Causes Of Stomach Spasms

When stomach spasms strike, the abdominal muscles, intestines, or stomach is contracting. Depending on which body party is spasming and to what degree, it could have been a sensation like a slight twitching of a muscle or it might feel like full-blown stomach cramps. In most situations, stomach spasms by themselves are harmless. They might, however, be a symptom or sign of an underlying condition. Many possible causes for stomach spasms exist, and while most cases of spasming stomachs do not do damage to the body, the following causes of stomach spasms can be troublesome if not treated.

Dehydration

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Dehydration is the condition in which the body lacks sufficient water to properly function. While mild cases of the condition might be merely uncomfortable, more severe cases can lead to seizures, blood clots, and other complications that are potentially fatal. Of course, there must be prompt treatment for severe cases of dehydration, but even mild cases can have adverse impacts on energy and mood. Signs of dehydration aren't always obvious, like fatigue and thirst. Bad breath can result from a lack of sufficient saliva production; dry skin that might be flushed in appearance is another indication. But the imbalance of bodily electrolytes, such as potassium and sodium, can cause stomach spasms. Muscles need these nutrients to correctly function, so when they lack sufficient amounts, they might begin to spasm and seize up. Other symptoms of dehydration are dark urine, headache, extreme thirst, and dizziness.

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Gastroparesis

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Also known as delayed gastric emptying, gastroparesis is the more accurate term because the older name fails to adequately describe completely the motor impairments that can happen within the stomach. There is not even expert agreement on the use of the main term; some reserve it solely for grossly impaired stomach emptying. Regardless, gastroparesis is the name of a clinical syndrome characterized by slow, sluggish emptying of solid food from the stomach, or more seldom, liquid nutrients as well, causing persistent digestive symptoms, particularly nausea, abdominal pain, reflux, bloating, early feelings of fullness, and vomiting. It primarily strikes in young to middle-aged women, but younger children and males may also have gastroparesis. Diagnosis relies on a radiographic gastric emptying exam. The two largest groups of gastroparesis patients have diabetes, and those with idiopathic cases, or cases for which there is no known cause.

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Buildup Of Gas

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Gas within the digestive system is a normal part of the digestion process. Getting rid of excess gas that builds up, either by burping or flatus, is also normal. Pain due to excess gas might occur when there has been a buildup of gas either due to it being trapped or not moving in a normal way through the digestive system. An increase in gas pain may be the result of eating foods known for a greater likelihood of gas production. Often, fairly simple changes in eating habits can reduce troublesome gas. Signs of having gas or pain due to a buildup of gas include burping, flatus, pain or a cramped or knotted feeling in the abdomen, bloating or a feeling of pressure or fullness in the abdomen, and distention or an observable increase in the abdomen's size.

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Gastritis

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Gastritis is a collective name for a collection of conditions with a single aspect in common: inflammation within the stomach in its lining. The inflammation associated with gastritis is generally the result of the same bacterium known to cause stomach ulcers, in this case infecting the stomach. Consistent use of particular pain killers and the consumption of too much alcohol are also known to contribute to gastritis. This collection of conditions can strike suddenly when it is acute, or develop slowly over time when it is chronic. In some cases, gastritis can lead to such conditions as ulcers or increase the risk of stomach cancer. Symptoms of gastritis include nausea, vomiting, gnawing or burning pain or ache in the upper abdomen that may either worsen or become better with eating, and a feeling in the upper abdomen of fullness after eating. These conditions do not always provide symptoms or signs to let the body know they are there.

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Muscle Strain

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An abdominal strain can refer to any stretch, rupture, or tear of the abdominal muscles. This is the reason for sometimes referring to abdominal strain as a pulled muscle. Individuals who work the abdominal muscles too often or too hard often can lead to stomach spasms. Those who regularly do sit-ups and crunches may find themselves at most risk for abdominal muscle strains. It can also be caused by sudden or fast twisting or movement, excessive and intense exercise, overusing muscles and then not properly resting them, using the improper technique while performing sports that utilize turning, jumping, and running, lifting heavy objects, and even coughing, laughing, or sneezing.

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Crohn's Disease

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Crohn's disease is a chronic condition where an individual's digestive tract experiences inflammation that can be debilitating, painful, and life-threatening. Crohn's disease can affect any part of the patient's digestive tract from their mouth to their rectum. Stomach spasms, as discussed, are contractions of the intestines, abdominal muscles, or stomach. Because Crohn's disease causes patients to have an impaired ability to absorb nutrients and fluids, dehydration can cause these involuntary muscle contractions. In addition, a buildup of gas due to bacterial overgrowth in Crohn's disease can also cause involuntary contractions of the intestines. These contractions are an attempt to remove excess gas. Inflammation itself can cause stomach spasms when nerves that control the muscles become irritated.

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Constipation

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Constipation describes when an individual's bowel movements are less frequent than they should be, and stool becomes too hard to pass as a result. An individual is considered constipated when they have fewer than three bowel movements in a week. The large intestine is responsible for the absorption of fluid from its contents, and the longer the contents stay in the large intestine, the more fluid will be absorbed. No matter the cause of an individual's constipation, spasms of the intestine and abdominal muscles will most likely occur. These spasms are used as a mechanism for the body to move the stool along the digestive tract faster and more efficiently. Stomach spasms that occur due to constipation are likely to be persistent until the hard stool is passed from the body.

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Colitis

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Colitis is a chronic disease of the digestive system where the inner lining of the colon becomes inflamed. There are several different types of colitis, including ulcerative colitis, ischemic colitis, infectious colitis, diversion colitis, fulminant colitis, collagenous colitis, microscopic colitis, atypical colitis, chemical colitis, and lymphocytic colitis. Inflammation in the colon can cause neighboring nerve fibers to become irritated. If these are nerves that send signals to the abdominal muscles or intestines, it can cause involuntary contractions of these muscles. These involuntary contractions tend to come and go in colitis patients and have been described as cramp-like pain and sudden tightness in the bowels. Most individuals affected by stomach spasms from colitis will experience these contractions in the lower left side of their abdomen.

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Irritable Bowel Syndrome

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In the United States, between three and twenty percent of individuals have symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome. Irritable bowel syndrome may also be referred to as spastic colon, mucous colitis, irritable colon, and spastic colitis in the medical community. Irritable bowel syndrome is a condition of the digestive tract characterized by several intestinal symptoms that occur together. The spasms of the intestines of individuals affected by irritable bowel syndrome are thought to be caused by a combination of increased awareness of bodily functions, abnormal muscle activity in the abdomen, and communication disruptions between the gastrointestinal tract and the brain. Changes in the consistency of stool and the frequency of bowel movements are symptoms that are likely to occur along with the intestinal spasms.

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Ulcerative Colitis

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Ulcerative colitis is a term used to describe when an individual develops small open ulcers or sores in the lining of their large intestine. Ulcerative colitis is thought to be caused by an abnormal attack by an individual's immune system on the healthy tissues in their colon. Symptoms of ulcerative colitis like stomach spasms and cramps tend to occur more often when a patient is experiencing a flare-up. The small ulcers in the lining of the large intestine of an affected individual cause them to have an impaired ability to absorb nutrients and fluids from the food they eat. This malfunction causes further inflammation of the digestive structures, muscles, and nerve fibers in the surrounding tissues. Involuntary contraction of the muscles that move food through the digestive tract can cause pain and discomfort from stomach spasms.

HealthPrep Staff