Medically reviewed by Jay N. Yepuri, MD
Stress can produce both emotional and physical effects. Stomach pain from stress can be quite painful and can be accompanied by other symptoms like nausea, diarrhea, or constipation. These symptoms are due to a connection between the brain and the gut.
This article will discuss the stomach symptoms that stress produces and the available treatment options. It will also cover when to see a healthcare provider.
Symptoms: How Stomach Pain From Stress Feels
The stomach symptoms from stress will vary from person to person. Some people may feel like they have "butterflies" in their stomach whereas others may develop bloating and diarrhea.
Stomach problems created by stress can include:
Diarrhea (loose stools)
Indigestion (upset stomach, which may include discomfort or pain)
Constipation (infrequent, hard stools)
Changes in appetite
The stomach symptoms of stress should only last a few hours or go away once the situation causing the stress resolves. If symptoms last longer, it could mean that something other than stress is causing them.
Stomach Pain: Is It Stress or Anxiety?
Stress and anxiety are terms that are often used interchangeably. However, stress is an emotional and physical response that is caused by a trigger. It could be work or relationships. Stress generally ends once the situation or trigger is removed.
Anxiety is having excessive or constant worry even when the stressor is removed. Both conditions produce physical symptoms, which may include stomach pain.
Link Between Stress and Stomach Pain
There is a misconception that stomach pain from stress is fabricated or caused by a psychological problem. Researchers have proven these concepts wrong and instead point to the brain-gut axis as a possible basis for the pain.
The brain-gut axis is a nerve connection between the gut and the brain. When someone experiences stress, chemical messengers between nerve cells (neurotransmitters) are released.
This release puts the body into a fight-or-flight response. In this state, the brain and body are on alert and ready for immediate action. This stress response alters digestion and causes various gastrointestinal (GI) symptoms.
Once someone has experienced one or more stomach symptoms from stress, future experiences of these symptoms can then cause stress. It's a bidirectional relationship in that stomach pain causes stress, and stress can cause stomach pain.
Another reason someone with stress may experience stomach pain is from the bacteria and other microbes that live in the intestinal tract. Researchers are finding out that the microbial community that inhabits the gut can greatly impact a person's mental health. Stress can change the balance of different types of gut microbes, which can create stomach pain.
Is Stomach Pain From Anxiety Different?
Anxiety tends to produce the same stomach symptoms as stress. However, anxiety is longer lasting than stress and, therefore, the symptoms tend to last longer.
Treatment and Relief for Stress-Induced Stomach Pain
Infrequent episodes of stress-induced stomach pain can be treated with over-the-counter antacids or with peppermint. Take note if certain foods or drinks are causing or worsening the pain. Alcohol and caffeine are two common triggers.
It's also important to identify what is causing the stress. Removing these causes and triggers can reduce stress and stomach pain.
Other ways to relieve stress include:
Meditating or deep breathing
Connecting with others
Eating a healthy diet
Getting regular sleep
When to See a Healthcare Provider
The occasional stomach pain from stress can typically be managed at home. However, if you have chronic stomach pain, it's time to contact a healthcare provider.
A medical expert will be able to evaluate the symptoms and determine if the pain is from a condition that requires treatment. They may refer you to a gastroenterologist (specialist in conditions of the digestive system) for specialized care.
No one should have regular stomach pain. Do not hesitate to contact a healthcare provider for a treatment plan that is designed for your diagnosis.
Counseling and therapy with a mental health professional may also help a person undergoing a period of high stress or its lingering effects.
The stomach and the brain have a strong connection called the gut-brain axis. When someone experiences stress, it not only affects them emotionally but also physically. It can cause several symptoms that include stomach pain, nausea, and diarrhea. If stress and stomach pain are happening regularly, it is time to contact a healthcare provider for treatment.
Read the original article on Verywell Health.