Ten causes of epigastric pain

Epigastric pain is a common symptom of an upset stomach, which can be due to long-term gastrointestinal problems or just the occasional bout of indigestion.

1. Indigestion

Epigastric pain is felt just under the ribcage and is generally not a cause for concern.

Indigestion usually occurs after eating. When a person eats something, the stomach produces acid to digest the food. Sometimes, this acid can irritate the lining of the digestive system.

Indigestion can cause symptoms such as:

  • burping
  • bloating in the abdomen
  • feeling full or bloated, even if the portion size was not big
  • nausea

These symptoms are often felt alongside epigastric pain. While indigestion happens to everyone from time to time, it may be a sign that a person is intolerant of something they have recently eaten.

2. Acid reflux and GERD

Acid reflux occurs when the stomach acid used in digestion gets backed up in the food pipe (esophagus). Acid reflux usually causes pain in the chest and throat, which is commonly known as heartburn. This feeling may accompany epigastric pain or be felt on its own.

Other common symptoms of acid reflux include:

  • indigestion
  • burning or aching chest pain
  • feeling like there is a lump in the throat or chest
  • an acidic or a vomit-like taste in the mouth
  • a persistent sore throat or hoarse voice
  • a persistent cough

Ongoing acid reflux can damage the food pipe and may cause gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD. People with GERD experience epigastric pain and symptoms of indigestion frequently and may require treatment and dietary changes to manage the condition.

Some cases of GERD can lead to a condition called Barrett’s esophagus, where the tissue of the food pipe starts to look like the tissue in the intestines.

3. Overeating

The stomach is very flexible. However, eating more than necessary causes the stomach to expand beyond its normal capacity.

If the stomach expands considerably, it can put pressure on the organs around the stomach and cause epigastric pain. Overeating can also cause indigestion, acid reflux, and heartburn.

4. Lactose intolerance

Lactose intolerance can be another cause of epigastric pain. People who are lactose intolerant have trouble breaking down lactose, a sugar found in milk and other dairy products.

For people with lactose intolerance, eating dairy can cause epigastric pain and other symptoms, including:

  • stomach pains
  • cramps and bloating
  • gas
  • nausea or vomiting
  • diarrhea