Stomach burning: What to know
A burning sensation in the stomach is usually just one symptom of an underlying condition, such as an intolerance to certain foods.
Prescription and over-the-counter medications can prevent and treat indigestion, and some home remedies can help relieve symptoms.
Anyone who regularly experiences stomach burning and similar symptoms should see a doctor. It is important to understand the underlying cause and to receive effective treatment.
A burning feeling in the stomach often stems from indigestion.
A feeling that the stomach or inner chest is fiery or very acidic can be very painful. The pain may worsen after eating or during times of stress.
People tend to feel heartburn along with burning in the stomach. Heartburn occurs when the burning sensation comes up from the stomach and into the chest.
There are a few different causes of stomach burning, including:
Infrequent indigestion is common and not necessarily a sign of an underlying condition. A person may simply have eaten too much, something too spicy, or food that was no longer good.
Many cases of indigestion do not have a direct cause. Doctors call this functional dyspepsia.
Functional dyspepsia can account for symptoms, including burning in the stomach, in as many as 70% of people with this type of complaint. Researchers arrived at this figure by analyzing results of a procedure called upper gastrointestinal endoscopy. This involves using a thin, flexible tool with a camera to view the upper gastrointestinal tract.
Functional dyspepsia is harmless, but symptoms can be bothersome, and a doctor will want to rule out other possible causes before making this diagnosis.
Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is a condition that causes frequent acid reflux. This reflux occurs when acid from the stomach moves up into the esophagus, causing burning sensations in the stomach and chest.
Other symptoms can include:
- difficulty swallowing
- a sour taste in the back of the mouth
- regurgitation, which involves food or stomach acid rising up to the mouth
- a chronic cough
- gas and bloating
GERD can also lead to complications. For instance, stomach acid may start to wear away the esophagus, increasing the risk of conditions such as Barrett's esophagus, which involves potentially harmful changes in the esophageal lining.
Reactions to certain foods
Alcohol can trigger GERD-like symptoms in some people.
Some people have strong reactions to certain foods, leading to GERD-like symptoms, including burning in the stomach.
Foods that commonly cause gastrointestinal problems include:
- dairy, especially in people who are lactose intolerant
- gluten, especially in people who are gluten intolerant
- nightshade foods, such as eggplant, bell pepper, and tomato
Alcohol can irritate the digestive tract, stomach, and intestines, causing stomach burning and other issues.
Doctors do not know the exact cause of IBS. Symptoms can include stomach burning, as well as:
IBS is a long lasting condition, though many treatments can help manage symptoms.
Peptic ulcers are sores that wear through the lining of the stomach. Many people with peptic ulcers report that burning pain in the stomach and abdomen is the strongest symptom. These ulcers can also cause:
- a feeling of fullness, even before eating
Many people with peptic ulcers also experience reactions to certain foods. For example, spicy foods can make their symptoms worse.
Helicobacter pylori, or simply H. pylori, are bacteria that can infect the stomach.
Some people with H. pylori infections experience stomach burning, along with symptoms such as:
- a loss of appetite
- unexpected weight loss
Certain medications that affect the gastrointestinal system can also cause a burning sensation in the stomach. These include many common nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDs), such as:
Anyone who regularly takes NSAIDs and experiences stomach pain should talk to a doctor, who may recommend changing the dosage or medication.
In rare cases, burning in the stomach can be a symptom of stomach cancer.
Other signs of stomach cancer include:
- fullness in the upper abdomen
- nausea and vomiting
- unexplained weight loss
- severe heartburn
- vomiting blood
- blood in the stool
The American Cancer Society note that other, noncancerous disorders are much more likely to cause many of these symptoms.
Diagnosis generally begins with a physical exam. A doctor will ask questions about a person's symptoms, as well as their diet, lifestyle, and any medications they take.
The doctor may use other tools to help diagnose the underlying issue, such as ultrasounds or endoscopy.
They may also order tests, such as a breath test to check for H. pylori. Once they find the underlying cause of the burning sensation in the stomach, they can recommend treatment.
Some over-the-counter and prescription medications can ease symptoms of acid reflux and indigestion.
A person with an H. pylori infection will need antibiotics.
When a NSAID is causing the burning sensation, the doctor may recommend a change of medication.
Taking the following steps may help reduce and prevent a feeling of burning in the stomach:
Eliminate trigger foods
Reducing stress may help prevent a feeling of burning in the stomach.
In people with food intolerances, GERD, or less frequent acid reflux, certain foods may be triggering or worsening symptoms.
It can help to keep a food journal. Make a note of every meal and snack, and record when symptoms appear.
Common triggers include:
- fried food
- fatty food
- alliums, such as garlic, leeks, and onions
- nightshades, such as eggplant, bell pepper, and tomatoes
Other prevention tips include:
- reducing alcohol intake
- finding ways to reduce stress
- avoiding meals late at night before bed
- eating smaller meals
- raising the head with extra pillows at night
- maintaining a healthy weight
When to see a doctor
A single bout of indigestion is typically not a cause for concern. However, anyone who experiences persistent symptoms — such as stomach burning that lasts for a long time or comes back throughout the day — should see a doctor.
If other concerning systems, such as unexplained weight loss, feelings of fullness, or a loss of appetite occur, consult a doctor.
An occasional feeling of burning in the stomach does not often signal a cause for concern. It may simply result from an unsettled the stomach. Finding and eliminating problematic foods from the diet may prevent this symptom from returning.
However, this burning sensation can sometimes result from a chronic condition or a reaction to medication. Treatment will depend on the underlying cause, so anyone uncertain about the cause of the symptom should see a doctor for a diagnosis and treatment.