Stomach pain can be caused by a myriad of diseases, from a basic stomach flu or food poisoning to much more complicated conditions including inflammatory bowel disease, cancer of the gastrointestinal tract or irritable bowel syndrome.
“There are hundreds of different causes of stomach pain because there are so many different organs, including the liver and pancreas, that could be giving you pain, and each organ has many diseases,” says Dr. Gene Chang, who is on staff at Community Hospital in Munster. “Most are common infections related to the flu or food poisoning. (But) sometimes it is more severe, like peptic ulcer disease or an inflammatory bowel disease.”
Some stomach pains can be treated at home with rest or over-the-counter medication. But doctors say you should seek medical treatment if the pain becomes severe, is accompanied by a fever, or the inability to tolerate liquids or solids by mouth. Other symptoms that require immediate medical attention including difficulty swallowing, nausea with vomiting and vomiting blood.
“For the short term, stay hydrated and drink plenty of fluids,” Dr. Chang says. “But if it persists and you have a high fever, seek medical attention immediately.”
Dr. Rahul Julka, one of three doctors who operates out of the Digestive Disease Centers, which have offices around Lake and Porter Counties, says stomach pain is a common ailment because the symptoms for benign illnesses and severe illnesses overlap.
“Any symptoms which are severe or persistent should be evaluated by a gastroenterologist to ensure that there is no serious pathology underlying the symptoms which my require treatment,” Dr. Julka says. “With routine care by a gastroenterologist, even colon cancer can be largely preventable.”
Once patients come in for medical attention, a doctor can determine, through testing, what the patient’s condition might be and how to treat it.
Celiac disease, which is a sensitivity to gluten, can be diagnosed with a blood test and other testing and managed through diet.
Crohn’s disease, for example, can be diagnosed by testing tissue and managed through medication, surgery or nutritional supplementation.
Crohn’s disease is one of two main diseases called inflammatory bowel diseases, Dr. Julka says.
The disease is a chronic immune condition where the body’s immune system attacks the gastrointestinal tract, and is most commonly found in the ileum, which is the last part of the small intestine.
Crohn’s Disease usually is diagnosed in people in their teens into their 30s, but can also be diagnosed later in life.
“Roughly 1 million people in the United States suffer from Crohn’s,” Dr. Julka says. “The cause of Crohn’s has not been 100-percent figured out yet, but there does seem to be a correlation between genetic predisposition and environment.”
For some diseases, including gastro esophageal reflux disease, also known as acid reflux, diet can play a role in managing the disease.
“Symptoms like heartburn can be affected by caffeine, alcohol, acidic foods, spicy foods and greasy or fatty foods,” Dr. Julka says. “Other diseases like gall bladder, bile duct disease and pancreatitis can be affected by greasy or fatty foods.”
Conditions like lactose intolerance are caused by the body’s inability to break down lactose, which is the main sugar in dairy products.
Although not every disease of the stomach area can be managed through diet, both doctors agree that maintaining a healthy lifestyle can go a long way.
“Minimize alcohol, don’t smoke, and try to lead a healthy lifestyle,” Dr. Chang says. “And if you have any questions, talk with your primary care physicians.”