What is an upset stomach?
When I was growing up, in my Irish mammy's house, an 'upset tummy' or 'upset stomach' was used as a euphemism for all sorts of ailments. My brother used to say he had an upset tummy while holding his head - it took a while to figure out that it was an earache he was talking about. He was a small boy at the time, with a limited vocabulary.
My mother was simply too polite to ever confess to a galloping case of diarrhoea or a massive wind attack. She didn't want ANY mention of action below the waistline.
An upset stomach can be taken to mean some, any or all of the following troubles. You will see that many of these are not related to the stomach per se, but hey, it's all connected:
- Nausea, a feeling of queasiness as if you are going to vomit.
- Churning which can come in waves.
- Vomiting, throwing up, spewing, puking, heaving or up-chucking.
- There may be belching or a feeling of unpleasant fullness.
- Pain and discomfort in the abdomen, that is anywhere between the bottom of the ribcage and the pelvis.
- The actual stomach is located in a cosy corner, tucked up under your left rib cage. Pain may be felt up here and can sometimes be mistaken for heartburn.
- An 'upset stomach' will more often be experienced as general abdominal pain and cramping.
There may also be
- Acid reflux or a burning feeling in the chest or throat.
- Gurgling noises
Here are a few home remedies that can ease the symptoms of a ‘stomach upset’.
This lovely spice and flavoursome root - is a little wonder. It is known to possess a carminative effect1; which is a fancy way of telling you that it is for good for wind. It can also quell nausea. The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists recommend it to help ease morning sickness2. A cup of ginger tea is good after a meal when you feel unpleasantly stuffed or full of wind. Sip it throughout the day if you are feeling queasy. It may help dyspepsia, indigestion and bloating but its spiciness may not suit everyone. Be careful if you suffer from an acid stomach.
Chamomile3 is a family staple in my house. My son called it 'hot straw' – he was not mad about the taste. I love it and find it very comforting. It is used as a calming herb and may ease cramps and wind. It has been found to help diarrhoea4. It may help an upset stomach that is affected by nerves. One study found chamomile to be effective for mild to moderate anxiety.5
Bicarbonate of soda.
Ever have heartburn but no medication? Your baking cupboard may hold the solution. Half a teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda in 125mls of water may give you fizzy, quick relief. Bicarbonate of soda is a common ingredient in many shop-bought antacids. It is a quick and short-term measure as it neutralises acid quickly. Antacids like this are not a good long-term solution. Its high sodium content will not suit you if you have a heart condition. Please do not take this with carbonated drinks!
A glass of water.
Dehydration puts the digestive system under pressure. Vomiting and diarrhoea flushes a lot of fluid from the body. Dehydration can happen easily and quickly. Crimpled lips are a good giveaway. If wee looks darker than a pale yellow, that's another indication. Go get that water. Sip it slowly and at regular intervals if vomiting. Warm water may be easier for you to take than cold.
|A newborn - those soft and tender bundles - are 75% water. An old person is a, somewhat desiccated sample, at only 50% water. This water is stored in our muscles, keeping them flexible. Dehydration will cause muscle pain and stiffness, as muscle fibres lose water - like beef jerkies!
Water is needed to carry all the food, digestive secretions and waste products from the mouth to where to needs to go. Much of our water is absorbed from the intestines and the colon. It acts as a lubricant for the intestines. Waste product like faeces (poo) can become hard and difficult to eject without sufficient water. Poo build-up (constipation) creates gas, which can cause painful bloating and trapped wind.
If taken with a meal, water can dilute digestive secretions, and absorb more slowly. This may slow down the rate of digestion too. Water taken between mealtimes will absorb quickly. This is better. Leave at least 30 minutes between food and drink.
A hot water bottle.
An archaic device, beloved of grannies, that brings comfort and warmth. Warmth helps muscles to relax, so can ease the pain of muscle spasm. Belly ache is comforted by hot water bottle cuddling. A cat may suffice too - if they will cooperate. Or a soak in a hot tub.
Mint tea is delicious and so refreshing. Mojito flavour! There are many varieties, including peppermint and spearmint. Herbalists use these to ease digestive muscle spasm. It can be useful when there is any cramping or trapped wind. Peppermint oil is often recommended to relieve the symptoms of IBS6.
Fennel seed is eaten in India after meals to aid digestion. These seeds taste like aniseed or liquorice. Nice and crunchy. Fennel tea is often given to colicky babies to help with pain and trapped wind7, 8.
I found out embarrassingly late that prunes were dehydrated plums – who knew! They are an excellent remedy for those who suffer from constipation9. Prunes contain water-soluble fibre, polyphenols and sorbitol. This combination is ideal for softening hard stools and provides a mild laxative action. Soaking them before use make them nice and juicy.
Here's a little more reading about prunes - Prune juice and constipation.
Everyone has a default comfort food when ill. Ours was marmite toast soldiers with milky tea. Others may prefer oats or rice dishes. During illness, the digestive system may be tender and easily irritated. Simple, bland foods are the best to eat, like dry crackers. Starches in complex carbohydrates may help to bulk up any loose stool. It is better to avoid very sugary foods or fizzy drinks, they may worsen diarrhoea and wind. Avoid heavily-flavoured or spicy food.