Last night’s dinner party was awesome, with all the good food served by the host. You may have overindulged a bit, but you figure that your stomach can take a few extra servings from the all-you-can-eat buffet. Today, you start to feel that painful, churning feeling in your stomach. Maybe your digestive system is having trouble processing the food, or you may have eaten the wrong kind of food at the wrong time. Just one night and one extra cupcake at the buffet line gave you stomach cramps.
Everyone gets stomach cramps every once in a while. Stomach cramps are one of the most common illnesses in the world, and can be caused by more than just overindulgence or overeating. If you feel a gnawing, churning pain at the pit of your stomach, then there’s a good chance that there’s something wrong with your digestion, or worse, your body. The good news is that it’s easy to get rid of stomach cramps. Here are some ways to quell the pain brewing in your stomach.
Causes of Stomach Cramps
Many things can cause stomach cramps, and they may even be symptoms of lingering illnesses:
- Overeating and indigestion. If you eat too much or overindulge in a particular food, you can get stomach cramps. Food needs time and room to digest properly. Overindulgence often causes indigestion and hyperacidity. Your stomach and intestines will need to work harder to digest excess food, which then causes stomach cramps. Stomach cramps may also be caused by overindulgence in alcoholic beverages.
- Intolerance to certain foods. A common culprit for intolerance is milk. Lactase, the enzyme that metabolizes lactose (a sugar found in milk), may be absent or lowered in the digestive system of some people. Some people may also be sensitive to raw or processed foods.
- Food poisoning. Among the main culprits of stomach cramps are bacteria and viruses, especially if you eat at unsanitary places or if you don’t wash and cook food items thoroughly. Harmful microorganisms can cause diarrhea and constipation. (Learn how to treat food poisoning)
- Menstruation. Menstrual activity is also a common cause of stomach cramps among women, especially for those with irregular cycles, premenstrual syndrome, or menopause. (For PMS treatments, read how to get rid of PMS)
- Abdominal muscle pain. Weak abdominal muscles often experience cramps during exercise. The cramps go away in time when the muscles strengthen, but a mild cramping sensation usually means that you’re working and targeting the right abdominal muscles.
- Internal infection and bleeding. Serious problems like infection and bleeding may have stomach cramps as a symptom. Some medicines may also have stomach cramps as one of their side-effects.
Watch What – and How Much – You Eat
Stomach cramps can easily be avoided and controlled if you know what foods trigger the symptom. The key is to know which foods trigger your stomach cramps and avoid them as much as possible. Remember that if a certain food once caused a cramp in your abdomen, chances are it’s not meant for you to eat or indulge in. If you’re lactose intolerant, you should avoid dairy products, and opt instead for non-dairy substitutes. If you get indigestion from seafood or raw vegetables, opt for other edible options.
Another important thing to remember is to eat only enough food as you need. Piling on the food at an all-you-can-eat buffet is not only impolite, but you can also give yourself a bad cramp once the food reaches your stomach. Have a good idea of how much you can eat at one sitting without feeling nauseous or uncomfortable.
Relieve the Indigestion
Stomach cramps are sometimes caused by a high gastric acid concentration in your digestive system. Hyperacidity is commonly associated with stomach cramps. An antacid, which neutralizes the concentration of gastric acids, can help counteract high acid levels and relieve stomach cramps. Here are some antacids you can try:
- Bicarbonate of soda. Plain old baking soda works fine to relieve hyperacidity. Dissolve one teaspoon of sodium bicarbonate in a tall glass of warm water, and take small sips of the solution.
- Clear soda. Non-caffeinated colas like 7-Up or Sprite can help calm indigestion, although they can also sometimes cause your stomach to cramp up especially if you have constipation. Carbonated water and tonic water brands like Canada Dry or other sparkling water brands can also help relax your stomach muscles.
- Over-the-counter medications. Medicines like Pepto-Bismol, Alka-Seltzer, or milk of magnesia can help relieve indigestion and other effects of stomach cramps. Make sure you do not have allergic or adverse reactions to antacids.
If you suffer from mild stomach cramps because of exercise, you’re on the right track to the washboard abs you’ve always dreamed of. Cramps may be uncomfortable in the beginning, but with the right exercise and the proper cool-down techniques, those cramps on your abdominal muscles will go away on their own.
One way that you can limit the cramping pain associated with abdominal exercise is to do half-crunches as opposed to full crunches. While full crunches strengthen your abs further, you may risk serious damage to your back. After exercising, you should allow your body to cool down with a mild aerobic workout. Cool-downs help your muscles re-absorb the lactic acid buildup associated with cramps. (Tips on how to cool down after exercising)
Use a Heating Pad
If you suffer from stomach cramps when you’re menstruating, then it helps to keep a heating pad or a hot-water bottle placed at your back. Do not place the heating pad directly on your stomach, because it may cause dizziness and nausea. Instead, wrap the heating pad or the hot-water bottle in a thin towel and place it on your back.
Another way to relieve painful stomach cramps is to use a topical pain reliever like liniment or menthol rubs. The soothing effect of menthol and other medicated oils can reach your cramped muscles and relax them. Make sure that you do not have any skin allergies to menthol and other essential oils.
Take a Painkiller
Another quick fix for stomach cramps is to take a painkiller, especially if the pain in your stomach is too much to bear. Painkillers may have contraindications and side-effects that may cause or aggravate stomach cramps. You should consult your doctor first or read the details of the medicine before taking it. Painkillers may also cause indigestion, especially mefenamic acid, aspirin, or other acidic painkillers that heighten stomach acid levels.
See a Doctor
Like any mild illness, sometimes a stomach cramp may be a sign of a more serious illness, like food poisoning or internal bleeding. Vomiting associated with stomach cramps may dehydrate you and cause more problems than a simple cramp.
When you find that you can’t stand the stabbing pain in your stomach, or if the cramps are accompanied by uncontrollable diarrhea or vomiting, you need to see a doctor. He or she may be able to prescribe a treatment or advise a hospital stay until such time that there’s proper treatment available.
Like any disease, stomach cramps range from simple stiffness to major gut-wrenching pain. With the right diet, the right amount of food, and the right treatment, even the most serious stomach cramps can easily be controlled. Without stomach cramps, eating, drinking, and merriment are made much easier and much more enjoyable. If you enjoyed reading this article, you’ll surely enjoy learning how to get rid of stomach aches.
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