The word “spasm” stands for any involuntary contraction of a muscle. So a stomach spasm is basically when your stomach cramps up very suddenly.
Although the muscles in your stomach are not voluntary ones, they’re still subject to cramps.
But what exactly causes it? While there are many potential reasons for this, gastrointestinal issues are among the top culprits.
When your stomach starts cramping, it can really put a halt to your day. So it’s in your best interest to get to the bottom of it as soon as possible.
In this article, we’re going to talk about some of the main reasons why your stomach is cramping (and what you can do about it).
Signs of Symptoms of a Stomach Spasm
A spasm can be extremely painful, ranging from a mild cramp all the way to a sharp or burning pain.
They also tend to be sporadic, meaning, there’s no way to know when they’re about to come. A stomach spasm usually doesn’t act alone.
Oftentimes, it’s associated with a few other symptoms (which may be able to help you narrow down the potential causes):
- A sense of fullness in the stomach
- Bleeding in the stool
- Changes in appetite
- Abdominal distention
- Orange diarrhea
You may or may not be experiencing these additional symptoms. If you are, and they’re persistent, we highly recommend talking with a doctor.
He or she will be able to conduct a more thorough investigation of your body to rule out any serious diseases.
What Can Cause This Symptom?
The body is an infinitely complex machine that we don’t fully understand yet. However, we do know that muscles in the stomach play a big role in digesting your food.
One way it does this is through chemical digestion, or stomach acid. Another way it digests food is via mechanical digestion, helping push food through the digestive tract.
A stomach spasm happens when the muscles of the stomach suddenly contract very strongly. This could be caused by the muscle itself becoming damaged.
Another possible reason for abdominal cramps is that the stomach muscles have been overstretched. The latter can lead to something called a “Rebound Spasm”.
Before moving on, here’s a simplified illustration of how food moves through your digestive tract:
Reason #1: Hunger Pangs
Whenever you don’t eat for an extended period of time, you might experience hunger pangs.
If you’re feeling hungry and don’t eat, your stomach may begin to cramp up (sometimes causing pain). Pain caused by hunger pangs tend to be worse in people with peptic ulcers.
To sooth a stomach spasm caused by hunger pangs is quite simple: eat something. While hunger pangs won’t kill you, they can be uncomfortable.
Believe it or not, hunger pangs don’t originate in the stomach- they begin in the brain. This is your body’s way of telling you to get more food.
A great way to fend off hunger pangs is to eat low glycemic index foods. Foods with a high GI can cause insulin spikes, causing tiredness and lightheartedness.
Reason #2: Ulcers
As the lining of stomach erodes, ulcers- which are open sores- can form. It’s a common condition that can be very painful.
Whenever you eat or drink something, it’s possible to irritate these ulcers, which can lead to a stomach spasm.
The origins of stomach ulcers are extensive, so it’s recommended that you speak with your doctor for a clear answer.
The majority of ulcers are caused by the bacteria H. pylori. It can be killed off with antibiotics from your doctor.
Reason #3: Irritation
While the lining of your stomach is tough, it’s not invincible. If you continually consume things like alcohol or drugs, it can irritate the lining of the stomach (leading to pain).
“Gastritis” is the official medical term used to describe the inflammation of the stomach.
If you take anti-inflammatory drugs in excess, or if you develop an H. pylori infection, you may develop a stomach spasm.
It’s also possible for gastritis to be caused by diseases like sarcoidosis or Crohn’s disease, as well as autoimmune problems.
If you get stomach cramps a lot, it’s recommended that you ease off the alcohol for a while (at least until your symptoms go away).
Reason #4: Infections
H. pylori isn’t the only microorganism that can cause an infection in your stomach. There are a wide range of others that can cause an infection as well.
These include several viruses and bacteria (and even protozoa). Food poisoning affects a large percentage of people around the world and is caused by a bacterium.
Keep in mind that infections can lead to both peptic ulcers and gastritis, both of which can cause you to experience a painful stomach spasm.
Note, if you take a proton pump inhibitor for GERD, it can lead to stomach spasms. How? Because the PPI will lower your stomach acid.
Once stomach acid gets too low, bacteria like H. pylori will be able to thrive and cause gastritis.
Reason #5: Trauma
Have you been hit in the abdominal area lately? If so, this could be a reason for your symptoms. Unlike your upper chest, there are no bones lining your abdominal area.
So if you get hit in the abdomen very hard, it could cause you to experience spasms in that region of the body.
If you haven’t had any blows to your abdominal area, then you can most likely rule out trauma as a possible cause for your abdominal/stomach cramps.
How to Treat a Stomach Spasm
Fortunately, many stomach cramps go away on their own without intervention from a doctor.
But in other cases, you will need to seek professional medical care to alleviate your symptoms and attack the source of the problem. Here are some underlying causes of a stomach spasm and their solutions:
- Bacterial Infection: Requires antibiotics.
- Gastritis: Requires acid-suppressing drugs and/or antacids.
- Unknown Cause: Painkillers can sometimes be used for pain relief when the source of the abdominal cramps is unknown.
- Inflammatory Bowel Disease: Requires corticosteroids.
If you’re experiencing painful cramps in the abdominal area, then it’s recommended that you apply cold and then heat therapy.
Follow up by gently massaging that affected area. This may help alleviate some of the discomfort.
Additional Causes to Consider
As we mentioned earlier, there are many potential reasons for why you are experiencing stomach cramps. Although we outlined a few above, let’s take a look at a few more:
- Pregnancy: If you’re pregnant, this could be the cause of cramping in the abdominal area. This is caused because the uterus is changing shape, or because your body is going through drastic hormonal changes. A miscarriage can also cause this type of discomfort.
- Gallstones: When bile is prevented from moving along its normal path, it can cause gallstones to form. This can cause pain that not only shoots up the shoulder, but that also affects the lower abdominal region.
- Constipation: Are you having difficult pooping lately? If so, this could be the main trigger behind your abdominal spasm. A great way to avoid constipation is to eat leafy greens, get more fiber, and exercise more.
- Menstruation: If you’re a woman and it’s around that time of the month, cramping and spasms are a common symptom. Fortunately, this isn’t anything life-threatening and will go away within a few days’ time.
Other more serious reasons for why you’re experiencing cramping in the abdominal area include appendicitis, an obstruction of the digestive tract, fibroids, and ovarian cysts.
Finally, other digestive system diseases like Crohn’s disease, IBS, acid reflux disease, and diverticulitis could be to blame.
It helps to look at the other symptoms associated with your stomach spasm. For example, if you’re experiencing things like fever, nausea, and vomiting, it could very well be a stomach virus causing your symptoms.
Ginger root tea has been known to be an effective treatment for abdominal cramps, so you might want to give that a try.
If the spasms and cramps don’t go away, or are increasing in intensity, then schedule a visit to your doctor as soon as possible.
They’ll be able to review your medical history, analyze your symptoms, and come up with an accurate diagnosis.