Why is my stomach upset?

Wondering why your stomach is churning? There are many possible causes for your upset stomach. Here are the main culprits:

Food and drink

If your stomach is upset, it may be something you ate or drank. This may be due to:

  • food poisoning: When food becomes contaminated with viruses, bacteria, or parasites, it can cause upset stomach, nausea, vomiting, or fever.
  • overeating and drinking: If you eat or drink too much, you can get indigestion or an upset stomach.
  • eating certain types of foods: Greasy, spicy, or fatty foods can sometimes cause indigestion or an upset stomach.

Lifestyle factors

Upset stomach can also be caused by lifestyle factors, such as:

  • eating too fast or eating on the run
  • emotional stress
  • smoking
  • too much alcohol or caffeine
  • travel (motion sickness)

Medical reasons

Upset stomach is usually a mild problem that goes away on its own. But sometimes it can be a sign of a medical issue, such as GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease), ulcers, lactose intolerance, irritable bowel syndrome, an intestinal infection, and some types of cancer.

Upset stomach can also be a sign of pregnancy. If you think you might be pregnant, take a pregnancy test and check with your doctor before using any products to treat your upset stomach. Not all products are safe for pregnant women.

See your doctor if you notice any of the symptoms listed below under "What can I do about my upset stomach?"

What can I do about my upset stomach?

Usually, you can treat your upset stomach at home with medications like:

  • bismuth subsalicylate
  • anti-nausea medication containing dimenhydrinate
  • antacids containing calcium carbonate, aluminum or magnesium hydroxide
  • non-prescription strength acid-blockers containing famotidine or ranitidine

To learn more, see "What can I do about occasional indigestion?"

When trying a non-prescription product, be sure the product is right for you. Always read and follow the label. Check with your pharmacist if you have any questions.

See your doctor if you have trouble swallowing, pain when swallowing, blood in the stool or black tarry stools (keep in mind that bismuth subsalicylate can darken the stool), bleeding from the rectum, fever or chills, unexplained weight loss or fatigue, chest pain, persistent vomiting, vomiting blood, moderate to severe abdominal pain, dehydration, no bowel movements for 7 days, pencil-thin bowel movements, or bowel problems that keep coming back.

These tips are intended for adults. If your baby or child has an upset stomach, get medical advice.