Stomach Cramps and Treatments

There are few things more debilitating than violent stomach cramps. I imagine being shot would be worse, but for some people, there isn’t much difference. If you think that sounds hyperbolic, be grateful that you don’t know what I’m talking about. It is even worse when you are cramping and aren’t entirely sure why. You start running through all the scenarios, and Dr. Google confirms your suspicion that you are dying. Well, it isn’t always this bad. Today, I am going to soothe your burning questions about stomach cramps so that you can get rid of them before they ruin your day or week or month. May this information be a light to you in dark places, when all over lights go out (Yes, I am re-reading Lord of the Rings). Here are a few reasons why you might be experiencing stomach cramps.

  • Constipation

Let’s start lightly. This is something which everyone will experience at some point. It can be because your diet is lacking fibre, or perhaps you have just not drunk enough water. You can counter these pretty easily by increasing your liquids and fruit and veggies. I will often recommend a product called Buscopan to my customers. It has the active ingredient hyoscine butylbromide  which helps to combat cramps within 15 minutes. If after a few days, you’re still plugged up, you should consider seeing your doctor. It can (on rare occasions) be a symptom of more serious conditions, so make sure you get yourself checked out.

  • Irritable Bowel Syndrome

This is kind of like the next step up from your garden variety consti[ation. It is a chronic disorder which affects your large intestine. Someone suffering from IBS would have stomach cramps more than once a week, bookended by diarrhoea and constipation. It can last for a few weeks, and in some cases, up to a year. Not fun. Buscopan have a variety which is targeted towards people with IBS. It may leave you with a slightly dry mouth, but in the scheme of things, this is a pretty small price to pay. You can be extra vigilant by increasing your fibre intake, getting good exercise and managing your stress levels.

  • Pregnancy

The origin of these cramps probably won’t be a mystery to you, given they usually show up most acutely in the second and third trimester. It feels a bit like a pulling sensation on either side of your abdomen (so I’m told) as you make room for the foetus to grow. In your third trimester, you are likely to experience Braxton Hicks contractions which feel kind of like a false labour. There isn’t heaps you can do about these. Your body is afterall doing some unusual things. But you can minimise their effect by changing position until you end up somewhere more comfortable. Staying hydrated and getting into a warm bath should also alleviate some of the pain. If there are genuine stabbing pains, and you are worried, it is always worth consulting your obstetrician or A&E.

  • Food Sensitivity

This is often a really sad moment for a person. They have been experiencing stomach cramps, nausea, and bloating for a while, and they discover that their body doesn’t handle certain foods well. It’s usually greasy or sugary foods that do it, and they are the ones you really want. You will need to start keeping a food diary and consulting a dietitian to make sure you are eliminating the right food in the right way.

  • Food Poisoning

This is very common and very unpleasant. Somewhere along the line, you have eaten something that had contained a bacteria, virus or parasite. The symptoms can emerge hours or days later, but when they do, you’ll know about it. Aside from the stomach cramps, you will feel nauseous, probably vomit at some stage and feel completely drained of energy. Sadly, it is just a storm you need to weather for a couple of days. Keep your fluids and hydrolites up (Powerade is a good option here). If your symptoms aren’t leaving after a day or two, or if your temperature is above 37 for hours, you should got to A&E.

  • Menstruation

Again, you are probably going to be aware of why you’re cramping, though this is of little comfort in the midst of it all. They are often an early indicator of menstruation, coming in about two days beforehand. What is actually happening to you is that your uterus is contracting to shed the lining which is no longer useful in supporting an egg. Naturally, this is less than comfortable. There are a few things you can do to numb the pain: Take a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory such as naprogesic, and rest a heating pad on your lower abdomen. Alternatively, if you’re made of sterner stuff than I (as I get older, I realise that most women are), you can exercise  which helps your blood circulate more effectively while releasing endorphins. For some women who suffer a condition called endometriosis, cramps will be excruciatingly painful. Worse still is that many of these women feel stigmatised about this. As a pharmacist, I want to publicly acknowledge you. 

  • Anxiety

This is a bit of a dark horse. Sometimes we can feel anxious without ever realising it, but we experience the whole gambit of symptoms: cramps, racing heart rate, constipation or diarrhoea. You really need to try to address the problem before you race out looking for medicine. I am a massive advocate for seeing a psychologist if you have issues with anxiety. They will guide you towards various cognitive behaviour therapies, such as meditation, deep breathing and exercise. It is worth pointing out that anxiety is actually good for us in small bursts. It helps you ramp up for an important moment. If you ever feel anxious, that doesn’t mean you have an anxiety disorder. It means you’re human.. But if it hangs around long afterwards, there might well be an issue which needs addressing.
There you have it. The contiki tour of stomach cramps!


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