Dr. Kim Foster: Wicked Health


Tried-and-True Strategies to Cope with Belly Pain

Tips to Ease Those Cramps and Get On With Your Day

Tried-and-True Strategies to Cope with Belly Pain

So last night you wrangled the kids to bed early (for a change), you and your partner settled in for a binge session of House of Cards and takeout spicy tuna rolls. Plus microwave popcorn. And the remainder of a pan of brownies. 

Now it’s the morning after, and you’re paying the price with belly cramps and pain. That pain is going to mess with your day...and with your packed schedule, it’s the last thing you can afford.

What do you do?

What causes abdominal pain?

Most people can relate to occasional abdominal pain, but some people experience gastrointestinal cramping on a more regular basis—and sometimes that pain can be intense. A recent survey found that abdominal cramps can be a weekly occurrence for some women, and it can interfere with their daily routines.

There are many different sources of sporadic abdominal pain. Pain and cramping can be brought on by a variety of triggers: stress, poor sleep, or food that is very spicy, acidic, or fatty. That “cramping” many of us feel is caused by a tightening of the smooth muscles of the stomach and intestines. 

Signs you need to see a doctor

Sometimes abdominal pain is due to something more serious, like appendicitis or kidney stones. Here are the signs your belly pain may be due to something more complicated. If you experience any of the following in conjunction with stomach pain, you need to see your doctor: 

  • pain that’s progressively worsening
  • fever
  • jaundice
  • urinary symptoms, like pain or frequency
  • blood in the stool or the urine

But let’s assume you don’t have any of those symptoms, how do you deal with it?

Options for short-term abdominal pain relief

There are several options for short-term abdominal pain. Try the following to find which one works best for you:

 A hot water bottle - this is an old-school remedy, but many people get temporary relief of their belly pain with a hot water bottle. 

 Peppermint tea - peppermint tea is a natural treatment that may help soothe your gut.

 Rest/relaxation - stress management is part of your long-term solution, but it can also help in the short-term. This breathing exercise can help lower your stress levels.

 Buscopan - a medication specifically designed for GI cramping. Never heard of it? Think of it like this: when you need to choose a medication, it doesn’t make sense to take the same pain reliever you’d take for a headache. After all, it’s a different kind of pain. Buscopan works by relaxing that intestinal smooth muscle I mentioned earlier. It’s a medication that has been used around the world for more than 60 years to ease belly cramps. I first encountered it when I was a medical resident—we routinely used it in the hospital for people with colicky pain (pain that’s cramping or intermittent in quality) caused by things like gallstones. It’s available without a prescription, all you have to do is talk to your pharmacist.  

And what about long-term abdominal pain treatment?

When your abdominal pain is due to something chronic, it’s important to identify your triggers. Some of the common ones are listed above, but everybody is unique in terms of their sensitivity to different factors. A good first step is to keep a food and symptom diary. You may also want to work with a dietitian to identify and eliminate food triggers. 

It goes beyond food, though. Stress, family issues, and lack of sleep can play a big role. Manage your lifestyle with a regular sleep schedule, exercise, and stress management. It may help to work with a counsellor or therapist to learn some stress-coping strategies.

Because let's face it, the last thing you need is belly pain slowing you down, right?