Gastric pain: What's normal, what's not

Your insides feel as if they've been twisted up. Is it just 'normal' gastric pain, or something else? What should you take note of?

When is gastric pain not normal?

When an otherwise healthy person experiences pain, it's like an alarm from the body that something is wrong.

Abdominal pain that occurs as a result of self-limiting conditions like stomach flu (gastroenteritis) is not persistent.

Gastric pain which is persistent, of increasing severity or unbearable is not normal.

What should one do if there is persistent gastric pain?

One should seek the advice of a medical practitioner if gastric pain persists.

Those patients who have to visit their physicians for recurrent episodes of gastric pain or gastric pain with alarming symptoms like vomiting, loss of weight, loss of appetite, passing black stools should consider visiting a specialist for further evaluation.

How to differentiate between gastric pain and stomach pain?

Abdominal pain is a symptom that could be representative of many diseases. There are different types of pain depending on the involved organ.

The usually described cramps of gastroenteritis are gripping in nature with a waxing and waning character.

Gastric pain is usually centered in the upper abdomen and varies in intensity, from a dull ache to a severe sharp cutting pain that is persistent. Since other organs are also located in the upper abdomen, it is difficult to use only pain as a marker.

The associated symptoms like vomiting, diarrhoea, jaundice, etc must be taken into account before concluding it to be of gastric origin.

What should one do if they have stomach pain at night which is not severe enough to require a trip to the hospital?

If the pain is not so severe and patient has no associated symptoms, most of the time the discomfort could have arisen from indigestion after having a big meal.

Walking around and placing a hot bag on the abdomen can soothe the pain.

Antacids and paracetamol can be used, provided there are no contraindications.

However, if the pain does not get better, seems to spread over the entire abdomen, or the belly hurts badly when it is pressed, it is advisable to seek medical attention early.

This article was contributed by Dr Asim Shabbir, a Consultant at the University Surgical Cluster, National University Hospital.