A nervous stomach is one example of how a person's emotions can affect their body. Doctors may refer to a nervous stomach if a person is having symptoms, such as nausea or bloating, that are unrelated to any gastrointestinal condition.
In this article, learn about the causes, symptoms, and treatments of a nervous stomach, as well as how to prevent it happening again.
A nervous stomach can mirror the symptoms of some gastrointestinal (GI) disorders. These include conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), Crohn's disease, ulcerative colitis, or gastroenteritis, which is a bacterial or viral-related stomach infection.
Symptoms associated with nervous stomach include:
- delayed gastric emptying
Children also commonly experience symptoms of a nervous stomach. They may describe their symptoms differently than adults. They may refuse to go to school or frequently report stomach pain without presenting any other signs of an infection.
The GI system has its own nervous system called the enteric nervous system. Nerve endings in the stomach are designed to respond to stress hormones transmitted from the brain. This is part of the "fight-or-flight" response, which causes stress hormones to signal the stomach to slow down so that more blood can pump to the heart, lungs, and muscles.
People can experience high levels of stress on a regular basis, which can mimic those of a "fight-or-flight" response. Some stress-related triggers of a nervous stomach include:
- an upcoming event, such as a test or presentation
- financial problems
- relationship or family problems
- changes at work
- the death of a loved one
- chronic illness
A nervous stomach can give someone "butterflies" in their stomach, or even make a person feel as if they need to vomit.
Sometimes, people call irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) a nervous stomach. Other names for IBS include spastic colon or irritable colon.
However, a person can have a nervous stomach without having IBS. This is because IBS symptoms occur consistently for at least 3 months and often improve with dietary and lifestyle changes.
A doctor can begin to treat a nervous stomach by identifying the stress triggers in a person's life. Some of the potential triggers that a person might need to address to reduce their symptoms include school, job, work, family, or relationships.
Examples of treatments for nervous stomach include:
- Therapy: Seeing a psychiatrist or therapist may help a person make changes to reduce the stress in their lives. No one can eliminate stress entirely, but a therapist can also help a person identify ways to better cope with stress when they do experience it.
- Medications: In some instances, a person may need to take medicine to reduce their anxiety and stress levels. Treating anxiety and depression may also help to reduce the incidence of nervous stomach.
- Meditation: Meditation can reduce anxiety and stress by enhancing a person's focus and mindfulness. Meditating involves sitting or lying down in a quiet room and focusing on one's breathing. Some people may choose to repeat a mantra to help them focus their energy and relieve stress. Taking even 10 to 15 minutes a day for meditation can help a person reduce their nervous stomach symptoms.
- Foods: Avoid foods that can worsen a nervous stomach. Examples of these include dairy products and caffeinated beverages, such as coffee, chocolate, soda, and tea.
- Stress-relieving activities. Engaging in activities that help reduce stress, such as exercising, journaling, reading, listening to music, or talking to friends, can help. Sometimes a person may also find they can relieve stress by reducing the number of commitments in their daily schedule.
- Use natural remedies. These include ginger, which can be sipped as a tea, chewed on as a root, or taken as a supplement. Drinking peppermint tea or smelling peppermint oil may also reduce nervous stomach symptoms.
A doctor can also recommend specific treatments according to a person's individual health history.
A nervous stomach can cause symptoms that are similar to chronic GI disorders. If a person experiences these symptoms on a regular basis, a doctor may diagnose the person with IBS.
Treating any underlying stressors may help reduce the incidence of nervous stomach, alleviate symptoms, and improve a person's quality of life.