An introduction to IBS and stomach pain
Stomach cramps, or more specifically abdominal pain which includes the stomach, small and large intestines, is a very common symptom of the Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS).
Abdominal pain experienced with IBS is often described as cramping or spasms but may also make an appearance as more severe, short, stabbing pains. The pain may be relatively short lived or last for 10 or 15 minutes and is often more intense after eating or during the night. However, the pattern very much varies from person to person.
Why does IBS cause stomach cramps?
Pain in the stomach may be the result of indigestion which is a common symptom of IBS.
With IBS, the pain more commonly arises lower down and as a result of a change in the gut environment. This may be a physical change:
- Through distension of the gut wall in the case of excess gas being produced, for example in the event of a food intolerance flare up
- In the event of constipation as contractions moving through the gut have slowed and the gut was has been distended with waste material
- The gut is contracting faster than normal causing a cramping sensation as seen in diarrhoea.
However, a chemical change may be the cause of the pain, for example, when we eat processed foods which contain additives. Some people are more sensitive to these chemicals and the body overreacts. Keeping a food diary is often a good idea if this is the case to determine if certain foods or ingredients are acting as triggers.
As chemical and physical factors may both be involved, it is often hard to determine the exact cause of the pain. Pain with IBS is often dispersed with the passing of wind, flatulence, or the opening of the bowels.
If the pain becomes more severe, is accompanied by fresh blood or blood is present in the stools, then it could suggest that it is being produced as a result of inflammation. This could imply that the cause of any pain or discomfort might be IBD rather than IBS. If you want to learn more about IBD then visit our [IBS or IBD] page to find out more.
What can I try at home for stomach pain?
Depending on the cause of the pain there may be a few simple methods you can try to reduce stomach pain resulting from IBS:
- Experiment with your diet and make a list: Take a note of any flare-ups you experience and what might be causing them. If a specific food or environmental trigger seems to be consistently causing a reaction try cutting it out to see if it makes a difference
- Exercise: This diverts blood to your muscles, taking the pressure and attention off your gut allowing it to restore calm and stabilise. If there is any trapped wind causing bloating and pain, exercise may also help to dislodge it
- Relax and drink herbal tea: Relaxing and taking your mind off the pain may help and adding a cup of peppermint or ginger tea which has anti-spasmodic qualities which may help to settle a distressed tummy.
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How can herbal remedies help me?
There are some herbal remedies which may help to settle a painful stomach.
- Digestisan: Give Digestisan a try if symptoms arise from the first part of the gut. This is a herbal complex continaining herbs known as stomach bitters which support the initial stages of digestion. It is traditionally used for symptoms such as bloating and indigestion
- Silicol gel: For pain lower down the digestive tract, use a supplement containing silicic acid such as Silicol gel. This acts as a protective barrier for the digestive tract, soothing and calming the walls of the intestine. Silicic acid can bind any toxins or excess gas that may be causing discomfort or pain.
How can my doctor help?
If home and herbal remedies fail to give you the help you need, a trip to your doctor may be required.
There are other causes of recurring stomach pain so it is always best to get your symptoms checked out. Medication for indigestion such as antacids, H2 blockers or proton pump inhibitors (eg. omeprazole) may be prescribed if indigestion is the main issue.
Please be aware of any side effects on these medicines - read our blog Hard to Stomach to find out more. Anti-spasmodics, anti-diarrhoeal or laxatives may also be needed depending on the IBS symptoms experienced.