Canceling your plans to sit on the toilet is basically…the worst. Especially when you’re not sure whether you should chug ginger ale, head straight to the ER, or just get comfy on your throne and let nature, um, run its course.
Well, your plan of attack will depend on what you’re dealing with: diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, a period from hell, etc. You get it, but in case you need a reminder, here are some common symptoms of stomach aches, which can occur whenever there’s irritation of the stomach lining, says Henry Herrera, MD, a gastroenterologist at DHR Health Gastroenterology in Texas.
- Abdominal pain
- Excessive belching
- Excessive flatulence
- Loss of appetite
While a painful tummy may have you reaching for the nearest remedy ASAP, it’s important to rule out things that won’t work. There’s a lot of misinformation out there on how to treat a stomach ache.
That bottle of ginger ale, for instance? You may want to skip it and opt for some ginger tea instead. Ginger ale can actually make stomach pain worse thanks to its bubbles and sugar, which can feed the bad bacteria making you sick. Lemon water? Yeah, skip that too. “Keep in mind that acidic foods also tend to be associated with increases in reflux symptoms,” says Dr. Herrera.
If you’re feeling a rumble down below and aren’t sure how to *properly* get rid of your stomach ache, opt for one of these remedies.
1 Give it time
Mild stomaches can go away on their own if you just give them some time. But waiting it out can also be useful when you’re dealing with crazy diarrhea, which could be a symptom of mild food poisoning.
While this can totally strike at your neighborhood sushi joint, it’s also super-common while traveling overseas. That’s because your body has to adjust to the new bacteria in the food and water you’re consuming while away from home.
Unfortunately, the cure is just giving it time. “You need to let your body flush itself of the toxins,” says Amit Bhan, MD, a gastroenterologist at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit.
If diarrhea strikes at a super-inconvenient time, or if it’s so frequent that it keeps you from sleeping, Dr. Bhan recommends knocking back some Pepto-Bismol. The pink liquid will attack the diarrhea-causing bacteria in your system so you can sleep and function during the day. You can also take imodium, which works by slowing down the speed at which fluids move through your intestines.
2 Try over-the-counter medicine
Gas is caused by two things: eating gas-forming foods such as green vegetables, fruits with peels on them, carbonated beverages, cabbage, and beans; or by swallowing air, says Michael Wolfe, MD, chief of gastroenterology at Boston University’s School of Medicine. “People [take in extra air] when they drink with straws, talk with their mouths full, eat too fast, or when they’re nervous,” Dr. Wolfe says.
If you have a gas problem, take an over-the-counter anti-gas drug like Mylanta Gas.
Beano, Dr. Wolfe says, is another good product, especially if veggies aren’t friendly to your system—it works by breaking down raffinose, a sugar byproduct in plants that can be a bugger for many people to digest.
3 Pop ibuprofen
Sure, you expect cramps around the time of your period, but nausea, upset stomach, and diarrhea? Not cool.
Nancy Cossler, MD, an obstetrician and gynecologist at University Hospital’s Case Medical Center in Cleveland, Ohio, says it’s pretty normal for your whole abdominal region to go haywire around the time you’re menstruating.
“Hormones cause contractions of the uterine muscle, which causes cramping,” she says. “It’s completely normal if your stomach cramps, causing an upset stomach or diarrhea [around your period].”
To ease cramps and lessen bleeding, take an ibuprofen 12 to 24 hours before you’re expecting your period, Dr. Cossler says. Then take the prescribed amount every three to six hours for three days.
4 Eat yogurt
If you deal with constant stomach issues like bloating, yogurt can help keep your digestive system in tip-top shape.
Though annoying, bloating is not a huge cause for alarm. “Don’t be too worried,” says David C. Metz, MD, a professor of medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. “Anything from menstruation to constipation can cause it.”
Try to stay away from salt, since it makes you retain water, and avoid foods that cause gas—such as beans, broccoli, and cauliflower. As long as you’ve ruled out lactose intolerance, try eating yogurt with “live and active cultures” (look for this phrase on the label), which can help regulate your digestive system.
5 Drink milk
Sometimes stomach aches can cause other pains, like heartburn, an irritation of the esophagus that feels like a burning or tightness from stomach contents that are forced back up into the esophagus.
At at-home remedy: milk. “When I have heartburn, I drink a glass of milk,” says Jeffry A. Katz, MD, a gastroenterologist at University Hospitals Case Medical Center in Cleveland. “Milk neutralizes the acid produced by the stomach,” he says.
6 Avoid spicy foods
Eating spicy foods before bed is a common culprit of acid reflux, as is eating too much or too fast, smoking, and imbibing heavily. But sometimes nearly anything can make you feel the burn.
“This condition often hits at night, when you’re in the lying-down position,” says Minh Nguyen, MD, of Fox Chase Cancer Center in Philadelphia. Acid travels from the stomach to the esophagus and throat, often causing heartburn, or a sore throat and bouts of coughing.
Nguyen recommends a prescription medicine or an over-the-counter antacid like Prilosec. But if you don’t want to rely on drugs, cut back on the known provocateurs.
7 Have some ginger
A simple cure may be waiting for you in your spice rack: Ginger root has a long history of being used successfully as a cure for an upset stomach. The reason ginger works so well for digestion has never been precisely identified, but some say it speeds up the pace at which food moves into the small intestine from the stomach.
“[When] I’ve eaten too much and feel nauseated, I’ll have ginger tea to soothe my stomach,” says Charlene Prather, MD, an associate professor of gastroenterology at Saint Louis University School of Medicine. “It’s really easy to make—I just grate fresh ginger in water and add a little honey and it takes care of it,” she says.
8 Cut out fast food and eat more slowly
There’s no sugar-coating this one: If you feel pain after eating, you likely ate too fast, too much, or the wrong thing.
The quick fix: Cut out fast food, and eat more slowly. If you’re not a junk-food junkie and are still feeling pain after a meal, it’s unlikely, but you could have gallbladder disease. “Women more often than men get it, and some get gallstones for no reason,” says Francisco Marrero, MD, a gastroenterologist at the Cleveland Clinic. See your doctor rule it out.
9 Increase your fiber intake
One of the biggest stomach myths is that you have to go number two-three times a day to have healthy bowels.
The truth? Everybody poops, but not with the same frequency. Still, constipation is very common in women, says Irwin Grosman, MD, gastroenterology chief at Long Island College Hospital in Brooklyn. “There’s a theory that there’s a hormonal difference between men and women and [that] women take longer to digest and eliminate food.”
If you don’t go every day, don’t sweat it. But if you’re experiencing other symptoms of constipation, such as bloating or gas, the simplest thing you can do is increase your fiber intake. Eat more fruits and vegetables, whole grains and beans, and kick-start your day with a high-fiber cereal.
Tenth Get more exercise
Inactivity can sometimes cause constipation too. Aim for 30 minutes of exercise per day and keep yourself hydrated. If all that doesn’t keep things moving, try a gentle over-the-counter fiber supplement like Metamucil.