Woman with arms around her stomach lying down on couch while wondering what causes an upset stomach after eating

What Causes An Upset Stomach After Eating?

Medically reviewed on December 10, 2023 by Jordan Stachel, M.S., RDN, CPT. 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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Stomach pain—which may also be called dyspepsia or simple indigestion—is a common symptom, so it’s not always easy to discern its root cause. However, it’s important to explore possible causes in order to avoid overtaxing your digestive system.

Many cases of stomach upset are mild. But over time, persistent digestive distress can damage your digestive system, elevating your risk of long-term health conditions and impacting your quality of life overall.

Below, we touch on several common causes of an upset stomach after eating, as well as symptoms you shouldn’t ignore and home remedies for soothing your stomach.

Eating Too Fast

Many people eat when they’re short on time, causing them to race through meals. Eating fast tends to have three effects, all of which can cause stomach upset [1]:

  • Neglectful chewing – Digestion starts in the mouth when the teeth help to pulverize food before it reaches the stomach. When you don’t chew adequately, your stomach has to work harder to break down and digest food. This can lead to digestive distress.
  • Swallowing more air – Wolfing down a meal often means taking in more air with food. As a result, you may experience more bloating and gas that can be uncomfortable or even painful.
  • Eating too much – The stomach and brain are in close communication to help keep your digestive systems in balance. When you speed through meals, your stomach doesn’t have sufficient time to let the brain know it’s full, which can often lead to overeating.

Sometimes, soothing stomach upset is a simple matter of slowing down at mealtimes. Try setting aside at least 30 minutes to eat slowly and mindfully, focusing solely on eating your food. If you can, you might even try reserving a few minutes after eating to let yourself digest.

Eating An Irritating Meal

Certain foods tend to be more burdensome to the stomach than others, causing them to generate more stomach acid than usual. These foods can include[2]:

  • Greasy or fatty foods
  • Heavily spiced foods
  • Fast food or highly processed food

Many common beverages can also be taxing to the stomach and other areas of the digestive system.[2] For instance, coffee (and other caffeinated beverages) and alcohol are frequently linked to acid reflux symptoms like heartburn or a burning sensation in the stomach, since they tend to relax the stomach sphincter, allowing acids to travel into the esophagus.[3]

Foods and drinks like these can be highly irritating if you already have an existing digestive condition, like gastritis.[4] If you think any of these foods are causing your distress, try scaling them back to see how you feel after meals.

You might also reach out to a healthcare provider to screen for digestive conditions, which can help you discern which foods may be irritating to your stomach.

Having A Food Allergy Or Sensitivity

Stomach upset can often be one of the first clues to a food allergy or sensitivity. For instance, celiac disease, or the inability to digest gluten, commonly causes stomach upset.

If your digestive upset comes with any of the following symptoms, you may be more likely to have a food allergy [5]:

  • A feeling of lightheadedness, weakness, or dizziness
  • Swelling around the mouth, tongue, or throat
  • Tingling or itching near the mouth
  • Congestion
  • Difficulty breathing or constriction of the throat
  • Skin rashes, eczema, or hives

If you think you may have a food allergy or sensitivity, taking a food allergy test can help you screen for possible allergens in your diet. Depending on your results, eliminating your exposure to foods your immune system doesn’t like may help resolve your stomach issues.

Having Anxiety

Stress or anxiety is characterized by major changes in our nervous systems, which can duly impact the digestive system. For instance, emotional stress may encourage the stomach to produce more acids, aggravating symptoms in people with acid reflux or gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).[6,7]

If you think anxiety might be exacerbating stomach upset, incorporating mindfulness practices before, during, and after eating may help you find symptom relief. When anxiety persistently inhibits your physical quality of life, however, it may be best to reach out to a mental healthcare professional to explore longer-term options for your mental and physical well-being.

Having A Stomach Or Other Gastrointestinal (GI) Condition

Chronic digestive conditions are very common among Americans, affecting up to 70 million people in the US.[8] Though it’s not always clear why they develop, many seem to exhibit inflammation of various regions of the digestive system. Having chronic inflammation can often lead to stomach upset after meals.

A few well-known GI conditions include:

  • Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) – IBS is a prevalent digestive disorder that often comes with stomach pain, bloating, and bowel movement disturbances, like constipation.[9] Causes can vary significantly between individuals, but some common ones include anxiety, genetics, or immune dysfunction.[9]
  • Gastritis – Rather than being a single health condition, gastritis is a clinical term for an inflammation of the stomach lining. The term refers to a group of many different digestive conditions—both acute and chronic—which can often result in severe stomach pain.[10]

While occasional gastritis is fairly normal, frequent gastritis is important to treat. If neglected, some people may develop stomach ulcers or even escalate their risk of stomach cancer.[10]

Having A Hormonal Condition

Many people don’t immediately associate hormone disorders with digestive distress, but hormones are intimately involved in our digestive health.

For instance, two endocrine-related disorders can sometimes arise alongside abdominal pain after meals [11]:

  • Thyroid disorders – A growing body of research suggests an intimate feedback loop between nutrition, digestion, and thyroid health known as the nutrient–GI–thyroid axis.[12] If you’re living with a GI condition like gastritis or IBS, you may be more likely to have or develop thyroid dysfunction, such as hypothyroidism.[12]
  • Diabetes – Many people with diabetes have gastroparesis, a condition that can be caused by nerve damage resulting from high blood sugar levels over time.[13] Diabetes that presents with gastroparesis can cause feelings of early fullness, bloating, or pain in the stomach even after eating a small portion of food.[13]

Thyroid conditions and diabetes both require a longer-term management plan in close cooperation with a healthcare provider. If you’re concerned about your endocrine health, an at-home hormone test can let you know whether you should reach out to a healthcare provider for further evaluation and treatment.

Indigestion After Eating: When To Reach Out To A Healthcare Provider

Usually, the cause of stomach upset after eating is relatively benign. But if stomach pain is unrelenting, or if it gets worse over time, it’s important to reach out to a healthcare provider. How long does indigestion last, exactly? It can vary, but frequent digestive pain is a known symptom of several structural or underlying digestive conditions, including [11]:

  • Stomach ulcers
  • Celiac disease
  • Pancreatitis
  • Blockage in the intestines

Likewise, acute symptoms of discomfort that accompany abdominal pain after eating shouldn’t be ignored. If you experience any of the following, reach out to a healthcare provider immediately [11,14]:

  • Vomiting or vomiting blood
  • Bloody or black stool
  • Weight loss or loss of appetite
  • Difficulty swallowing

Remedies for an Upset Stomach

When indigestion symptoms are mild or infrequent, several home remedies may help ease your distress, like [11]:

  • Relaxing before having a meal – Anxiety can be very disorienting for the body, so making an effort to relax before mealtimes can significantly improve digestive discomfort. Whether you dedicate five minutes to deep breathing exercises or talk to a loved one before you eat, grounding yourself can encourage your stomach to settle during and after meals.
  • Getting to know your food triggers – You might try jotting down what and when you eat to get a better idea of foods or eating habits that could be contributing to discomfort. For a more concrete idea of possible triggers, food allergy or sensitivity tests can readily identify ingredients that may not sit well with your stomach.
  • Eating smaller portions – To avoid overwhelming your stomach, try breaking up your meals into smaller portions eaten more frequently.
  • Trying peppermint tea – Certain herbs like peppermint and chamomile have stomach-soothing properties for many people. You might try drinking these before or after a meal to encourage your stomach to digest better.

In other cases, you might benefit from more comprehensive lifestyle interventions. For instance:

  • Auditing your medications – If you’re taking a stomach-irritating medicine for a preexisting health condition, you might reach out to a healthcare provider to see if you can switch to a less irritating alternative.
  • Prioritizing weight management – Many people who carry excess weight struggle with frequent indigestion. If applicable, you might try modifying your diet to help you shed excess weight.

If you discover your indigestion is caused by a food reaction, thyroid disorder, or another type of health condition, it’s crucial to partner with a healthcare provider to treat the root cause of your stomach discomfort.

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  1. Medicine N. Quick Dose: Is Eating Too Fast Unhealthy? Northwestern Medicine. URL. Accessed Nov 18, 2023.
  2. Foods for Upset Stomach: What To Eat and Avoid. Cleveland Clinic. Published June 1, 2023. Accessed November 28, 2023. URL. Accessed Nov 18, 2023.
  3. Nehlig A. Effects of Coffee on the Gastro-Intestinal Tract: A Narrative Review and Literature Update. Nutrients. 2022;14(2):399. doi: URL. Accessed Nov 18, 2023.
  4. Gastritis. Published 2019. URL. Accessed Nov 18, 2023.
  5. Mayo Clinic. Food allergy - Symptoms and causes. Mayo Clinic. Published December 31, 2021. URL. Accessed Nov 18, 2023.
  6. NHS. Indigestion. nhs.uk. Published October 18, 2017. URL. Accessed Nov 18, 2023.
  7. MD TG, MD HR. Could stress be making my acid reflux worse? Harvard Health. Published May 1, 2022. URL. Accessed Nov 18, 2023.
  8. Digestive Diseases Statistics for the United States | NIDDK. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Published April 11, 2019. URL. Accessed Nov 18, 2023.
  9. Inflammatory Bowel Disease: Symptoms, Treatment & Diagnosis. Cleveland Clinic. URL. Accessed Nov 18, 2023.
  10. Mayo Clinic. Gastritis - Symptoms and causes. Mayo Clinic. Published March 15, 2022. URL. Accessed Nov 18, 2023.
  11. Mayo Clinic. Indigestion - Symptoms and causes. Mayo Clinic. Published 2018. URL. Accessed Nov 18, 2023.
  12. Ruscio M, Guard G, Piedrahita G, D’Adamo CR. The Relationship between Gastrointestinal Health, Micronutrient Concentrations, and Autoimmunity: A Focus on the Thyroid. Nutrients. 2022;14(17):3572. doi:https://doi.org/10.3390/nu14173572 URL. Accessed Nov 18, 2023.
  13. CDC. Diabetes and Digestion. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Published December 30, 2020. URL. Accessed Nov 18, 2023.
  14. Mayo Clinic. Abdominal pain Causes. Mayo Clinic. Published 2019. URL. Accessed Nov 18, 2023.

Jordan Stachel, M.S., RDN, CPT works with a wide variety of individuals, ranging in age from children to the elderly, with an assortment of concerns and clinical conditions. She helps individuals optimize overall health and/or manage disease states using personalized medical nutrition therapy techniques.

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