Everyone experiences stomach discomfort from time to time. However, if you frequently feel unwell after eating, you may have a sensitive stomach.
A sensitive stomach can cause unpleasant symptoms such as bloating, abdominal pain, or diarrhea after eating.
This article discusses the causes of a sensitive stomach and how to resolve your digestive issues.
Signs and symptoms of a sensitive stomach include:
Symptoms can be managed at home without medical treatment. However, if you experience severe symptoms such as bloody stools, hives, itching, severe diarrhea, or fever, contact your healthcare provider right away. These symptoms may indicate an allergic reaction, food poisoning, or another serious health condition.
People with sensitive stomachs often notice their symptoms worsen after consuming dairy, fried foods, ultra-processed foods, or spicy foods. Lack of fiber in the diet and dehydration can also cause abnormal bowel movements and an upset stomach.
There are a few potential causes of a sensitive stomach.
Food intolerances occur when a person has difficulty digesting certain foods. Unlike a food allergy, food intolerance is not life-threatening. There is no cure for food intolerances. However, some people with a dairy intolerance may be able to take the digestive enzyme lactase to help them digest lactose, the sugar found in milk and dairy.
IBS and IBD
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) can also be the reason for a sensitive stomach. Although symptoms of a sensitive stomach and IBS overlap, the hallmark symptom of IBS is altered bowel habits associated with abdominal pain. Pain may be triggered by consuming certain foods, stress, constipation, or diarrhea.
Some people with IBS may have an increased pain sensation when normal amounts of stool or gas are in their intestines. Abdominal contractions may also cause food to move too fast or too slowly through the digestive tract causing constipation or diarrhea.
Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) symptoms are similar to IBS, but they are more severe. IBD is characterized by chronic inflammation in the digestive tract that can result in permanent intestinal damage. Unlike IBS, IBD can be seen on diagnostic imaging. It often requires prescription medications or surgery to treat.
There are several other conditions that could cause a sensitive stomach. These include:
IBS is the most common diagnosis among gastroenterologists. It is more common among women than men.
How to Soothe Your Stomach
If you suffer from a sensitive stomach, there are some natural remedies you can try to help alleviate symptoms.
Eliminate Trigger Foods
If you notice a particular food always causes discomfort, you may find it helpful to remove it from your diet. Consider keeping a food diary to record what foods you are eating, your symptoms, and other factors that may affect your symptoms, such as stress.
An elimination diet may also be beneficial to help you pinpoint foods that you’re sensitive to. It involves removing potential food triggers from your diet for a short period and gradually reintroducing each to identify which food is causing your symptoms.
Common trigger foods that may irritate a sensitive stomach include:
- Spicy foods
- Tomato sauce and citrus fruits
- Fried foods
- High-fat foods
- Processed foods
- Gluten (wheat, rye, or barley)
- Artificial sweeteners
Elimination diets can be very restrictive. Work with a registered dietitian to ensure your vitamin and mineral needs are met before starting an elimination diet.
Consume a Balanced Diet
Aim to eat a well-balanced diet that includes fresh fruits and vegetables, lean protein, and fiber-rich whole grains. This will ensure you get a wide range of nutrients to support your overall health.
Although fiber benefits your digestive health, if you have a sensitive stomach you may experience bloating or gas after consuming too much fiber. Your healthcare provider or dietitian may ask you to limit fiber in your diet or temporarily avoid high-fiber foods to see if symptoms improve.
Drink Enough Water
Inadequate fluid intake is one of the most common causes of constipation. Dehydration can cause your body to draw out water from your stool. This can result in hard stools that are difficult to pass.
To increase your water intake and keep your stool soft, consider keeping a water bottle nearby and sipping on it throughout the day.
Limit Caffeine and Alcohol
Too much caffeine can cause an upset stomach by stimulating muscle contractions in your gastrointestinal tract. This can lead to diarrhea and worsen conditions such as IBS and IBD.
Drinking alcohol in excess can also irritate your stomach and cause swelling and inflammation of the stomach lining. If you consume high amounts of caffeine or alcohol, consider limiting your intake to see if you notice symptom improvement.
Best Foods for a Sensitive Stomach
Bland foods are often helpful to soothe a sensitive stomach. Foods that can help calm your stomach include:
- Fermented foods
- Whole grains
- Cooked fruits and vegetables
- Lean cuts of meat
Food sensitivities or intolerances can cause a sensitive stomach. It may be caused by medical conditions such as IBS or IBD in some situations. Foods that tend to upset a sensitive stomach include spicy foods, high-fat foods, dairy, and processed foods. The best way to manage symptoms is by staying hydrated, eating a well-balanced diet, limiting caffeine and alcohol, and removing trigger foods from your diet.
A Word From Verywell
While a sensitive stomach is complex, many people can manage their symptoms by making diet and lifestyle changes. However, a sensitive stomach may be caused by another health condition. If you experience severe symptoms that do not improve with at-home treatments, make an appointment with your healthcare provider for further evaluation.
Frequently Asked Questions
How long is too long to be constipated?
Generally, if it’s been over three days since you’ve had a bowel movement, you may consider at-home treatment options to help you go.
Can a sensitive stomach cause diarrhea?
A person with a sensitive stomach may experience diarrhea, constipation, abdominal pain, or gas after eating trigger foods.
How do you strengthen a weak stomach?
Eating a well-balanced diet with adequate fiber, reducing emotional stress, and limiting foods that cause discomfort can help strengthen your digestive system.