Doctors may use the terms “nervous stomach” or “anxiety stomach” to refer to symptoms such as nausea, bloating, and pain that are unrelated to any gastrointestinal (GI) conditions.

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A nervous stomach is one example of how a person’s emotions can affect their body. The treatments for a nervous stomach often include techniques to reduce anxiety, stress, and tension.

In this article, learn about the causes, symptoms, and treatments of a nervous stomach, as well as how to prevent it from happening again.

A nervous stomach can mirror the symptoms of some GI disorders. These include conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, and gastroenteritis, which is a bacterial or viral stomach infection.

The symptoms of a nervous stomach can include:

  • cramps
  • changes in appetite
  • diarrhea
  • indigestion
  • nausea
  • constipation

Children can often 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 tract has its own nervous system called the enteric nervous system. Nerve endings in the stomach respond to stress hormones that the brain releases. 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 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
  • divorce
  • changes at work
  • moving home
  • the death of a loved one
  • chronic illness

A nervous stomach can give someone “butterflies” in their stomach or even make them feel as though they need to vomit.

Sometimes, people refer to IBS as a nervous stomach. However, a person can have a nervous stomach without having IBS. A diagnosis of IBS requires symptoms to occur consistently for at least 3 months. IBS symptoms also often improve with dietary and lifestyle changes.

Although it may be possible to treat the symptoms of a nervous stomach at home, some people may prefer to speak with a healthcare professional.

Some of the potential triggers that a person might need to address to reduce their symptoms include pressures relating to school, work, family, or relationships.

Examples of treatments for a nervous stomach include:

  • Therapy: Seeing a psychiatrist or therapist may help a person make changes to reduce the stress in their life. No one can eliminate stress, but a therapist can help a person identify ways to cope better when they do experience it.
  • Medications: In some instances, a person may need to take medication to reduce their anxiety and stress levels. Treating anxiety and depression may also help 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 the breath. Some people may choose to repeat a mantra to help them focus their energy and relieve stress. Taking even 10–15 minutes a day for meditation might help some individuals reduce their nervous stomach symptoms.
  • Foods: It is often a good idea to limit foods that can worsen a nervous stomach. These may vary among individuals, but common culprits 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 with friends, can help. Sometimes, a person may find that they can also relieve stress by reducing the number of commitments in their daily schedule.
  • Natural remedies: Ginger, which people can sip as a tea, chew on as a root, or take as a supplement, may help alleviate mild gastrointestinal symptoms, including nausea. Drinking peppermint tea or smelling peppermint oil may also reduce nervous stomach symptoms.

A doctor can also recommend specific treatments once they know the details of a person’s health history.

A nervous stomach can cause symptoms that are similar to those of chronic GI disorders. If a person experiences these symptoms on a regular basis, a doctor may diagnose them with IBS.

Treating any underlying stressors may help reduce the incidence of a nervous stomach, alleviate the symptoms, and improve a person’s quality of life.