Epigastric Pain: Symptoms, Causes & Treatments for Upper Central Abdominal Pain

Epigastric Pain

Epigastric pain occurs in the upper abdomen or epigastric region, just beneath your ribs. You may not know the pain, but you might have felt it. Epigastric pain is mostly experienced while eating or after eating.

The severity of pain may vary from mild to very sharp. You may also experience a painful burning sensation in the epigastric region.

Digestive organ disorders like constipation, diarrhea or bloating usually accompany epigastric pain.

What are the Symptoms of Epigastric Pain?

Epigastric pain usually accompanies symptoms related to digestive system. The symptoms depend on the underlying cause of the epigastric pain. The abdominal region contains digestive organs like food pipe, stomach, pancreas, liver or small intestines. Any injury or disorder of these organs can lead to pain in the abdomen.

Symptoms of the epigastric pain are listed below:

  • Constipation
  • Diarrhea
  • Bloating or distension in abdomen
  • Nausea with vomiting or even without vomiting
  • Belching
  • Heartburn or burning sensation in the chest
  • Flatulence

The extreme symptoms of epigastric pain can be weight loss or vomiting. Sharp and debilitating chest pain can be a sign of heart attack or other life-threatening condition.

Immediately consult the doctor if you experience such pain and any of the below symptoms:

  • Along with chest pain, feeling of palpitation and pressure or tightness in the chest
  • Chest pain starts to radiate in your shoulder, neck, back, and arm
  • If you feel severe pain in your upper body, it can be gastritis or acid reflux
  • Vomiting of blood or some black colored material
  • Difficulty in breathing, wheezing or choking

10 Possible Causes of Epigastric Pain

Epigastric pain has various symptoms because the possible causes are also different.

Although you may get epigastric region pain due to some common causes, many critical health issues also cause such pain.

We will discuss ten major possible causes of epigastric pain:

1. Acid Reflux

In acid reflux, stomach acid flows upwards into the esophagus or food pipe. This acid reflux causes burning chest pain or epigastric pain, particularly while laying down after eating a meal (1).

If acid reflux continues for a while, it leads to gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). GERD is a chronic disease that requires medical treatment.

2. Gastritis

Gastritis is a condition in which wall of the stomach gets inflamed (2). Causes of gastritis include bacterial infection, autoimmune disorder or continuous damage to the stomach.

Epigastric abdominal pain is one of the symptoms of gastritis. Gastritis can be acute, or it can be chronic and last for years.

3. Heartburn and Indigestion

Heartburn is similar to acid reflux where your stomach produces excessive amounts of acid which flows back into the food pipe.

Indigestion can also occur due to the same reason. Heartburn and indigestion can cause burning sensation in your chest and epigastric pain. Indigestion can be temporary or can occur repeatedly.

4. Pregnancy

During pregnancy, a mild epigastric pain is normal as pressure is exerted on the abdominal walls. Hormone fluctuations can also cause digestion problems that cause acid reflux and other conditions associated with epigastric pain.

However, if you have unbearable epigastric pain during pregnancy, it can be dangerous. This can be due to preeclampsia.

Preeclampsia is when your body develops high blood pressure and high protein levels in urine during pregnancy. It may result in eclampsia which is life-threatening and leads to seizures.

Consult your doctor if you have severe epigastric pain during pregnancy.

5. Alcohol Consumption

Excessive alcohol consumption can also cause epigastric pain. Alcohol damages the inner wall of the stomach and causes inflammation. The inflammation causes pain in the epigastric region.

6. Overeating

Overeating can cause epigastric pain. Eating too much also puts pressure on your abdominal wall. It can also lead to indigestion. It is common for people to experience epigastric pain after overeating.

7. Lactose Intolerance

In lactose intolerance, a person’s body cannot tolerate or digest lactose present in dairy products. Epigastric pain is one of the most common symptoms of lactose intolerance. Other allergies or sensitivities towards food or other things can potentially trigger epigastric pain.

8. Stomach Cancer

Pain in the stomach or pancreas can also be a sign of stomach cancer. Unexplained sudden pain shouldn’t be ignored, and you should seek medical attention immediately.

9. Gall Bladder Infections and Gallstones

The gall bladder is also one of the organs present in abdominal regions. Thus, gall bladder infection or gallstones can also cause epigastric pain. Usually, gall bladder infections cause pain on your lower right side of the abdomen, but it can spread up to your upper abdomen.

10. Peptic Ulcer Disease

Peptic ulcers occur in the small intestine or stomach. It is one of the most common causes of epigastric pain. Ulcers in the stomach cause severe pain in the upper central abdominal region.

Epigastric Pain Treatment Options

You may receive treatments depending on the diagnosis of your epigastric pain. Sometimes, the pain goes away on its own in few hours. In such cases, no treatment is needed.

If you experience other symptoms along with epigastric pain, following over-the-counter medicines can help:

  • Antacids: The aluminum and magnesium salts are usually prescribed to treat peptic ulcer. These drugs neutralize the acidity in the stomach.
  • Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drug (NSAIDs): NSAIDs are usually prescribed as painkillers because these drugs give you relief from the epigastric pain. It can also help treat fever and inflammation, too.
  • H2 Receptors Blockers: These drugs work by preventing the formation of excessive gastric acid by the stomach. They also prevent the inflammation and ulcer formation.

Do not ignore the epigastric pain if it doesn’t fade away on its own.

Consult your physician if you feel consistent pain in the epigastrium or upper central abdominal region. Sharp epigastric pain, if left untreated, can be life-threatening.

Mild epigastric pain is not fatal and can be treated by home remedies which we will discuss below.

Epigastric Pain Home Treatments

Epigastric pain has numerous causes, and the pain felt also varies from mild to intolerable. If the pain is persistent, you must consult a doctor for a diagnosis.

Meanwhile, you can follow home remedies which are proved to be effective in epigastric pain.

1. Aloe vera juice

Consumption of aloe vera juice gives relief in different stomach problems that cause epigastric pain. Epigastric pain due to stomach ulcers, acid reflux or GERD can be treated with aloe vera.

2. Ginger or Chamomile or Peppermint tea

Ginger works best against indigestion. It works by neutralizing the excess acid of the stomach. Thus it prevents inflammation of the gastric or intestinal wall.

Chamomile also works in the same way. Consuming ginger tea or chamomile tea is an easy way to notice the improvement over time. Chamomile soothes the stomach and is effective heartburn and other epigastric pains.

Peppermint tea also helps in relieving the epigastric pain caused due to indigestion. However, the cause must be diagnosed correctly. Peppermint consumption in gastroesophageal reflux disease can aggravate the situation.

3. Yogurt

An everyday food Yogurt can give you relief from the digestive problems and epigastric pain. It increases the growth of beneficial bacteria in your digestive tract. It helps improve digestion and soothes the pain.

4. Baking soda

Baking soda is also another home remedy for acid reflux. You can consume a teaspoon of baking soda with a glass of warm water. It will help reduce the pain.

5. Burnt toast

Burned toast can absorb the toxins in your stomach. Thus if you have indigestion, consumption of burned toast can help in detoxifying your stomach and can give you pain relief.

When to See a Doctor?

Mild epigastric pains can be treated using home remedies. But, you should find out the exact causes of the epigastric pain if the pain is consistent.

Also, if you have any of the flowing symptoms, you should immediately consult a doctor for emergency care:

  • Sharp debilitating chest pain
  • Difficulty in breathing or swallowing
  • Vomiting blood
  • High fever
  • Tarry, black stool or blood in the stool
  • Weight loss
  • Passing out

Many underlying causes of epigastric pain can be easily treated. Therefore, consulting a doctor at the right time can help to manage and control the symptoms better.

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Madhvi Bhosale, Microbiologist

Madhvi Bhosale is a microbiologist (M.Sc.) and has experience of research in the field of molecular biology of malarial parasite P.falciparum. She has contributed in the research about P. falciparum epigenome. With the background of research about microbial diseases, she aspire to write health related articles which can help the readers to be aware and stay healthy. She also writes biology educational contents and story boards. With her creative mind, she produces a clear and refined audio-visual biology concepts. The sound knowledge of microbiology enables her to contribute significantly in writing all-inclusive health articles.