayed gastric emptying): Nerve damage from diabetes or other conditions may hamper the stomach’s muscle contractions. Nausea and vomiting are the usual symptoms.
Gallstones: small stones that form in the gallbladder and can cause sudden, severe stomach pain.
Appendicitis: A medical emergency that usually causes severe concentrated pain in a particular area, such as the lower right abdomen. Seek medical advice immediately or go to the nearest accident and emergency department.