Stomach churning is an uncomfortable sensation that may occur with gurgling, nausea, and other symptoms. Anxiety, indigestion, pregnancy, and irritable bowel syndrome are just some possible causes.
This article describes what stomach churning feels like, if it is normal, and 11 possible causes.
We also explain when to see a doctor and provide some tips for treating and preventing stomach churning.
Stomach churning is a feeling of discomfort in a person’s abdominal area. A person may feel uneasy and experience the following gastrointestinal symptoms in their abdomen:
- pain or cramps
- gurgling or bubbling sounds
People may use other terms to describe this unsettling sensation. They may describe it as “bubbling or bubbly guts”, as if their “stomach tied in knots,” or they have “butterflies in the stomach”.
Stomach churning vs. stomach growling
Stomach churning often refers to feelings of discomfort, whereas complaints of stomach growling are typically due to sound alone.
The stomach and intestines naturally produce sound during digestion and other processes. It is typically the result of food moving through the digestive system or in the case of hunger, muscle contractions changing, moving air or liquid through voids.
Stomach churning has a variety of potential causes. These include conditions such as indigestion, which can have less serious causes, and other conditions requiring urgent medical attention.
Anyone concerned about their symptoms should speak with a healthcare professional.
Below, some potential causes of stomach-churning are explained in further detail.
Indigestion, or dyspepsia, refers to pain or discomfort in the upper abdomen.
Other symptoms of indigestion can
Indigestion may occur after eating too much or too quickly, but can sometimes be a symptom of an underlying medical condition, such as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), stomach ulcers, or gastritis.
Stress and anxiety
When a person feels stressed or anxious, their body releases stress hormones.
Some of these hormones enter the digestive tract, where they can lead to the following symptoms and conditions:
Many people have premenstrual syndrome (PMS), meaning they experience a range of symptoms the week before their period.
According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, common symptoms of PMS include:
- gastrointestinal symptoms, such as
diarrhea and constipation
- abdominal pain (cramps)
Researchers are unclear exactly what causes PMS, but changes in hormones during the menstrual cycle may play a role.
Digestive problems that can occur during pregnancy include:
Food poisoning is a common illness that affects people who have consumed contaminated foods or beverages. The
Common symptoms of food poisoning include:
- abdominal pain and cramps
- diarrhea or bloody diarrhea
Viral gastroenteritis, which people often refer to as “stomach flu,” is a viral infection of the intestines.
General symptoms of viral gastroenteritis include:
- abdominal pain and cramping
- watery diarrhea
- sometimes a fever
Stomach churning can sometimes be a symptom of food intolerance, such as lactose intolerance.
Other common intolerances include gluten, nightshade vegetables, and cruciferous vegetables.
Symptoms of food intolerances can
- bloating and gas
- abdominal pain and cramping
- stomach growling or rumbling sounds
- nausea or vomiting
- diarrhea or loose, foul-smelling stools
The symptoms of celiac disease can vary between people. However, some common digestive symptoms of this condition
- abdominal pain or cramping
- bloating and gas
- persistent diarrhea or constipation
- pale, fatty, or foul-smelling stools
IBS is a disorder that affects the function of the bowel. Between 10 – 15% of people in the U.S. have IBS. Experts do not know what causes IBS, but they believe that it may be due to the increased sensitivity of the bowels.
Common symptoms of IBS include:
- abdominal pain or discomfort
- diarrhea or constipation
An intestinal obstruction is a blockage within the small or large intestine that can prevent digested food and waste products from passing through.
Symptoms of an obstruction include:
- bloating and swelling in the abdomen
- severe abdominal pain or cramping
- loud gurgling sounds from the abdomen
- inability to pass gas
Some medications can cause digestive symptoms, such as stomach churning, as a side effect. These include:
People should speak with a doctor if they experience stomach churning that worsens, does not improve, or reoccurs.
It is also advisable to seek medical attention if stomach churning accompanies other concerning symptoms, including:
- intense pain
- severe dehydration
- severe or persistent diarrhea or vomiting
- blood in vomit or stools
- unexplained weight loss
- high fever
The treatment for a churning stomach depends on its underlying cause. However, some steps that people can take to help prevent or alleviate stomach churning include:
- managing stress and anxiety levels
- practicing good food hygiene
- avoiding foods that trigger symptoms
- reducing caffeine and alcohol consumption
- consuming products containing real ginger, which may help
protect againstdigestive symptoms
- taking antacids to soothe heartburn
- trying probiotics, which may help promote better gut health
There are many possible causes of stomach churning, including indigestion, stress and anxiety, and taking certain medications.
Stomach churning often only causes temporary discomfort before resolving without treatment. However, this symptom can sometimes indicate an underlying health issue.
People with persistent or recurrent stomach churning should see a doctor, especially if it occurs alongside severe or concerning symptoms.