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Home remedies for stomach pain and when you should go to the hospital

Read time: 4 mins

We all know what it’s like to have an upset tum or be doubled over with stomach pain. Whether you have a bout of food poisoning, constipation or a nasty bug, having a stomach ache is far from pleasant. But what can you do about it?

We look at the best home remedies for soothing an upset stomach and when you should go to the hospital.

Drink plenty of water

When you have a stomach bug that makes you physically sick or gives you diarrhoea, your body loses water, so you can quickly end up dehydrated. But your body needs water to absorb nutrients from food and drink.

Dehydration is a vicious cycle — when you’re sick or have diarrhoea, you get dehydrated. Being dehydrated makes it harder for your body to digest food, making it more likely you’ll get an upset stomach, and the cycle starts all over again.

When you have an upset stomach, it’s really important to stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water throughout the day.

Sit or lie upright

When you’re bent over with stomach pain, you probably just want to go to bed and curl up in a ball. But doing that can make your symptoms worse.

When lying horizontal, the acid in your stomach is more likely to move upwards, causing heartburn.. It can also lead to a bitter taste in your mouth, which can be unpleasant if you’re already feeling sick.

If you have an upset stomach, try to lie with your upper body upright or prop up your head, neck and chest with pillows.

Have a warm bath

A warm bath can help soothe stomach pain by relaxing your tense muscles. Alternatively, you can pop a heated wheat bag in the microwave for a couple of minutes or fill up a hot water bottle — just make sure it has a cover, or place it on top of your clothes, so you’re not applying heat directly to your skin.

Watch what you eat

When you can’t keep food down, eating may be the last thing on your mind. But eating regularly will help you stay hydrated and can help ease an upset stomach.

Watching what you eat when you have a bug however, is just as much about what you don’t eat.

You should avoid fast food and anything fried, fatty, spicy, creamy, salty or heavily preserved. These foods are harder to digest and can make you feel bloated and aggravate indigestion and heartburn.

You should also avoid vegetables that make you gassy (think asparagus, sprouts and broccoli). In terms of beverages, avoid alcohol and fizzy drinks that will make you burp, as these are harder to digest and can damage the stomach lining.

So, we’ve ruled out what you can’t eat; what exactly should you eat when you have an upset stomach?

Following a bland diet can help ease diarrhoea. Examples of bland foods include bananas, rice, toast, crackers and boiled potatoes. As these foods are starchy, they bind foods together and can not only make it easier for you to go to the toilet but also reduce how much you pass. Whilst they might not make the most enjoyable meal, they won’t irritate your stomach. Foods like bananas are also high in potassium and magnesium, which can help replace the nutrients lost through vomiting and diarrhoea.

If you’re experiencing sickness, eating bland foods until you feel 100% may also soothe the tissues in your throat that are irritated by the acids in your vomit.

If your stomach pain is caused by constipation, consider adding more fibre to your diet. Choose high-fibre fruits like apple, banana and mango, whole grains and beans, and sweet potato.

Another home remedy for stomach pain is ginger tea. Ginger root has long been used anecdotally to soothe an upset stomach, and it’s easy to make — just grate some fresh ginger in water and add a little honey to sweeten. If you don’t have ginger, you can use other herbs, such as basil, mint or chamomile.

Take over-the-counter pain relief

Over-the-counter pain relief like paracetamol and ibuprofen will rarely help ease diarrhoea or sickness, but it can help treat other symptoms, such as stomach ache, fever and aches and pains.

You may also be able to get anti-vomiting or antidiarrheal medication without a prescription, but always read the leaflet and speak to a pharmacist or GP to see if they’re suitable.

Wait it out

Most cases of an upset stomach will go away on their own after a few days, and the best home remedy is to follow the same advice as for a common cold or viral infection: drink plenty of fluids, rest, and take pain relief to treat the symptoms.

But when should you see a doctor for your stomach ache?

When you should go to the hospital

An upset stomach is rarely a cause for concern, but there are some clear signs you should look out for -see a GP or go to A&E if you experience them.

If your child is violently sick for more than a day, or if you’re older, you should get to a doctor asap, as children and older adults are more likely to get severely dehydrated.

You should also see a GP if you have persistent stomach pain or if:

  • Your pain suddenly gets much worse
  • You struggle to swallow food
  • You’re peeing more or less often, or it’s painful
  • You still have diarrhoea, nausea or stomach ache after a few days.

If you experience any of the following, you should head to A&E or get an emergency appointment, as these symptoms can indicate a more serious problem:

  • You can’t stop being sick, or you have continual diarrhoea
  • You are dizzy or lightheaded
  • Your vomit or stools are bloody or black
  • Your stomach hurts when you touch it.

Having an upset tum isn’t fun, but it’s rarely a sign of something serious. In most cases, you’ll feel better after a few days. But if you’re concerned about your stomach pain or it’s getting worse, you can book a same-day appointment at our private walk-in Urgent Care Clinic. We’re open seven days a week and offer almost-instant access to our experienced doctors, including referrals (when needed) to our gastro specialists.

Posted on: 11 January 2024