Stomach Pain with Cramps – Symptoms, Causes & TreatmentPublished on March 14, 2018
Did you know that stomach pain with cramps is common with nearly 1 in 5 Australian adults suffering regularly1? Stomach pain is a special type of pain that is different from headaches and it makes sense to consider a special type of treatment.
Symptoms of stomach pain with cramps can be described as a dull ache, sharp stabbing pain or twisting, cramping pain. These symptoms can last minutes or hours depending on their severity.
Understanding your abdomen
Before understanding why stomach pain occurs it is important to understand where the organs of the abdomen are and how they function.
After food has been chewed and swallowed, it moves down a tube called the oesophagus (food pipe). At the lower deeper end of this tube, at the junction with the stomach, we find a tight ring of muscle. This ring relaxes briefly to allow food into the stomach, but it is usually tightly shut to prevent stomach acid reflux from harming the inner walls of the oesophagus.
The stomach holds the swallowed food and liquid while powerfully acidic digestive juices are produced. Muscles (called “smooth muscles”) around the lower part of the stomach help mix the food with the stomach acids which liquefy solids and break down fats.
The pancreas is about the same size and shape as a small banana and lies in the upper abdomen, towards the back, near the spine. It produces a clear digestive fluid composed of bicarbonate and enzymes which are secreted into the intestines to help break down food. These enzymes digest proteins, fats and carbohydrates into much smaller molecules so that our intestines are able to absorb them. The pancreas also produces insulin and other important hormones.
The liver is the largest gland in the body and performs a large number of tasks that affect all systems of our body. All blood leaving the stomach and intestines passes through the liver where it is processed. In addition, the liver produces a fluid called bile which is secreted into the gallbladder.
The gallbladder is an organ that collects the bile, a bitter dark fluid that helps digest food by emulsifying fats. The gallbladder is about the size of an egg when full. Although thin, the gallbladder wall is made of a muscle tissue strong enough to contract and squeeze bile into the small intestine when necessary.
- Small intestine
The small intestine is a long, muscular tube. An adult’s small intestine is around 6 metres (20 feet) long; the small intestine absorbs most of the nutrients from food. Peristalsis, the wave-like movement of its smooth muscles, pushes the digested food along its length. This movement is coordinated by a dense nerve network within the muscle walls.
- Large intestine
The large intestine absorbs the remaining nutrients from the digested food not absorbed by the small intestine, and also removes excess water from it. If peristalsis, the wave-like movement of its smooth muscles that slowly pushed the waste material along the large intestine, is halted or slowed, the waste cannot be eliminated, resulting in constipation. If the waste is pushed through the colon too quickly (e.g. because of cramps) the excess water cannot be removed and diarrhoea may result.
Located at the very back of the abdomen, the kidneys filter waste material from the blood. The kidneys use a process known as osmosis to extract salts, acids and other unwanted substances from the blood. Unlike other organs in the abdomen, the kidneys do not require muscular contractions to perform their function.
- Reproductive organs (woman)
A woman’s reproductive organs are located near and in front of the end of the colon, below and behind the small intestine. Between puberty (around 10 to 16 years) and menopause (around 50), the uterus, fallopian tubes and ovaries produce sex hormones and react to changing levels of such hormones in a monthly cycle. Menses, the woman’s monthly bleeding, are part of the menstrual cycle. A cycle starts on the first day of the period. The average menstrual cycle is 28 days long. During menses, cramps may occur in the uterus and surrounding abdominal organs.
Digestion and stomach pain with cramps
Now that you have learned how each of the main organs in your abdomen works, how about understanding how stomach cramps occur?
The movement of food through the digestive tract occurs due to a gentle wave of contraction and relaxation of a layer of smooth muscle running along the entire length of the tract.
The stomach, small intestine and large intestine all have an outer layer of smooth muscle. Using rhythmic, wave like muscle contractions, known as peristalsis, food is gently squeezed, broken down and pushed along the digestive tract. The entire process occurs without us needing to even think about it. In fact, usually, we do not even feel these gentle contractions at all.
1.Muscosa muscle layer 2.Smooth muscle 3.Serosa muscle layer 4.Binding tire 5.Ring fold 6.Colon crypts 7.Food bolus
Out of balance
The entire digestive tract works together in a co-ordinated manner. The digestive tract is very sensitive and certain food, bacteria, stress or excitement can all cause the movement of the smooth muscles along the digestive tract to get out of balance. When this happens, the normally gentle, wave-like contractions can become strong, painful cramps. These can be intensely painful, and can last for several hours or even several days if left untreated.
7.Food bolus 8.Contracting muscle
Where does it hurt?
The position and nature of abdominal pain can give important clues about its likely cause. Remember to visit your doctor if you experience severe pain accompanied by fever or weight loss; notice blood in your stools; or have a history of digestive system disease in your family.
Causes of stomach pain with cramps
The organs of the abdomen are very sensitive to internal and external influences. Everything we eat goes through our digestive tract, so any food allergies, intolerances or sensitivities we have may quickly lead to stomach pain. It is important to remember that the abdomen reacts to both physical and psychological states and conditions.
Anxiety and tension very often cause spasms in the muscles of the stomach, intestines or colon, resulting in stomach pain. At stressful times and after significant changes, many people suffer from temporary episodes of stomach pain.
However, if you experience stomach pain with cramps that are ongoing or worsening, or if the pain is accompanied by fever or weight loss, or if you notice blood in your stools, please, talk to your doctor.
Treating stomach pain with cramps
There are a number of effective ways to reduce or even eliminate the pain of stomach cramps. Of course, prevention is the best remedy. If possible, avoid foods and beverages that cause these symptoms and try to relax, thus reducing the effects of stress on your digestion. However when pain strikes rest assured there are a number of treatments for it.
Antispasmodics are a type of medication that are specifically designed to help the digestion system to relax. They work directly at the site of pain, in the stomach and intestine, to relax cramps and relieve pain.
Buscopan® provides effective relief of stomach pain with cramps and is the No 1 selling antispasmodic2 in Australia.
Learn about which Buscopan product may be appropriate for your stomach pain with cramps.
See the products here.
- SSI® Brand Performance Tracking Research, December 2017
- IRI Pharmacy Scan, Antispasmodic Category $ Sales MAT 18/3/2018