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How to cure stomach cramps

How to Calm an Anxious Stomach: The Brain-Gut Connection

How to cure stomach cramps

Ever wonder why you get “butterflies” in your stomach before doing something stressful? Or why you feel like your stomach is “tied in knots” after an argument? Ever had a meeting with a toilet that went longer than expected and it wasn’t caused by anything you ate? Stomach problems are one of the most common symptoms of stress and anxiety.

Researchers have identified a powerful connection between the gut and the brain. Like the brain, the gut is full of nerves. It contains the largest area of nerves outside the brain with the digestive tract and the brain sharing many of the same nerve connections.

Whether it’s a single nerve-wracking event or chronic worry and stress over time, stress can exact a physical toll on your digestive system. When you are anxious, some of the hormones and chemicals released by your body enter your digestive tract, where they interfere with digestion. They have a negative effect on your gut flora (microorganisms that live in the digestive tract and aid digestion) and decrease antibody production. The resulting chemical imbalance can cause a number of gastrointestinal conditions.

Common stress-related gut symptoms and conditions include:

  • indigestion
  • stomach cramps
  • diarrhea
  • constipation
  • loss of appetite
  • unnatural hunger
  • nausea
  • Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
  • and peptic ulcers

Once you suffer with one of these conditions, the condition itself can become a source of anxiety and greatly impact your quality of life. I have had many patients who experience diarrhea for example, who develop a fear having accidents in their pants which makes them afraid to leave their home or go certain places. If you experience stomach cramps or indigestion, you might become fearful of these symptoms causing you to limit where and what you eat which could impact your social life.

Six Tips for Reducing Stress and Anxiety

  1. Although stress is a normal part of life and impossible to avoid, there is good news. You can manage your stress so that it reduces its impact on your stomach. Here are six tips that can help you reduce stress AND the related tummy troubles.
  2. Take short breaks and breathe. When done right this can really help. Every couple of hours, stop what you’re doing and do one minute of slow, quiet deep breathing. You’ll be amazed at the results. Your breathing should be very slow, silent, and through your nose. Push your stomach out when you inhale and let it deflate as you exhale.
  3. Just say “no.” Trying to do everything and please everybody all the time is a surefire recipe for stress. Know your limits and when you’re close to reaching them, don’t accept additional responsibilities.
  4. Exercise or do yoga. Physical activity is a great way to reduce stress, even if it’s only for fifteen minutes a day. When you exercise your body releases chemicals called endorphins which interact with receptors in your brain and trigger a positive feeling in your body.
  5. Instead of stressing over things you can’t control focus on the things you can control, such as how you choose to react to problems. Your reaction is your choice, including how you react to your stomach issues. Accepting stomach problems will reduce your anxiety and curb your symptoms. Worrying about your stomach, only makes your symptoms worse.
  6. Listen to a guided relaxation exercise daily. You’ll not only feel relaxed while doing it, but most people also experience a sense of calm that lasts for hours afterwards.

Seek the help of a therapist who specializes in anxiety. It’s often too difficult to deal with chronic worry and complicated anxiety on your own. A skilled Cognitive Behavioral Therapist will know what to do. You can find a therapist at ADAA.org.

It takes effort to reduce stress and its impact on the stomach. These suggestions can work if you implement them correctly and if you make them a daily priority. However, expecting immediate results and 100% absence of symptoms will only increase your frustration and symptoms. Acceptance of some degree of stomach discomfort is important.

Finally, take a look at your diet. Certain foods are known to irritate the stomach. Consult a doctor and try the recommended medical treatments. Many stomach disorders cannot be resolved with stress reduction alone. You must address the biological, psychological and social aspects when trying to resolve gut related problems.

If you’ve ever experienced waves of sharp pain in your belly along with the feeling that your waistline is inflating like a balloon, you might be experiencing bloating and cramps due to intestinal gas.

Everyone gets gas on occasion. It’s a natural byproduct of the bacteria in your intestines doing their job and breaking down the fibers, sugars and starches in the food you eat. Though gas pain is usually nothing serious, the discomfort can be intense.

Intestinal gas and its discomfort are likely to resolve on their own. Burping or passing gas through the rectum (flatulence) is usually enough to ease your physical discomfort.

Johns Hopkins gastroenterologist Hazel Marie Galon Veloso provides some perspective on bloating and gas cramps, including when to see a doctor.

Does constipation cause gas?

Yes, Veloso says. Anything that slows down the digestive process, such as a low-fiber diet, use of opioid medications or an anticholinergic drug can put the brakes on timely bowel function.

Veloso says eating a diet rich in fiber, staying hydrated and exercising is a good long-term approach for beating bouts of gas and cramping. “If these measures don’t improve constipation and gas, a polyethylene glycol laxative can help,” she notes.

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Steps to Avoid Gas Pain

“Since constipation causes gas and cramping, you should try to exercise regularly, stay hydrated and eat a healthy diet with plenty of fiber,” Veloso says.
Here are some other tips:

  • Don’t drink with a straw.
  • Choose noncarbonated beverages.
  • Avoid chewing gum.
  • If your symptoms persist, see your doctor to rule out food sensitivities, and other conditions.

Gas Pain: When to See a Doctor

Veloso says to be on the lookout for abdominal pain and bloating that persists even after constipation improves.

“You may have celiac disease or small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO), which can cause these symptoms and can occur with either constipation or diarrhea. You may also have irritable bowel syndrome or another problem,” she notes.

The SIBO Connection

“We see SIBO in patients who have had abdominal surgeries such as roux-en-Y gastric bypass or conditions such as diverticulosis of the small bowel. It’s more common in people with systemic diseases such as long-standing or poorly controlled diabetes, scleroderma, lupus, Crohn’s disease, celiac disease, and those with a lowered immune system.

“Long-term intake of narcotics or acid-suppressive medications such as omeprazole, pantoprazole, lansoprazole and esomeprazole can also cause SIBO. Advanced age can be another risk factor,” Veloso adds.

The condition can be treated with antibiotics, antimicrobial herbs or a low FODMAP diet. FODMAP stands for “fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides and polyols.”

Food Intolerance

When it comes to recurring bouts of intestinal gas, food sensitivities such as lactose intolerance are another common culprit. Veloso says some food sensitivities are present at birth (primary); others can develop later on (secondary).

“If you get repeated episodes of gas and cramping, try to notice foods that tend to set it off,” Veloso advises.

Once you identify the food(s) that cause problems, check in with your doctor, who can help determine if you’re reacting to lactose, fructose, gluten or another ingredient. Modifying your diet, taking enzyme pills or other treatments may bring relief.

For women, if your doctor rules out a digestive problem, a visit to the gynecologist may be in order. Bloating and abdominal pain can mean something going on with your uterus, ovaries or fallopian tubes.

There are many causes of bloating and gas pain, and most have treatments that can help you get relief. Any abdominal pain that’s severe or interferes with your life is a good reason to go with your gut and see a doctor.