What and Why?
Everyone gets stomach-ache at some time or another, even if it is only because your bowel is about ready to empty itself vigorously. The trick is to distinguish serious problems from things that will go away on their own, then to know what you can safely do about the pain while it lasts. First observe carefully everything about the kind of pain you have, then check it against the descriptions below. Do not work the other way round or you may convince yourself you have trouble that isn’t really there.
- Indigestion: This is a real ache that keeps up a constant nag high in your stomach and makes it feel full (see indigestion).
- Wind: If your digestion goes wrong and makes gas by accident you may not be able to release it fast enough. It then blows your intestine up like a balloon and you get a long bout of sharp pain that may double you up, usually in the top half of your belly. Breaking wind eases it (see wind).
- Colic: This is a sharp pain that comes on in waves lasting a few minutes then goes completely for a few minutes. You usually feel it in your middle, high up if it’s your stomach, low down if your bowel, or anywhere in between (see constipation and irritable bowel).
- Gall bladder: This is sharp, high under your ribs and in the middle to start with but it may move over to the right. It comes in waves like colic but may not go away completely in the rest periods. It usually follows a fatty meal; you may vomit or feel sick (see gallstones). Unlikely in a child.
- Bladder: This one is unmistakeable — a colicy pain low down that makes you want to pass water urgently (see cystitis).
- Bowel: You feel this colicy pain below your navel and may want to empty your bowel urgently. A burst of diarrhoea may relieve the pain for a time (see sickness and irritable bowel)
- Kidney Pain: This is a very sharp colic you can feel on either side, anywhere on a line from the small of your back (under your ribs) round and down to your groin. It can be the worst of all of them. Your bladder may not be disturbed at all, but you may have a very severe chill with violent shivering (see kidney stones).
- Sore Throat: Apart from uncomfortable swallowing, a constant stomach ache may be a young child’s main complaint from throat infection (see sore throat).
- Appendicitis: This starts at the navel and is usually a constant nagging pain, but may move nearer the right groin as the pain intensifies. A doctor will always be glad to check your appendix if you think it may be sick: don’t let it build up long before asking them.
What can I do?
Advice to maintain and maximise your health
1. If the pain makes you thirsty, faint, shocked or incapable of standing at any stage seek medical help urgently.
2. Respect what the pain tells you. If you do not want to eat or drink don’t force yourself; rest if you feel you want to. Don’t reach automatically for medicine: it’s safer at first to wait and see.
3. Relaxed immersion in a deep hot bath usually helps a lot, especially if you follow that with a Priessnitz Pack (see bathing). Prepare a piece of cotton sheet or a tea-towel by soaking it in cold water then spinning it dry; have ten strong safety-pins ready. After your hot bath wrap the cold damp cloth in one layer tightly round your stomach, pinning it every few inches. Then put on a warm pullover or wrap a woollen scarf or shawl round the cold cloth. This heats up rapidly, concentrates nervous energy in your stomach and usually helps you to overcome whatever is the problem. Leave the pack on two hours or all night.
4. Indigestion may persist after this bath but be quickly relieved by milk or Magnesium Trisilicate Mixture. You will need to see your doctor at an early opportunity to get the problem properly sorted out but leave spices, alcohol and meat or fish of any kind strictly alone meanwhile. Once the doctor has declared you free from anything structural — an ulcer (see indigestion) or hiatus hernia (see hernia), for example — set about correcting your digestive habits with the help of what we have written about digestion.
5. Seek help from your doctor: If in spite of all this your pain gets gradually worse, moves from your middle to one side or gets more persistent or more distracting you should see a doctor urgently. Any lump or tender place should be examined, whether it seems to relate to your pain or not.
6. Identify the cause of your problem: When your pain is relieved don’t just forget about it. Make sure you understand what caused it and make up your mind how to prevent it happening again without using medicine. Then act on your decision and make it a new habit.
Get the message — not the pain.