Most people believe that drinking alcohol cannot harm you. This holds true for the occasional social drinker, and even a heavy drinker never thinks of how alcohol might be harming their body. However, in some cases, it is possible that you develop stomach pain after drinking alcohol. Now, a stomach ache after drinking might also appear to be a harmless phenomenon, but it can also be a sign of something more serious that needs attention. Read on to find out if alcohol can cause stomach pain after drinking.
Stomach Pain After Drinking Alcohol
Most advertisements for alcohol promote the beverage as something that boosts your confidence and is the ideal drink to have a good time. However, sometimes, these good times might suddenly change into a worrying times if you develop a stomach ache after drinking. Experiencing stomach pain after drinking alcohol might be a sign of a condition known as alcoholic gastritis.
What is Alcoholic Gastritis?
The term gastritis means that the stomach’s inner lining is inflamed. The stomach’s innermost layer is known as the mucosa. Alcoholic gastritis is a condition that means the inflammation has happened because of drinking too much alcohol. The stomach walls are quite sensitive, and if they are exposed to excessive amounts of alcohol, then over a period of time, they can get damaged and become irritated or inflamed. This damage causes stomach pain as well as a wide variety of other acute gastric symptoms. Conditions like alcoholic gastritis usually develop when your one-off social drinking turns into long-term alcohol abuse.(1, 2, 3, 4)
Our stomach is lined with mucous cells that are responsible for protecting the stomach from the concentrated stomach acid known as hydrochloric acid (HCl). This acid is the primary component of our gastric juices. If you experience stomach pain after drinking alcohol, it is likely that you have an inflamed stomach lining or gastric mucosa. Though usually, the symptoms of alcoholic gastritis do not occur immediately, they do tend to worsen over time and eventually cause a sudden reaction after drinking.(5, 6)
Drinking alcohol triggers this gastritis pain when the alcohol comes in contact with the inflamed and damaged stomach lining. Apart from stomach pain, the other symptoms of alcoholic gastritis include diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, and gastric bleeding, especially in people who are heavy drinkers.
What are the Causes of Alcoholic Gastritis?
There can be many causes of gastritis, including smoking, high levels of stress, eating too much spicy foods, bacterial or viral infections, pernicious anemia (a condition where the stomach is unable to handle vitamin B12), autoimmune diseases, trauma, and even reactions to surgery. A bacterial infection caused by H. Pylori is one of the most common causes of long-term or chronic gastritis.(10, 11, 12)
When it comes to autoimmune diseases, in some cases, the body’s immune system might mistake the stomach lining for being an invading bacteria or virus and start attacking the lining, leading to inflammation.
Alcoholic gastritis is caused by consuming too much alcohol too frequently. The alcohol starts to eventually irritate and erodes the lining of the stomach, triggering the symptoms of gastritis. While alcohol consumption is one of the most common causes of stomach pain and gastritis, there can be several other substances and certain factors that can also cause the same symptoms of alcoholic gastritis. In some cases, gastritis may also develop due to multiple causes.
Symptoms of Alcoholic Gastritis
It is not necessary that you will feel any symptoms every time you drink because gastritis does not always cause symptoms. And when it does, most people simply assume they have indigestion. If you get gastritis due to an underlying cause, such as alcohol consumption, symptoms may include:
- Belching and hiccupping
- Constant pain between the ribs and navel.
- Burning, gnawing kind of pain in the stomach that may get worse or better after eating.
- Nausea and vomiting
- Acid reflux
- Loss of appetite
- Feeling bloated or full, and it worsens after you eat.
- Blood in the vomit or feces, which is usually coming from bleeding in the stomach lining.
If you are experiencing these symptoms regularly after drinking alcohol or even without drinking, you should consult your doctor at the earliest.
How is Alcoholic Gastritis Diagnosed?
To diagnose alcoholic gastritis, your doctor will first carry out a physical exam and ask questions about your medical history and personal habits. They will ask you how much you drink and how frequently. Such information might be enough for your doctor to diagnose alcoholic gastritis, but you may need further tests like a breath test to check for bacteria that cause gastritis, an X-ray of the upper gastrointestinal tract, upper endoscopy, blood tests to check for gastritis-causing bacteria and signs of anemia, and a stool test to check your feces for bacteria and blood.(16, 17)
Your medical history and test results will help your doctor determine if you have gastritis and if alcohol is the causing factor. Your doctor will then formulate a treatment plan for alcoholic gastritis or any other condition that you have been diagnosed with.
How is Alcoholic Gastritis Treated?
In most cases, medications help relieve the symptoms of gastritis quite quickly. However, when you suffer from alcoholic gastritis, your doctor will recommend that you quit or cut down on your alcohol consumption. Managing your drinking habits will also be an integral part of your treatment plan. Treatment also differs from person to person depending on how severe the gastritis is, as well as the severity of your symptoms, overall health, and age.
Some of the common medications usually prescribed include:
- Antacids to reduce the amount of stomach acid.(18)
- Antibiotics to kill the bacteria that cause gastritis.(19)
- Histamine blockers to restrict the amount of acid manufactured by the stomach.(20)
- In case of stomach ulcers and acid reflux, proton pump inhibitors will be prescribed.
Apart from recommending you to restrict your alcohol intake, your doctor may also suggest that you avoid having spicy foods and beverages that are acidic in nature, such as orange and tomato juice, coffee, and fizzy drinks. You will also be told to cut out smoking, stop taking over-the-counter pain medications and caffeine. Eating smaller meals more frequently in the day may help you deal with your symptoms.
Alcohol abuse and alcohol addiction can lead to a wide range of physical problems, including alcoholic gastritis. Complete abstinence from alcohol is the best way to treat alcoholic gastritis. Going to alcohol detox programs and therapy can help you quit drinking for good. It is also essential that you do not delay consulting a doctor if you notice the symptoms of gastritis because, over time, the condition might worsen and lead to stomach or esophageal cancer. You should seek immediate medical assistance if you notice blood in your stool or vomit or you have dark, tarry-looking feces. Getting started on the right treatment at the earliest can prevent the condition from worsening.
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