Postprandial Pain

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What is postprandial pain?

Postprandial pain is pain after eating. This includes postprandial epigastric pain—or pain in the stomach after eating—and abdominal pain after eating. People may describe epigastric pain as occurring in the upper abdomen, in the rib area. Abdominal pain is generally lower, in the belly area. The pain can be mild and achy or severe and sharp, depending on the cause. The pain can also be localized to a specific area or be widespread throughout the upper and lower abdomen. Other descriptors can include gripping, tightening, squeezing and radiating.

Pain after eating can originate from several different organs in the chest or abdomen. The stomach and esophagus are common sources of pain after eating. But this type of pain can start in other components of the digestive system. This includes the intestines, appendix, pancreas, gallbladder or liver.

Problems with other organs in the chest and abdomen can sometimes cause pain after eating. This includes the female reproductive tract. However, pain after eating can also originate from the heart and be a sign of a potential heart attack.

Some postprandial pain causes aren’t serious reasons to worry. However, pain after eating can be a sign of more urgent problems. See your doctor promptly if pain after eating becomes a consistent problem. Seek immediate medical care (call 911) if you have stomach or abdominal pain that is severe or accompanies potentially serious symptoms including:

  • Inability to eat or drink
  • Persistent nausea and vomiting or inability to keep down food or liquid
  • Vomiting blood or dark, coffee ground-like material

What other symptoms might occur with postprandial pain or pain after eating?

Depending on the underlying cause, postprandial pain can occur with other symptoms.

Digestive-related symptoms that may occur along with postprandial pain

Postprandial pain may accompany other symptoms affecting the digestive tract including:

  • Feeling of fullness or general discomfort in the stomach or abdomen
  • Mild nausea or loss of appetite

Other symptoms that may occur along with postprandial pain

Other symptoms can occur outside the digestive tract along with postprandial pain including:

  • Irregular menstrual periods, missed menstrual periods, or menstrual cramping

Symptoms that might indicate a life-threatening or serious condition

Pain after eating may be a sign of something more serious if it happens repeatedly or becomes a chronic problem. See your doctor promptly if pain after eating occurs on a regular basis.

In some cases, postprandial pain may occur with other symptoms that might indicate a serious or life-threatening condition. Seek immediate medical care (call 911) if you, or someone you are with, have any of these serious symptoms including:

  • Chest pain, pressure or squeezing or pain that radiates to the arm, shoulder, neck or jaw
  • Severe abdominal pain, abdominal rigidity, or trauma to the abdomen
  • Severe or persistent nausea or vomiting
  • Vomiting blood or material resembling coffee grounds

What causes pain after eating?

Postprandial pain often originates in the digestive, or gastrointestinal, tract. However, other organs in the chest and abdomen can be responsible for abdominal pain and pain after eating.

Gastrointestinal causes of pain after eating

Postprandial pain commonly arises from problems in the digestive tract including:

  • Celiac disease, which is a hereditary immune reaction to ingesting gluten that is more serious than a gluten sensitivity
  • Gastritis, which is irritation and inflammation of the stomach lining
  • Indigestion, heartburn and overeating
  • Pancreatitis

Other causes of pain after eating

Although less common, postprandial pain can also be caused by problems in body systems other than the digestive tract including:

  • Endometriosis, which is growth of tissue resembling the lining of the uterus in areas outside the uterus
  • Hiatal hernia, which is a weakness in the diaphragm muscle that lets the top of the stomach slip up through it
  • Thyroid problems

Serious or life-threatening causes of pain after eating

In some cases, postprandial pain may be a symptom of a serious or life-threatening condition including:

  • Acute pancreatitis or gallstones
  • Appendicitis
  • Heart attack
  • Intestinal blockage or twisting
  • Perforation in the digestive tract, which can lead to peritonitis—a life-threatening infection

How is postprandial pain or pain after eating treated?

Treatment for postprandial pain depends on the underlying cause. Common gastrointestinal conditions, such as

indigestion, heartburn and overeating, can be treated with over-the-counter medicines, lifestyle changes, and modifying eating habits.

Treatment of chronic gastrointestinal conditions, such as GERD, inflammatory bowel syndrome, pancreatitis, or hiatal hernia, will most likely involve a combination of medications, lifestyle changes, and perhaps surgery at some point. Acute conditions, such as appendicitis, intestinal blockage, or gallstones, may involve hospital care and possibly surgery to repair or remove the diseased tissue.

Once your doctor determines the cause of your pain, together you can determine a treatment plan to address it.

What are the potential complications of postprandial pain or pain after eating?

Because postprandial pain can be due to serious diseases, failure to seek treatment can result in grave complications, permanent damage, and even death. Once the underlying cause is diagnosed, it is important for you to follow the treatment plan that you and your health care professional design specifically for you to reduce the risk of potential complications including:

  • Gastrointestinal rupture or hemorrhage
  • Organ failure or dysfunction
  • Ruptured appendix
  • Spread of cancer or infection
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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2020 Dec 24
THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.
  1. Abdominal Pain. Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research. https://www.mayoclinic.org/symptoms/abdominal-pain/basics/definition/sym-20050728
  2. Abdominal Pain Syndrome. American College of Gastroenterology. http://patients.gi.org/topics/abdominal-pain/
  3. Acute Pancreatitis. U.S. National Library of Medicine. https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/000287.htm
  4. Gallstones. Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/gallstones/symptoms-causes/syc-20354214
  5. Gastritis. Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/gastritis/symptoms-causes/syc-20355807
  6. Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD). Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/gerd/symptoms-causes/syc-20361940
  7. IBS vs. IBD. Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation. https://www.crohnscolitisfoundation.org/what-is-ibd/ibs-vs-ibd
  8. Indigestion. U.S. National Library of Medicine. https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/003260.htm
  9. Stomach and Duodenal Ulcers (Peptic Ulcers). Johns Hopkins University. https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/conditions-and-diseases/stomach-and-duodenal-ulcers-peptic-ulcers
  10. What Is Celiac Disease? Celiac Disease Foundation. https://celiac.org/about-celiac-disease/what-is-celiac-disease/

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