Medically reviewed on December 10, 2023 by Jillian Foglesong Stabile, MD, FAAFP. To give you technically accurate, evidence-based information, content published on the Everlywell blog is reviewed by credentialed professionals with expertise in medical and bioscience fields.
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Given how fundamental digestion is for human health, experiencing uncomfortable digestive abnormalities can be unsettling. A burning sensation in the stomach is one of those symptoms, though it’s not necessarily cause for urgent concern.
Most commonly, burning in the stomach results from indulging in a heavily spiced dish or a milder health condition, like acid reflux. That said, it’s important to treat gastrointestinal conditions early to ensure they don’t worsen and cause more serious damage.
If you’re concerned about a burning stomach pain or “gnawing” feeling in your stomach, knowing possible causes is a helpful starting point for managing your symptoms. Below, we’ll review some common sources of this complaint, as well as clinical and at-home treatment options to consider.
Causes of stomach burning range from mild to severe. Fortunately, many causes respond well to treatment when caught early.
One of the most benign causes of stomach burning is eating a heavily spiced dish or a naturally spicy ingredient. Capsaicin is one of the main constituents of spicy peppers and registers as pain or burning in the stomach.
Some common spicy foods responsible for a burning sensation in the stomach include:
It typically takes between several minutes to an hour for these foods to stop having a “burning” effect on your stomach.
In rare cases, people can have serious reactions to highly spicy foods. In fact, some people who eat extremely spicy foods like peppers will reject and expel the object naturally (by vomiting).
Acid reflux, or gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), occurs when gastric acid (stomach acid) leaves the stomach and re-enters the esophagus.3 GERD usually happens when the stomach sphincter is weak or relaxes inappropriately, allowing stomach acids to irritate your esophagus.
Stomach burning is a common symptom of acid reflux, though it can also cause :
While acid reflux can start out as mild, it can cause long-term problems if it’s not managed through lifestyle or other interventions. Structural changes to the esophagus can develop, and there’s also the risk of developing esophageal precancer (also known as Barrett esophagus).
To that end, you’ll want to have acid reflux diagnosed by a healthcare professional to ensure you’re treated properly. Common treatment interventions include :
Lifestyle changes like the GERD diet can also significantly improve acid reflux symptoms. This diet may require you to reduce or eliminate foods that are extremely fatty, salty, or spiced, as well as aggravating foods like :
Instead, you’ll opt for high-fiber options and alkaline ingredients, which are less acidic and may help offset gastric acid production naturally.
Gastritis is not a single condition, but rather a term for an inflammation of the stomach lining—a condition that can arise in several digestive ailments. This can result in a burning or “gnawing” sensation that heightens when you eat. It can also be accompanied by a feeling of early fullness, nausea, or an upset stomach after eating.
Gastritis is most commonly caused by :
Gastritis can be acute or chronic. Most cases of gastritis respond very well and heal quickly with proper treatment. However, chronic gastritis can result in an increased risk of ulcers and stomach cancer.
Depending on its cause, gastritis may be treated with :
Dyspepsia is the clinical term for indigestion, but it can be a complex condition to get to the root of. Sometimes, it arises from something as ordinary as eating too much food too quickly. At other times, it’s a symptom of an underlying disorder, like thyroid disease or diabetes.
If you have dyspepsia, you may notice a wide range of symptoms, including a burning sensation in your stomach, as well as :
While indigestion is common, there are some occasions where it can be serious. If you notice symptoms like blood or black stool, vomiting with blood, unexplained weight loss, or difficulty swallowing, it’s important to seek medical treatment immediately.
Indigestion may require some simple home remedies or more intensive treatment, according to your healthcare provider’s assessment and recommendations. Some home remedies to help assuage dyspepsia include :
Indigestion can also be a side effect of some medications, like certain pain relievers. If you’re concerned your medicine is causing your symptoms, it’s best to consult with your healthcare provider on alternatives that may be less likely to cause digestive distress.
A peptic ulcer (also called a gastric ulcer) happens when gastric acid degrades the lining of the stomach. This can cause a burning sensation, as well as :
Ulcers, like gastritis, are often caused by bacterial infection and the consistent use of NSAIDs over long periods. Often, both lifestyle changes and medical interventions are necessary for their treatment.
It’s important to visit a healthcare provider if you suspect you might have a gastric ulcer. They may prescribe:
If you’ve developed a stomach ulcer as a result of lifestyle factors—like NSAID overuse, alcohol abuse, or excessive stress—it’s important to work with your healthcare provider to find the support you need.
Experiencing a burning sensation in the stomach from time to time isn’t necessarily a cause for concern. But if it’s a frequent problem, it’s a wise idea to reach out to a healthcare provider.
Many causes of a burning sensation in the stomach are treatable, but they may lead to complications if they aren’t properly diagnosed and dealt with early.
Stomach burning could also be the result of an underlying condition or food sensitivity. For instance, many people with celiac disease experience dyspepsia and abdominal pain when they eat gluten (or after eating gluten for a long period of time). Because celiac disease can cause structural damage to the small intestine, it’s very important to receive a diagnosis and adopt a gluten-free diet if you have it. See more on: Can gluten cause headaches?
In general, any symptom that lasts a long time without getting better on its own is your cue to reach out to a healthcare provider for evaluation. They’ll be able to give you a more thorough assessment of your complaints and recommend treatment options best suited to your condition.
Making significant changes for the good of your health can feel daunting—especially when you don’t know where to start. Fortunately, Everlywell is here to help.
From the Food Sensitivity Test to the FIT Colon Cancer Screening Test, Everlywell at-home tests are screened by CLIA-certified labs and physician-reviewed so that you receive results you can trust in the privacy and comfort of your own home. If your results show any cause for concern, Everlywell will even connect you to a network of telehealth providers ready and able to put you on the road to treatment.
Find out what you can learn about your well-being conveniently by visiting Everlywell today.
Jillian Foglesong Stabile, MD, FAAFP is a board-certified Family Physician. Since completing her residency training in 2010, she’s been practicing full-scope family medicine in a rural setting. Dr. Foglesong Stabile’s practice includes caring for patients of all ages for preventative care as well as chronic disease management. She also provides prenatal care and delivers babies. Dr. Foglesong Stabile completed a teaching fellowship in 2020 and teaches the family medicine clerkship for one of her local medical schools. Dr. Foglesong Stabile’s favorite thing about family medicine is the variety of patients she sees in her clinical practice.