Pain and discomfort while eating could be a warning signal of something serious—and the quicker it's dealt with, the better. "People will say 'I'll deal with it once X or Y is done, then I'll be in a better place to take some time to look after it.' It's a way of ordering things in your head that allows you to cope," says Dr. Chris Simpson, chief of cardiology at Queen's University and past-president of the Canadian Medical Association. Here are five ways pain or discomfort after eating could be linked to illness. Read on—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.
Intense pain after eating could be symptoms of a gallbladder attack. "Gallstones are fairly common in Western countries because our diets have more processed and fatty foods," says David Efron, MD, chief of acute care surgery at The Johns Hopkins Hospital. "Many of us are walking around with gallstones and don't know it. But that alone isn't an indication that you'll have a gallbladder attack or need it removed. Gallstones usually aren't a problem until they cause symptoms… Gallbladder attacks are often so painful that people end up in the emergency room. That's a good thing because it's important to get evaluated when you have severe pain. Several serious conditions, like heart attacks, ulcer perforations and appendicitis, have similar symptoms to gallstones and need to be ruled out. Also, sometimes gallstones don't pass on their own and can lead to complications like infection in the gallbladder or pancreas inflammation."
Ear pain while swallowing food could be a sign of ear infection, experts say. "The middle ear is the space behind the eardrum, which is connected to the back of the throat by a passageway called the Eustachian tube," says Harvard Health. "Middle ear infections, also called otitis media, can occur when congestion from an allergy or cold blocks the Eustachian tube. Fluid and pressure build up, so bacteria or viruses that have traveled up the Eustachian tube into the middle ear can multiply and cause an ear infection."
Intense stomach pain after eating gluten could be a sign of celiac disease. "Celiac disease causes an autoimmune reaction in the body when someone ingests gluten, a protein found in wheat, barley and rye," says gastroenterologist and celiac disease specialist Alberto Rubio-Tapia, MD. "As a result, their small intestine is damaged, and their body can't properly absorb nutrients from food."
Diarrhea after eating could be a sign of food poisoning. "Most of the time, food poisoning will set in within a few hours of eating contaminated food," says gastroenterologist Christine Lee, MD. "The severity of your symptoms and how long it will last is mostly dictated by what strain of germs you ingested, how much you were exposed to and how strong your immune system is to fight it off. Depending on the pathogen and your body's reaction to it, some people can be ill with food poisoning for 10 days or even more. The bacteria campylobacter, for example, can produce symptoms for weeks."
Tooth and gum pain while chewing could be a symptom of periodontitis. "Periodontitis is a severe form of gum disease. Symptoms include swollen and bleeding gums," says Cleveland Clinic. "If left untreated, periodontitis can lead to loss of teeth. Talk to your healthcare provider if you have pain or tenderness in your mouth. Fortunately, you can prevent periodontitis through good oral hygiene. Brush and floss teeth regularly and see your dentist for checkups and cleanings. You can get rid of plaque before it builds up and causes problems. By doing so, you can keep your gum and teeth healthy for the long-term."