What causes stomach problems?
Stomach problems often originate in the digestive tract, although they can be due to disorders of the circulatory system, urinary tract, reproductive system, respiratory system, nervous system, or body wall.
Digestive tract causes of stomach problems
Stomach problems may be caused by conditions of the digestive tract including:
- Bacterial, parasitic or viral infection of the gastrointestinal tract
- Celiac disease (severe sensitivity to gluten from wheat and other grains that causes intestinal damage)
- Diverticulitis (inflammation of an abnormal pocket in the colon)
- Food intolerance such as lactose intolerance (inability to digest lactose, the sugar in dairy products)
- Gallbladder disease or stones
- Gastritis (inflammation of the stomach lining)
- Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
- Inflammatory bowel disease (includes Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis)
- Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS; digestive discomfort that does not cause intestinal damage or serious disease)
- Liver disease, including hepatitis (inflammation of the liver)
- Pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas)
- Ulcers of the stomach or duodenum (first section of the small intestine)
Other causes of stomach problems
Stomach problems can also be caused by conditions involving other body systems including:
- Abdominal or hiatal hernia (weakening in the abdominal wall or diaphragm, through which internal organs can pass)
- Cancer of an abdominal or pelvic organ
- Endometriosis (condition where tissues resembling the uterine lining grow in other areas of the body)
- Kidney stones
- Menstrual cramps
- Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID; infection of a woman’s reproductive organs)
- Pleurisy (inflammation of the lining around the lungs)
- Shingles (painful, blistering rash that results from a reactivation of the varicella-zoster, or chickenpox, virus)
- Urinary tract infection
Serious or life-threatening causes of stomach problems
In some cases, stomach problems may be a symptom of a serious or life-threatening condition that should be immediately evaluated in an emergency setting. These include:
- Abdominal abscess
- Abdominal, pelvic or testicular trauma
- Aneurysm of the abdominal aorta (life-threatening bulging and weakening of the wall of the abdominal aorta that can burst and cause severe hemorrhage)
- Bowel obstruction or perforation
- Chemical or heavy metal poisoning
- Colonic volvulus (twisting of the colon) or intussusception (telescoping of the intestines into themselves)
- Ectopic pregnancy (life-threatening pregnancy growing outside the uterus)
- Intestinal ischemia (loss of blood supply to the intestines leading to death of intestinal tissue)
- Myocardial infarction (heart attack)
- Peritonitis (infection of the lining that surrounds the abdomen)
- Torsion of an ovary or a testicle (twisting of an ovary or spermatic cord)
Questions for diagnosing the cause of stomach problems
To diagnose your condition, your doctor or licensed health care practitioner will ask you several questions related to your stomach problems including:
- How long have you had stomach problems?
- How would you describe your problems?
- Does anything make them go away or get worse?
- Have you had stomach problems like this before?
- Do you have any other symptoms?
- What medications are you taking?
- Is there any possibility you are pregnant?
What are the potential complications of stomach problems?
Because stomach problems can be due to serious diseases, failure to seek treatment can result in serious complications and permanent damage. Once the underlying cause is diagnosed, it is important for you to follow the treatment plan that you and your health care professional design specifically for you to reduce the risk of potential complications including:
- Bowel infarction (severe injury to an area of the bowel due to decreased blood supply)
- Internal hemorrhage
- Intestinal obstruction and rupture of the intestinal wall
- Organ failure or dysfunction
- Ruptured appendix
- Spread of cancer
- Spread of infection
Stomach disorders. Medline Plus, a service of the National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health. http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/stomachdisorders.html. Accessed May 11, 2011.
Heartburn, gastroesophageal reflux (GER), and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse (NDDIC). http://digestive.niddk.nih.gov/ddiseases/pubs/gerd/. Accessed May 11, 2011.
What are stomach problems?
Conditions that affect digestion or cause pain or discomfort in the abdomen are often perceived and described as stomach problems, although the stomach may not always be involved. Most stomach problems are related to the digestive tract, although symptoms may also be due to conditions of the body wall, blood vessels, urinary tract, reproductive organs, or organs of the chest.... Read more about stomach problems introduction
What other symptoms might occur with stomach problems?
Stomach problems may accompany other symptoms, which vary depending on the underlying disease, disorder or condition. Stomach problems are often related to the digestive system, but may also be related to other body systems.... Read more about stomach problems symptoms