Have you ever felt like butterflies were fluttering around inside your stomach? This is how people often describe nervous stomach. Although nervous stomach is not a true medical diagnosis, it is a commonly reported condition.
Most people relate nervous stomach to indigestion in association with bloating and changes in bowel habits. Some people may describe it as having "knots" in their stomach, and it may seem like their stomach has a mind of its own. Well, in fact, to some extent, it does have a mind of its own, and that mind is under the control of the enteric nervous system. Similar to the brain, the enteric nervous system produces chemical messengers called neurotransmitters to transmit signals from the stomach to the brain. Approximately nine times more messages are sent from the stomach to brain than from the brain to the stomach. Simply put, your brain tells your stomach that something is wrong and then you experience nervous stomach.
What Causes Nervous Stomach?
Have you noticed cramping, tightness and fluttering in your stomach during stressful situations? Nervous stomach is usually reported by people when they are in situations of stress or anxiety. The digestive system is susceptible to emotional changes, stress, anxiety and depression. In fact, some doctors have suggested that stressful situations trigger the stomach to produce more stomach acid, which causes symptoms that resemble heartburn. Some of the key causes of nervous stomach are:
- Stomach ulcers and acid reflux disease (GERD) and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
- Changes in digestive enzymes
- Food allergies and the intolerance of specific foods
- Eating foods that spicy, oily, high in fat, as well as fast foods
- Eating foods rapidly and not chewing the food thoroughly
- Eating late at night and eating heavy snacks at night
- Sedentary lifestyle and limited exercise, smoking in excess and alcohol abuse
- Depression, emotional stress caused by relationship issues and academic pressures and other mental illnesses, as well as hormonal changes
- Sickness during pregnancy in the morning
- Medications and antibiotics side effects
- Motion sickness, gastritis, Helicobacter pylori (bacterial) infection, Crohn's disease, viral infections and stomach flu
- Malabsorption, loss of intestinal flora, low blood sugar and vitamin deficiency
What are the Symptoms that Accompany Nervous Stomach?
There exist many different symptoms of nervous stomach. Common symptoms include abdominal pain, cramping, bloating, changes in appetite, heartburn, excessive sweating, nausea, vomiting and indigestion. Some other symptoms one may experience when having upset stomach are listed following:
- Acid Reflux: Stomach acids can build up and regurgitate into the esophagus triggering an uncomfortable burning sensation in the throat and mouth. It can be extremely painful and in some cases it is associated with anxiety. This condition is commonly referred to as acid reflux and it is a symptom of nervous stomach. Acid reflux can persist for a few hours.
- Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS): Most doctors believe that irritable bowel syndrome including diarrhea, constipation and abnormal stools is due to impaired digestion of food in the stomach. Although IBS is a common symptom of nervous stomach, it is a physiological condition that is not initiated by anxiety and stress; these feelings simply exacerbate IBS.
- Ulcers: Ulcers are holes in the lining of the stomach. It was commonly believed that stomach ulcers were a product of the stressful lives that people led. However, research revealed that ulcers were caused by a bacterial infection of the stomach lining. While anxiety may contribute to the development of ulcers, ulcers are caused by the ingestion of contaminated water and food.
- Gas Issues: The build-up of gas, as well as increased belching and flatulence, are common symptoms of nervous stomach. While these gas-related issues may be unpleasant and embarrassing conditions, it is not a major health concern.
How to Relieve Nervous Stomach
If you experience occasional symptoms of nervous stomach, these may be resolved using natural remedies and healthy lifestyle changes to improve digestive functions. On the other hand, if you experience nervous stomach with increased frequency, such as daily or weekly, you should seek medical attention.
It is important to consider your diet if you experience nervous stomach and you should keep track of the foods that improve or worsen your symptoms. Drinking beverages such as carbonated drinks and dairy products as well as high fat foods, beans, cabbage, and broccoli may contribute to the build-up of gas. In addition, extremely spicy foods may cause indigestion and worsen nervous stomach. Caffeine and alcohol cause dehydration and irritate the lining of the stomach, which may have a negative impact on the digestive system. On the other hand, honey, mint, ginger, fennel and cinnamon may relieve nervous stomach symptoms. Instead of drinking fruit juices that are normally very acidic and contribute to nervous stomach, you should drink lots of water (8 to 10 glasses) to soothe your stomach and to maintain normal bowel functions. Similarly, a cup of hot tea may soothe the stomach.
Medicines and herbal supplements
Over-the-counter medications typically make the symptoms of nervous stomach more bearable rather than cure them. For example, pink bismuth relieves symptoms of nausea, diarrhea and mild heartburn. Similarly, peppermint and ginger are known to relax the digestive tract and reduce nausea and vomiting, respectively. Charcoal tablets may also help because they absorb gas and toxins. Laxatives and anti-diarrheal medications can also help relieve the symptoms of nervous stomach. If irritable bowel syndrome is the underlying cause of diarrhea associated with nervous stomach, the drug alosetron hydrochloride is often prescribed.
Exercise is a great stress reliever and it stimulates digestion. In addition, exercise stimulates the release of endorphins, which are the body's naturally occurring "happy drug". And endorphins can help to relieve symptoms of nervous stomach.
Constant and extreme sources of stress and anxiety can stimulate nervous stomach. Some classic stressors are work/school-related assignments, unexpected bad news or life event, or a shocking/unpleasant thought. The people that are susceptible to stressors are more likely to suffer from nervous stomach. Therefore, keeping a positive attitude can help relieve stress and anxiety. Getting a minimum of eight hours of sleep per night is a great first step. In addition, relaxation techniques, such as yoga, and avoiding stressful situations will help prevent nervous stomach.