Stomach pain usually results from something you ate or stomach flu. Still, if you do not have any symptoms associated with these conditions and continue to experience stomach pain, it could be an outcome of anxiety. A great deal of stress can lead to tension that can tire out the abdominal muscles and cause a feeling of discomfort. If you are going through a stressful time in your personal or work life and believe your persistently recurring stomach pain results from anxiety, seek medical attention before it turns serious. The experienced and board-certified gastroenterologists at Manhattan Gastroenterology determine what may be causing your anxiety stomach pain and how to stop it. The top-rated gastric doctors work closely with you to find out what triggers anxiety-related stomach pain and come up with the best solutions to help you live a better quality of life, free of anxiety, stress, and pain.

Can Anxiety and Stress Cause Stomach Pain?

Anxiety is a complex disorder. It can have a profound and lasting effect on your body. It can put unnecessary stress on the body that can lead to several issues in the long run if you fail to control anxiety or address its triggers. One of the most commonly experienced problems resulting from anxiety is stomach pain.

Stomach cramping, pain, and intestinal discomfort that are hard to explain are the most frequently experienced symptoms of persistent anxiety.

Some stress-related symptoms and conditions include:

Stress and anxiety are significant contributors to various health conditions, mainly stomach issues. A gastroenterologist can determine if your stomach pain or GI symptoms are related to stress or other medical conditions that require different treatment.

Diagnosing Anxiety-Related Stomach Pain

It often becomes challenging for healthcare professionals to diagnose stomach pain or anxiety-related discomfort. It is because cramps and indigestion are physical responses. The same type of responses from your body would occur if you suffered from some physical or organic health issue.

If your stomach pain is severe or accompanied by fever or other symptoms, you should visit a doctor as it may be a sign of some medical disorder. Anxiety can cause stomach pain in a way that can result in indigestion and other problems.

Anxiety-Related Stomach Issues – How They Can Result in Pain

Anxiety can cause several problems that can lead to pain or discomfort in the abdomen.

Anxiety can result in the following types of stomach pain:

  • Abdominal tension – Stress can cause great tension in the abdominal region. This tension can tire out abdominal muscles and lead to a recurring feeling of discomfort.
  • Indigestion – Stress and anxiety can affect hormone levels, and hormones play a crucial role in digestion. If you are stressed out, it can result in abdominal imbalance that results in indigestion and accompanying symptoms such as bloating, intestinal pain, and others.
  • Irritable Bowel Syndrome – Anxiety is one of the most likely causes of irritable bowel syndrome, popularly known as IBS. The body’s digestive system functions poorly without any definite underlying cause. The disturbed digestive system function can result in altered bowel movement and abdominal uneasiness.

Research shows that anxiety releases a stress hormone called cortisol, which causes the body to produce excess stomach acid. This acid can irritate the esophagus lining and lead to stomach pain, nausea and vomiting, and in severe cases, ulcers triggered by stress. These are some ways anxiety can cause pain and strange stomach sensations that affect your overall wellbeing.

Can Stress Cause Stomach Pain?

Even though they are technically different conditions, stress and anxiety are closely related. You may experience a significant amount of stress without experiencing anxiety. However, the causes of stomach pain which results from tension are the same as the feelings you experience when you go through anxiety.

Muscle tension and digestive issues are some of the problems that result from stressful conditions and lead to stomach pain.

Tips for Reducing Stress and Anxiety

Stress and anxiety are a normal part of life, and sometimes it is impossible to avoid them. The good news is there are tips for managing stress to reduce its impact on your digestive and overall health.

Top tips for reducing stress and anxiety include:

  • Take short breaks and take deep breaths. When taken the right way and with focus, it can help. After every few hours, stop what you are doing and do one minute of slow, deep breathing, and you will see how it calms you down. Breathe slowly, silently through the nose, and push your stomach out when you inhale and let it deflate as you exhale.
  • Learn to say no. Trying to do everything and pleasing everyone all the time is a recipe for stress and long-term mental suffering. Understand yourself and only do what you can easily with a peaceful mind and avoid doing what you cannot do.
  • Exercise and yoga are great ways to reduce stress and feel better, even if they are done only for a few minutes each day. When you exercise, the body releases chemicals called endorphins that interact with receptors in your brain and trigger a positive feeling in your body.
  • Instead of worrying over things you cannot control or seem to cope with, focus on ways that help you respond to problems. Your reaction is your choice, including how you deal with the stomach pain and control the anxiety. Stressing over your condition or thinking about stomach pain all the time will aggravate it further.
  • Seek professional help if you cannot handle the stress on your own. Consulting an experienced therapist, particularly someone specializing in anxiety, will help you control behaviors and relax your mind and body.

Understanding what you are going through and finding the best solutions that work for you can reduce anxiety and related tummy troubles to a great extent.

How Do You Know It Is Anxiety and Not an Ulcer Causing the Pain?

Anxiety Stomach Pain Cramps
Anxiety Stomach Pain Cramps

If you suffer from stomach pain frequently without apparent reasons, it may be ulcers causing the distressing symptoms. For some people, instead of anxiety, it is ulcers that result in pain and an upset stomach after eating.

Only a qualified and trained doctor can diagnose if your pain is coming from an ulcer as some clues point towards it. The clearest signal is the presence of blood in your stool or acid burps if you also suffer from acid reflux. Also, if the pain or discomfort usually occurs after eating and is unrelated to a similar condition such as heartburn or acid reflux, it may be something other than anxiety. These symptoms indicate an ulcer.

Sometimes things become more complicated as ulcers are stimulated by long-term stress and anxiety that lead to the overproduction of stomach acid. The harsh stomach acid can break down the gastric or intestinal lining and cause open wounds that may affect your overall health and wellbeing.

Stomach Pain and Long-Term Health

Stomach pain is unsuitable for long-term health, whether it results from anxiety or ulcers. Due to the extra acid in the stomach and the changes it brings in the way the body processes nutrients, stomach pain can be a big problem if you do not seek timely treatment.

Ulcers are just one of the many problems that can cause stomach pain. Many people experience heartburn from anxiety and eat less often, and because of this, their bodies do not get the required nutrients. Stomach pain that results from anxiety or stress occasionally is not dangerous. But, if it persists, it is necessary to treat it as it can affect your overall health in the long run. It becomes hard to manage if left untreated for a long time, leading to further complications.

When Is Stomach Pain Most Likely to Occur?

Stomach pain can occur any time if you suffer from anxiety, even when there is no such thing.
However, many people experience the pain during panic attacks.

Health experts were unable to find the exact link between an anxiety attack and stomach pain, other than the fact that during a panic attack, the body is under extreme stress, and the hormones are on overdrive. Also, people with anxiety attacks are more vulnerable to hyperventilation, which leads to symptoms close to abdominal muscle tension and stomach pain.

How to Stop Anxiety Stomach Pain?

Anxiety-related stomach pain usually does not result from something you ate or poor lifestyle choices, even though these factors may increase the risk of anxiety in many circumstances. There are no specific dietary changes that can stop anxiety-induced stomach issues.

It is essential to understand that people with panic attacks are more prone to experiencing severe stomach discomfort even when they do not suffer from anxiety. Simply put, it is possible to have stomach pain even without a panic attack. Also, people with anxiety attacks and severe stress could be suffering from over-sensitization. It means they are more likely to notice and feel smaller, even regular changes in the body that can trigger anxiety attacks.

If your diet contains foods that cause gas, bloating, stomach discomfort, or mild indigestion, it is best to avoid them, as even slight discomfort can worsen the feelings and may trigger a panic attack. Eating healthy is very important for people who experience stomach pain with anxiety.

Your diet should consist of:

  • Fruits
  • Vegetables
  • Water and fresh juices
  • Whole-grain carbohydrates

If you suffer from stress-related hyperacidity, you must increase your intake of dairy products and non-spicy foods to soothe your stomach. Over-the-counter antacids can also help keep your acidity and other symptoms down in severe cases. It would be best if you avoided overeating or eating till you are too full, as the nervous system may interpret the feeling of fullness as pain, and it could trigger a panic attack and further pain.

Other Symptoms Associated with Anxiety Stomach Pain

What makes anxiety-related stomach pain so complicated is that it can change sensations in the body. While for many, feeling full is nothing wrong, for others, it can cause many other symptoms, including:

  • Feeling of lightheadedness
  • Stomach discomfort
  • Fatigue

For people without anxiety, these symptoms are natural, but for those suffering from anxiety, these sensations can be severe and trigger a full-blown panic attack.

How to Relieve Stomach Pain

There is no cure for anxiety stomach pain symptoms. You can only relieve pain by taking care of the problem that is causing the discomforting sensations. When the body is under stress, the stomach hurts due to excessive production of stomach acid or the inability to digest the food you consumed. If you have stomach pain associated with anxiety, waiting for the attack to pass can relieve the symptoms.

Sipping cool water can help in this condition. Antacids may also relieve stomach pain, but if you experience stomach pain frequently, consult a healthcare provider who will take a detailed look at the causes of stomach pain and recommend the best course for treatment.

If your stomach pain is from recurring panic or anxiety attacks, the doctor may suggest counseling or therapies to relieve stress and its resulting symptoms. For some people, diagnosing the source of anxiety and learning ways to control it can eliminate the painful symptoms.

Do not let anxiety-related stomach pain affect your home and work life and keep you from activities and foods you love. Consult the top gastro doctors at Manhattan Gastroenterology to learn what could be triggering your anxiety and how it leads to stomach discomfort. The gastrointestinal specialists focus on your medical history and ask about your symptoms, their frequency, and the level of pain you experience to develop the best treatment plans to help you feel better. They recommend therapies to alleviate your stress, lifestyle changes, and medications to relieve the painful anxiety symptoms and ensure you are on the road to a speedy recovery.

Updated on Sep 1, 2023 by Dr. Shawn Khodadadian (Gastroenterologist) of Manhattan Gastroenterology