October 25, 2023/Primary Care

5 Ways To Get Rid of a Stomachache

Help your aching belly by staying hydrated, eating bland foods and avoiding certain foods

Foods to help a stomachache feel better include bananas, crackers, rice, toast and oatmeal.

The “I’m about to puke” feeling is one of the worst feelings, right? We’ve all been there: The aching belly, heartburn, bloating, nausea, diarrhea and vomiting.

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And when we feel sick to our stomach, we hear our parents (or grandparents) in our head saying, “Have some crackers and ginger ale!”

But is there any proof that those work? Kind of…

Family medicine physician Matthew Goldman, MD, offers five tips for how to get rid of a stomachache.

Upset stomach remedies

When you have tummy troubles, it can derail your day. Here are some common stomachache remedies you can try at home.

Reach for ginger

Studies have shown that ginger root is effective at alleviating nausea and vomiting. What’s more, ginger has anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, antitumor and antiulcer effects.

Adding ginger to your meals is easy. You can use fresh, dried or powdered forms of ginger and add it to your recipes. You can also eat pickled ginger or drink ginger tea. But remember: A little goes a long way.

However, reaching for ginger ale may not be the best way to get ginger in your system.

“It’s important to be aware that many commercial ginger ales on the market today may not actually contain significant amounts of real ginger, and in some cases, it might not have any at all,” explains Dr. Goldman.

Some ginger ales use artificial flavorings to mimic the taste of ginger. Even if they do include real ginger, the quantity is often quite low, which may not provide the expected relief. Therefore, relying solely on ginger ale for its potential ginger content may not be an effective solution for managing stomach discomfort.”

Snack on saltine crackers

“When your stomach doesn’t feel quite right, seek out low-fat, bland and slightly salty foods,” Dr. Goldman advises. “You’ll see the best results when you eat smaller portions throughout the day.”

Bland foods like saltine crackers pass easily through the stomach, and there’s evidence to suggest that they:

  • Soak up some of the irritation-causing acid that sits in an empty stomach.
  • Prevent acid from being released in the stomach (heavier foods tend to cause more acid production).
  • Are less likely to trigger nausea because they’re odorless.
  • Contain salt to help replace lost electrolytes.

“You don’t have to rely only on saltines, however,” Dr. Goldman notes. “There are lots of bland foods that can bring you relief.”

What other foods soothe an upset stomach? Eating small portions of the following can help:

  • Bananas.
  • Applesauce.
  • Yogurt.
  • Clear soup.
  • Jell-O®.
  • Boiled starches like potatoes and vegetables.
  • Noodles.
  • Rice.
  • Graham crackers.
  • Wheat toast.
  • Oats.

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This is sometimes referred to as the BRAT (bananas, rice, applesauce, toast) diet. And it’s important to note that the BRAT diet should be used sparingly, as it lacks vital nutrients like fiber, protein, calcium and vitamin B12.

“While the BRAT diet or consuming bland foods can provide relief from stomach issues, it’s essential to remember that these approaches are intended as temporary solutions,” says Dr. Goldman.

“Prolonged reliance on such a restricted diet may lead to nutritional deficiencies and may not address the underlying cause of the stomach problem. If stomach discomfort persists beyond a few days or worsens, it’s crucial to consult a healthcare provider for a thorough evaluation and appropriate treatment.”

Take in fluids

Fluids are important when you have a stomachache, especially if you need to replace fluids lost through vomiting and diarrhea. Choose clear liquids in small amounts.

“Often, a straw can help deliver just the right amount. Take lots of sips during the day,” advises Dr. Goldman. “Carbonation may be helpful unless you’re experiencing bloating. If you are, then skip carbonated beverages altogether.”

He also suggests oral electrolyte solutions rather than sports drinks. They have electrolyte concentrations that more closely resemble what our bodies need, including minerals like potassium and magnesium.

“Sports drinks are designed to replace what we lose from sweat, but that’s a different scenario than what happens when you’ve had vomiting or diarrhea,” he continues. “Plus, sports drinks tend to have a higher sugar content, which may feed bad gut bacteria.”

Avoid certain foods

“There is evidence that patients with an upset stomach feel worse after eating certain foods,” says Dr. Goldman. “These foods aren’t just gas-producing — they can increase nausea, bloating, vomiting and/or diarrhea as well.”

He recommends avoiding foods that are:

  • Spicy or smelly like pizza, onions and salsa.
  • High in fat like fried chicken, sausage, bacon and roast beef.
  • Acidic like coffee, orange juice, tomato juice and alcohol.
  • Sweet like sodas and sports drinks.

Be patient

Give your body a few days to recover from stomach woes. If it’s a stomach virus, it will pass on its own. Similarly, stress, motion sickness or something you consumed (like food, medicine or alcohol) could be causing your symptoms — but these too shall pass.

So, how long does a stomachache last?

“The duration of recovery from a stomachache can vary widely depending on the cause and severity of the discomfort. In many cases, minor stomachaches caused by dietary indiscretions or temporary gastrointestinal upset may resolve within a few hours to a day,” clarifies Dr. Goldman.

“However, if the stomachache is persistent, severe or accompanied by other concerning symptoms, it’s essential to consult a healthcare provider for a proper diagnosis and guidance on recovery.”

When to see a doctor

You can typically use home remedies for an upset stomach.

But Dr. Goldman points out that it’s never a bad idea to reach out to your provider if you’re concerned. And definitely call a doctor if you:

  • Can’t stop vomiting.
  • See blood in your vomit.
  • Have no appetite.
  • Are losing weight.
  • Notice other changes in your bowel movements.
  • Have difficulty swallowing.
  • Have any questions or concerns.

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In some cases, a stomachache could be a sign of another medical conditions like:

“Stomach pain should never be dismissed lightly. It can be a sign of various underlying medical conditions, ranging from minor issues to more serious concerns,” stresses Dr. Goldman.

“Ignoring persistent or severe stomach pain can lead to delayed diagnosis and treatment, potentially allowing a manageable condition to worsen. It’s crucial to reach out to your doctor when you experience stomach pain, as they can provide proper evaluation, diagnosis and guidance for effective management or treatment.”

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