Burning in the Stomach: Possible Causes, Remedies, and When to Contact a Doctor
Read on to explore some possible causes of burning stomach pain, find remedies to relieve it, and learn when to contact your doctor for diagnosis and treatment.
“A burning sensation in the stomach” is a way of describing pain, irritation, or inflammation in the stomach. The location and severity of the burning feeling and what makes it feel better or worse can help pinpoint possible causes.
The stomach is in the upper left part of the abdomen. Above the stomach is the esophagus (food pipe), which extends up into the chest. Below the stomach is the duodenum, which is the first part of the small intestine. A burning sensation may involve only the stomach, or it may involve the esophagus or duodenum as well.
Some conditions that cause stomach burning are temporary and easily treatable. Others are potentially more serious and, without treatment, can damage the stomach.
It is important to contact your doctor if the burning sensation persists for more than a few days, is severe, or is accompanied by symptoms of bleeding or infection.
Below is a summary of possible causes.
Symptoms of gastritis include:
- burning or cramping stomach pain
- a feeling of fullness
Gastritis is not the same as gastroenteritis. This is inflammation that includes the intestines as well as the stomach. The most common cause of gastroenteritis is a viral infection. Symptoms of gastroenteritis typically include cramp-like pain, watery diarrhea, vomiting, and nausea. Some people also experience a fever.
Acid reflux is when stomach contents return to the esophagus through the lower esophageal sphincter. Acid reflux may cause a burning feeling in the stomach. Other symptoms include:
- chest pain
- pain when you swallow
Some reflux is temporary and may result from eating a heavy meal or spicy foods.
Gastroesophageal reflux disease is a chronic and potentially more serious kind of reflux. The acid can damage the lower esophagus.
Also known as a peptic ulcer or gastric ulcer, a stomach ulcer is an open wound in the stomach lining. These sores can cause significant burning pain as well as bleeding that may range from mild to serious. H. pylori can cause these ulcers. Stress and diet may also play a role. Symptoms that may accompany the burning sensation include:
- a feeling of fullness
Indigestion is also known as dyspepsia. It can be a temporary condition or last longer. It is characterized by:
- burning pain in the upper abdomen or chest
- acid reflux
Eating too quickly or too much can cause indigestion. Some foods and beverages can irritate the stomach, leading to a burning feeling. These include:
- spicy foods containing capsaicin, which is a chemical in food that adds heat
- caffeinated foods
- fried or fatty foods
- highly acidic foods, such as citrus or tomatoes
- alcoholic beverages
Certain medications can cause stomach irritation and create a burning sensation. These include aspirin and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) and naproxen (Aleve).
These medications can cause tissue damage as well as pain. It is important to discuss all medications you are taking, including those available over the counter, with your doctor.
Contact your healthcare professional if the burning sensation is:
- severe, such as making it difficult to sleep or eat
- continuing for more than a few days
- accompanied by other unusual symptoms, which may include:
Sometimes, burning stomach sensations indicate an emergency. Call your physician or 911 immediately if any of the following occur:
- vomiting blood or a substance that resembles coffee grounds, which is a sign of blood in the stomach
- passing black, tarry stools, which is a sign of blood in the intestines
- experiencing dizziness, lightheadedness, or fainting, which may indicate extensive blood loss
Symptoms of a heart attack can sometimes mimic symptoms of a digestive condition and vice versa. Shortness of breath, sweating, chest pain, or an irregular heartbeat may indicate a heart problem rather than a stomach problem. However, some people — especially women — having a heart attack may experience nausea and symptoms of indigestion. If in doubt, seek immediate medical attention.
Your physician will take a detailed medical history and perform a physical exam to try to determine the cause of your stomach pain. Depending on their findings and the severity of your symptoms, they may then order tests. These tests may include:
- blood tests to check for anemia due to bleeding or liver problems
- a stool test to check for blood in the stool
- endoscopy to see the lining of the esophagus, stomach, and duodenum
- imaging tests, such as a CT scan, MRI scan, or abdominal ultrasound
- a 24-hour pH probe to check for acid in the esophagus
- a biopsy to check for cancer and precancerous conditions
- a urea breath test to detect H. pylori infection
Treating the underlying cause of a burning stomach feeling often includes taking medications and making lifestyle changes. If these do not relieve the symptom, surgery is also an option.
Several medications may relieve burning stomach pain that is due to gastritis and its underlying causes. These include:
- Antacids: These drugs neutralize excess stomach acid, relieving burning.
- Proton pump inhibitors: These drugs decrease the production of stomach acid.
- Antibiotics: These drugs can kill bacteria such as H. pylori that cause ulcers.
- Protectants: These drugs, which include sucralfate (Carafate), coat and soothe sores in the gastrointestinal tract.
- Antidiarrheals: These drugs, which include bismuth subsalicylate (Pepto-Bismol, Kaopectate), help relieve diarrhea and indigestion.
Modifying certain aspects of your diet or how you eat can help with some, but not all, causes of burning stomach pain. Tips include the following:
- Maintain a moderate weight and eat a balanced diet.
- Sleep with the head of your bed elevated to allow gravity to keep excess acid down.
- Avoid eating foods that commonly cause burning, such as spicy or acidic foods.
- Avoid eating just before bedtime to decrease reflux while lying down.
- Eat small, frequent meals to maintain energy and ease digestion.
- Decrease or eliminate the use of over-the-counter (OTC) NSAIDs.
Surgical procedures to treat burning stomach pain may include:
- Fundoplication: This procedure wraps the top part of the stomach around the lower esophageal sphincter to strengthen the barrier between the esophagus and stomach.
- Cauterization: This procedure uses certain devices to stop actively bleeding ulcers and seal small blood vessels.
- Open or laparoscopic repair: Perforations in the walls of the stomach require emergency surgical repair.
Below are some questions that people have asked about burning stomach pain.
Is burning in your stomach serious?
A temporary burning sensation in your stomach is not usually serious. If it occurs frequently or comes and goes, taking medications and making lifestyle changes can help treat it and prevent it from happening.
Occasionally, burning pain will persist, or signs of bleeding will occur. Both symptoms require immediate treatment to prevent complications.
How can stomach burning be relieved quickly?
Taking an OTC antacid or H2 blocker may relieve the pain rapidly.
Can burning stomach pain be prevented?
Depending on the cause, it is possible to prevent the burning sensation with medications and lifestyle modifications, such as avoiding heavy meals, spicy or acidic foods, and caffeine. Reducing excess weight and sleeping with the head of your bed elevated can also help.
Burning stomach pain is an unpleasant symptom that usually results from irritation of the lining of the stomach. If you experience this type of pain, you can try to treat and manage it at home. If it persists for more than a few days, is severe, or is accompanied by symptoms of bleeding, contact a healthcare professional immediately. Most of the time, burning stomach pain will resolve either without treatment or with OTC medications and self-care.