Are you constantly scanning for the nearest bathroom, holding in farts, or powering through stomach cramps or acid burps? First, we see you. Second, let’s get to the bottom of why your stomach is sensitive.

Whether your tummy troubles are new or old hat, remember that “a sensitive stomach” isn’t a medical diagnosis. It’s a blanket term for anything from food sensitivities (hello, dairy belly) to irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).

So, is it IBS or just a sensitive stomach?

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is an ongoing intestinal disorder that includes:

  • painful abdominal cramps
  • a persistent change in bowel habits (diarrhea, constipation, or both)
  • bloating and gas

A sensitive stomach, on the other hand, is usually the result of an illness or reaction to a specific food.

Was this helpful?

So, what is behind your gut issues? Let’s dive in.

person receives social media notification on their sensitive stomach headerShare on Pinterest
Edit by wenzdai figueroa

Remember, “sensitive stomach” isn’t a medical term. It’s like a backache or fatigue. Sure, it’s descriptive, but what’s causing the issue?

Here are the signs of trouble in Gut Town.

Sensitive stomach symptoms

People can manage most upset stomachs at home. If you overloaded on stomach-irritating snacks (we’re lookin’ at you, dairy, greasy foods and chili sauce), the pain should disappear without treatment.

Signs of tummy troubles include:

  • excess gas
  • heartburn
  • acid reflux (including heartburn, burping, and a sour or acidic taste in the back of your throat)
  • mild nausea
  • upset stomach
  • constipation
  • diarrhea
  • vomiting

IBS symptoms

IBS is common (especially in women!). But that doesn’t make it any more comfortable.

Signs of IBS include:

  • stomach cramps
  • bloating and excess gas
  • diarrhea
  • constipation
  • mucus-y poop
  • burning poop
  • black, sticky poop
  • sudden urges to poop
  • feeling like you can’t fully empty your bowels

So, when should I call the doc?

If you notice any of these symptoms, call your doctor ASAP:

  • stomach cramps so painful they’re interfering with daily activities
  • bloody poop
  • pus in your poop
  • severe diarrhea that lasts more than 2 days
  • diarrhea that keeps you up at night
  • fever
  • signs of an allergic reaction

Also, if you’ve noticing overall changes in your bowel habits, schedule a visit with your primary doctor.

Was this helpful?

What to expect at the doctor

Depending on your symptoms, your doctor might order blood tests, a colonoscopy, or other diagnostics.

Prepared to be a patient patient (har de har). It might take a few tests for your doctor to diagnose or rule out the following conditions:

There are *so* many things that can irritate your stomach or intestines.

Diet is one of the best ways to keep away the bloat, discomfort, and gas.

Foods to avoid

As you figure out what’s causing your stomach probs, cut back on these common culprits:

  • gluten
  • dairy
  • alcohol
  • oily or fried foods
  • super spicy foods
  • processed foods with a lot of additives or sugars

Pay attention to how foods make you feel.

Cheese gives you cramps? Cut it out.

Beans blow you up? Eliminate those little legumes.

A word on elimination diets

Some folks pinpoint sensitivities by eliminating *all* potential triggers (like the list above), then reintroducing them slowly, one at a time.

Popular elimination diets include Whole30 and low FODMAP plans.

Talk to your doctor before starting a new diet — especially if you have a chronic health condition.

Was this helpful?

Stomach-soothing foods

Ahhhh, the good stuff. Nosh on these to tame an upset tummy:

  • lean protein
  • cooked veggies
  • fruit
  • whole grains
  • fat free or low fat dairy (if you’ve determined that dairy isn’t an issue)

7 other ways to soothe your stomach

Experts suggest a multi-pronged approach to IBS or other stomach issues. Here are some common lifestyle tweaks:

  • Eat smaller portions. Eating too much or too fast can lead to gas and indigestion. Opt for more frequent, smaller meals to give your tummy a break.
  • Slow down. Smashing a plate of cheesy nachos in T-minus 30 seconds = farts for days. Breathe between bites and chew food completely for optimum digestion.
  • Drink more water. Dehydration can lead to constipation and digestive probs. Just keep sippin’!
  • Cut the caffeine. Caffeine is a stimulant. It can irritate your stomach and bother your intestines. Cut back gradually to see if it seems to help.
  • Move your body. Regular physical activity keeps your blood pumping, your stomach moving, and your intestines squeezing along.
  • Reduce stress. Tension and anxiety can lead to an upset stomach. Try deep breathing, exercise, or meditation for stress relief.
  • Reschedule your vitamins. Sometimes taking vitamins and supplements can upset your stomach. Make sure you’re taking them at the right time.

Like chronic headaches or general fatigue, it can take time to figure out what’s causing your sensitive stomach.

If the cause is IBS…

An upset stomach is sometimes just an upset stomach. Other times, it’s IBS.

According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Disorders, *pain* is the number-one sign that your tummy issues are tied to IBS.

That’s because IBS is inflammation in your stomach and intestines. This causes constipation, diarrhea, and excess gas — all of which can cause painful pangs in your belly or abdomen.

Women are more prone to IBS than men. Abdominal surgeries like hysterectomies or C-sections can also increase your risk of IBS.

If the cause is IBD…

Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is a broad term for two conditions: Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. IBD is more severe than IBS and can cause longer lasting intestinal damage.

Along with IBS-like digestion issues, IBD can cause:

  • bloody poop
  • rectal bleeding
  • weight loss
  • chronic exhaustion

If you have IBD, your doctor will help you figure out which medications are best for your situation. You might also need to take iron supplements to combat chronic bleeding.

Any other causes?

Well, sure!

  • Food sensitivity. Some folks with digestive probs are just sensitive to certain foods — usually dairy, spicy foods, fried foods, or alcohol. Figuring out which foods trigger your issues will help you solve the problem once and for all.
  • Food intolerance. Is there one food or beverage guaranteed to make you feel miserable? Your digestive system might not be able to fully break down that item’s ingredients.
  • Food allergy. An allergic reaction to food triggers more than an upset stomach. Allergies involve your immune system rather than your digestive system. Food allergies are serious and often life-threatening.

So, is a sensitive stomach serious? That depends!

Most folks with gut probs can reduce their symptoms with a healthy diet and some lifestyle changes.

Serious symptoms warrant a trip to the doctor. Just know that since there’s no definitive test for IBS, diagnosis is a process of elimination. It takes time to land on an effective treatment plan and commitment to an elimination diet.

If your sensitive stomach is caused by severe IBS, IBD, or celiac disease (an autoimmune disease related to gluten), your doctor will prescribe the appropriate meds.

A sensitive stomach can indicate everything from lactose intolerance to inflammatory bowel disease.

If you suspect IBS or an underlying gut condition, make an appointment to see your doctor. Start tracking your symptoms and food triggers now to help your doctor determine which tests will pinpoint the issue.

If you have serious symptoms like rectal bleeding, bloody stools, or sudden weight loss, call your doctor ASAP.