Stomach Pain and Nausea: Causes and Treatments
Medically reviewed by Jay N. Yepuri, MD, MS
Stomach pain (also called abdominal pain or stomach ache) is felt between the bottom of the ribs and the groin.
Nausea (also called upset stomach, queasiness, sick to the stomach) is the sensation you need to vomit. More than 50% of adults report at least one episode of nausea in the preceding year.
It is common for stomach pain and nausea to occur together in conditions that upset the stomach, such as norovirus or food poisoning. They can also be symptoms of mental health conditions like anxiety and side effects of some medications.
This article will discuss the symptoms, causes, treatment, and prevention of stomach pain and nausea and outline when to see a healthcare provider.
Symptoms of Stomach Pain and Nausea
How stomach pain and nausea feel depends on what is causing the symptoms.
Stomach pain can present as:
Localized pain: Felt in a specific area
Generalized pain: Felt in over half of the abdomen
Colicky pain: Pain that comes in waves, often starting and ending suddenly
Cramp-like pain: Can feel like gas pain or bloating and may be followed by diarrhea
Stomach pain can have different sensations, including dull, sharp, aching, burning, gnawing, cramping, twisting, or stabbing.
Nausea can present as:
Feeling like you are going to or need to vomit
An uneasy, unpleasant sensation in the upper abdomen, chest, or back of the throat
Retching (repeated rhythmic contractions of the abdominal and respiratory muscles) and/or vomiting
Nausea can be accompanied by other symptoms, such as increased saliva, sweating, dizziness, lightheadedness, trouble swallowing, skin temperature changes, and fast heart rate.
What Causes Stomach Pain and Nausea?
Stomach pain and nausea are both symptoms of a number of conditions. Some of the more common ones include:
Medication side effects
Other medical conditions
Often called the stomach flu or a stomach bug, gastroenteritis (inflammation of the stomach and intestines) can be caused by viruses such as:
Viral gastroenteritis can cause symptoms like:
Symptoms from viral gastroenteritis typically start to improve within 24 hours.
Food poisoning refers to ingesting toxins from germs in food that has been contaminated, not prepared safely, or has been left out too long. It can cause nausea, stomach pain, vomiting, and/or diarrhea, typically within hours of eating the affected food.
Symptoms of food poisoning usually go away within 12 to 48 hours.
Many pregnant people experience nausea during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy or longer.
Abdominal pain, especially if severe, during early pregnancy could indicate an ectopic pregnancy (when a fertilized egg develops outside of the uterus, such as in the fallopian tube). This can be life-threatening if not treated.
Anxiety, worry, and stress can cause physical symptoms, including nausea, stomach ache, headaches, sweating, and a racing heart. These episodes are sometimes called panic attacks.
Both adults and children can experience stomach pains and nausea from anxiety. Over 10% of children have "worried stomach".
Medication Side Effects
Anti-inflammatories and pain relievers, such as Aspirin, Advil/Motrin (ibuprofen), and Aleve (naproxen), can cause nausea and abdominal pain.
Chemotherapy (a type of cancer treatment) often causes nausea and vomiting. Radiation therapy (another cancer treatment) can also cause nausea and vomiting when applied to the brain, gastrointestinal tract, or liver.
Nausea and/or stomach pain can be side effects of several medications. Talk to your healthcare provider or pharmacist about side effects before beginning a medication.
Sudden, intense chest pain is usually the symptom people associate with a heart attack, but symptoms can also be more subtle and come on more slowly, starting with mild pain or discomfort. Heart attacks can also cause less obvious symptoms, such as stomach pain and nausea, particularly for women.
Warning signs of a heart attack include:
Chest discomfort: Discomfort in the center of the chest that lasts more than a few minutes or goes away and returns. It may feel like squeezing, uncomfortable pressure, fullness, or pain
Discomfort in other areas: Pain or discomfort in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw, or stomach
Shortness of breath: With or without chest discomfort
Other symptoms: Such as cold sweat, nausea, and/or lightheadedness
Women may experience symptoms less commonly associated with a heart attack, such as nausea, vomiting, jaw pain, and shortness of breath.
Call 911 (or your local emergency number) if you experience signs of a heart attack.
The appendix is part of the large intestine. Appendicitis is when the appendix becomes infected and inflamed. If not treated (usually with surgical removal), the appendix can rupture and become life-threatening.
The pain with appendicitis is typically low on the right side. A child with appendicitis may walk bent over, be unwilling (or unable) to hop, and want to lie still.
Other Medical Conditions
Stomach pain and nausea can be symptoms of several medical conditions, such as:
Pancreatitis: Inflammation of the pancreas
Diverticulitis: Infection of small pouches inside the large intestine
Peptic Ulcers: Sores in the lining of the stomach and small intestine
Gallstones: Hard stones in the gallbladder
Kidney stones: Crystals that form in urine and build up in the kidneys
Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD): Chronic inflammation of the digestive tract, such as Crohn's disease or ulcerative colitis
Abdominal migraine: Episodes of stomach pain and vomiting that begin and end suddenly
Gastritis: Inflammation of the stomach lining
Hepatitis: Inflammation of the liver
How to Treat Stomach Pain and Nausea
How stomach pain and nausea are managed depends on the underlying cause. Talk to your healthcare provider before beginning a treatment to ensure it is the right course of treatment for you and your condition.
Stomach Pain Remedies
Depending on the cause of the stomach pain, medications your healthcare provider may recommend include:
Don't take aspirin or anti-inflammatory medications, as these can irritate gastrointestinal problems.
Some medications that help one cause of stomach pain may worsen another. Check with your healthcare provider before taking medications, including over-the-counter (OTC) ones.
Natural, At-Home Solutions
If a stomach bug or food poisoning causes your stomach pain, you can usually wait it out at home and take measures to make yourself more comfortable while it runs its course. You can try:
Avoiding solid food for the first few hours
Sipping water or other clear fluids
Eating small amounts of mild foods
Avoiding high-fat foods, greasy or fried foods, citrus, tomato products, alcohol, caffeine, and carbonated beverages
Taking a warm bath
Using a hot water bottle on your abdomen
Getting plenty of rest
If your stomach pain is severe or maybe from something more serious, seek medical treatment, don't try to treat yourself at home.
If you regularly get stomach pain, talk to your healthcare provider about managing or preventing your tummy troubles. This may include lifestyle changes like modifying your diet.
If you or your child experience stomach pain with anxiety, relaxation and mindfulness exercises, such as deep breathing, may help.
Depending on what is causing you to feel nauseated, your healthcare provider may suggest medications such as:
Antiemetics (to stop vomiting)
If you are dehydrated from vomiting, you may need rehydration therapy using a rehydration solution. Follow your healthcare provider's directions.
Check with your healthcare provider before taking any medication, particularly if you are pregnant.
Natural, At-Home Solutions
If your nausea is minor and does not require medical attention, you can try some at-home measures to feel more comfortable. It may help to:
Eat frequent small meals of bland foods
Avoid foods and beverages that upset your stomach, like spicy, greasy, or processed foods, and caffeinated beverages such as cola or coffee
Drink clear beverages such as chamomile tea, ginger tea, or peppermint tea (check with your healthcare provider before drinking herbal teas if you are pregnant)
Eat foods containing ginger
Avoid strong-smelling foods
Avoid lying down right after eating
Wear loose clothing that doesn't constrict your tummy
Distract yourself with something you enjoy, like watching a movie or listening to music
Get some fresh air
Use relaxation and mindfulness exercises
If you regularly experience nausea, your healthcare provider may suggest you speak to a gastroenterologist, mental health professional, registered dietitian, or another specialist to investigate what triggers your nausea and how to manage it.
What About Young Children?
Stomach pain and nausea are common in children, but it's important to discover their symptoms' causes. Check with your healthcare provider if your child is showing symptoms that concern you.
Always check with your healthcare provider before giving your child stomach pain and/or nausea medications.
How to Prevent Stomach Pain and Nausea
Measures can be taken to prevent the spread of infections such as norovirus that can make you feel sick.
Wash your hands thoroughly and frequently, especially before cooking and eating and after using the washroom
Don't share objects such as utensils or straws with others
Stay home when you are ill
Guard against food poisoning by:
Following safe food storage and food preparation guidelines
Watching for recalls and notices of outbreaks
Avoiding foods that are spoiled and/or past their expiration date
Call 911 (or your local emergency number) or seek immediate medical attention if you (or your child) are showing signs of serious illness, such as:
Stomach pain and/or vaginal bleeding if you are pregnant or may be pregnant
Signs of a heart attack
Inability to urinate, have a bowel movement, and/or pass gas
Blood in your vomit, stool, or urine (may be bright red, maroon or dark, tarry black, or look like coffee grounds)
Sudden, sharp pain in the abdomen
Belly that is tender or is rigid and hard to the touch
Recent injury to your abdomen
Stomach pain that is very sudden, severe, getting worse, or lasts several hours
Fever and sweats with abdominal pain
Pale or clammy skin
Pain in the scrotum
Pain on the low, right side
Child under two years old
Fever over 104° F (40° C)
Child appears very sick
Pain that wakes you from sleep
Signs of anaphylaxis
Signs of pneumonia
Vomiting that may be from poisoning
Severe headache and stiff neck
Signs of dehydration
When to See Your Healthcare Provider
See your healthcare provider if it is not an emergency, but you experience:
Abdominal pain that does not improve within 24 to 48 hours or abdominal discomfort that lasts a week or longer
Bloating for more than two days
Diarrhea for more than five days
Vomiting for more than 24 hours (12 hours for infants)
Prolonged poor appetite
Unexplained weight loss
Difficulty swallowing food
More frequent and/or painful urination
Symptoms that keep coming back
Stomach pain is felt between the bottom of the ribs and the groin. Nausea is the sensation of being about to vomit.
Stomach pain and nausea are symptoms of several conditions, such as viral gastroenteritis, food poisoning, and anxiety. They can also be signs of a more serious problem, such as appendicitis or heart attack.
Stomach pain and nausea from a stomach bug or food poisoning can usually be managed at home with rest, fluids, and small, frequent meals.
If the stomach pain or nausea is severe or there are signs of a more serious illness, seek medical care.
Check with your healthcare provider before using medication for stomach pain or nausea, especially if you are pregnant or the medication is for a child.