Abdominal muscle spasms, commonly known as stomach spasms, are involuntary contractions of abdominal muscles (abs), stomach, or intestines. During a stomach spasm, the muscle feels rigid and tense, and the belly may feel tender to touch. Most spasms occur in the deepest layer of the stomach muscles that stabilize the torso.
There are various reasons for muscle spasms. So, understanding the underlying causes of stomach spasms can help prevent and treat them. Let’s take a closer look.
Causes of Stomach Spasms
Many specific triggers can prompt the onset of stomach spasms. Below are 13 health issues that could result in stomach spasm symptoms.
Abdominal wall damage: Muscles lining the abdominal wall can become damaged, which could result in stomach spasms. Muscle strain of the abdominal wall, like overexertion, can also lead to muscle spasms.
Hunger pains: Stomach muscles will contract to signal that you are hungry. This type of stomach spasm will be immediately relieved once you begin eating. On the other hand, overeating can also lead to stomach pains as the abdominal muscles become too stretched out.
Gastritis and peptic ulcers: Gastritis is the medical term for a group of conditions characterized by inflammation of the stomach lining, while a peptic ulcer is an open sore along the stomach wall. These conditions can not only result in dull belly pain, but they can also contribute to muscle spasms.
Digestive viruses: Gastrointestinal (GI) infections such as norovirus (commonly known as the “winter vomiting disease,” “stomach flu,” or “stomach bug”) can also lead to stomach spasms. Symptoms include nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea due to the toxins released in the digestive tract, causing gut muscles to spasm.
GI toxins and poisons: Bacterial infections of the GI tract usually occur when bacteria or bacterial toxins are ingested from contaminated food or water. These toxins and poisons can irritate the digestive tract, causing vomiting due to strong contractions pushing the contents of the gut upwards. Stomach spasms may be more severe before vomiting and are usually accompanied by nausea.
Intestinal obstructions: A blockage or obstruction of the small or large intestines is a serious issue that completely stops or seriously impairs the passage of digested food, fluids, stomach gas, and secretions in the GI tract. Any obstruction along the digestive tract can not only lead to stomach spasms, but it can also cause a rupture if left untreated.
Excessive gas: A buildup of gas can cause the stomach muscles to become stretched, causing them to contract and spasm to return to normal size. But the good news is, passing gas can relieve discomfort and ease stomach spasms.
Food intolerance: When consuming foods to which you have an intolerance or allergy, a reaction may occur, resulting in stomach spasms. Food sensitivity occurs when the nutrients cannot be absorbed or digested, causing the digestive tract to spasm. You may also experience diarrhea and cramping.
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS): IBS is a medical term used to describe a group of intestinal symptoms that include constipation, diarrhea, and abdominal cramping. Although the exact cause of IBS is unknown, the symptoms may indicate that the bowel moves too slowly or too quickly, which can cause the muscles to go into spasm.
Food or beverage intolerance: Physical reactions to certain foods or beverages are quite common. And any symptoms usually begin soon after consuming foods or drinks a person is intolerant to. For instance, alcoholic beverages or prescription drugs can irritate the stomach and result in muscle spasms. Spicy foods and caffeine are also common triggers.
Autoimmune conditions: Over 100 autoimmune diseases are known to cause the immune system to attack the body mistakenly. Common ones like Crohn’s disease, lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, and celiac disease affect the digestive system, resulting in stomach spasms, diarrhea, constipation, and cramps.
Physical exertion: Just like any other muscle throughout the body, physical strain can cause one to pull their stomach muscles. To reduce the risk of physical exertion, ensure proper form and technique when performing physical activities, and be sure not to overdo it.
Abdominal trauma: Unlike other parts of the human body, the abdominal wall lacks protection against injury. Therefore, if the gut receives a blunt blow, the muscles lining it will likely spasm.
Stomach Spasms: Symptoms and Signs
Abdominal contractions may be accompanied by other symptoms, depending on their underlying cause. Accompanying symptoms include abdominal pain and swelling, flatulence or belching, changes in bowel habits, diarrhea, constipation, discolored stool, heartburn, nausea, vomiting, a pulsating mass in the abdomen, or rectal bleeding.
However, cardiopulmonary diseases (when the arteries that supply blood to the heart become narrowed or blocked) may also contribute to stomach cramping, with additional symptoms including chest pains or pressure and shortness of breath.
You may also notice bloody or pink urine, a bulge in the groin or abdomen, fainting or changes in levels of consciousness, fever, and sweating.
Seek medical attention immediately if you are experiencing chest pains, difficulty walking, a high fever, severe abdominal pain, shortness of breath, or a rapid heart rate.
Stomach Spasms When Lying Down
Stomach spasms may occur when lying down, especially at night when relaxing. And these spasms can be accompanied by various symptoms depending on the underlying cause.
Common causes include gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), which can lead to discomfort and spasms due to stomach acid flowing back into the esophagus. This condition can worsen when lying down due to gravity on stomach contents. Other symptoms may include heartburn, nausea, and difficulty swallowing.
Moreover, lying down immediately after eating can disrupt the digestive process and lead to spasms. But persistent spasms when lying down may indicate a more serious health condition and should prompt immediate medical attention.
The Risk Factors of Stomach Spasms
Several factors can increase the likelihood of experiencing stomach spasms. These include lifestyle habits such as poor diet, lack of physical activity, and high-stress levels.
And as previously mentioned, medical conditions such as IBS, peptic ulcers, and gastroenteritis can also increase the risk of stomach spasms, including muscle strain due to physical overexertion or injury, dehydration, and using certain medications.
Furthermore, individuals with a history of digestive issues or abdominal surgery may be at a higher risk.
Stomach Spasms: 4 Natural Remedies for Digestive Relief
Several home remedies may help alleviate stomach spasms, so we’ve listed them below. Not only are these treatments simple, but they can also be effective in relieving the uncomfortable symptoms of belly cramping.
If the spasms persist after giving these home remedies a try, try over-the-counter antispasmodic medications for some relief.
1. Stay Hydrated
Ensuring adequate hydration is one of the best remedies to prevent GI convulsions caused by dehydration.
Dehydration occurs when the body loses more water than it takes in. As a result, the body doesn’t have enough liquids to carry out its essential functions.
2. Make Dietary Changes
Avoiding trigger foods and eating smaller, more frequent meals can aid digestion and prevent spasms.
Adopting a high-fiber diet can also help, but it could be counterintuitive due to the gastronomic side effects some foods may cause. When it comes to fiber, you can have too much of a good thing, so easing into this diet change is key.
3. Perform Gentle Exercises
The abdominal muscles are an important part of the body’s core. Since these muscles are the most hard-working in the body, regular, gentle exercises and stretching can help strengthen and prevent injury resulting in stomach spasms.
4. Apply a Warm Compress
Applying a warm towel or cloth to the abdomen can help relax the muscles and reduce spasms.
Tips to Prevent Stomach Spasms
The best way to prevent abdominal spasms in the first place involves lifestyle modifications. In fact, the home remedies mentioned above also make for a good preventative strategy. To help prevent painful stomach spasms, make sure to:
- Strengthen the body’s core by getting regular exercise
- Eat a balanced diet rich in fiber to aid healthy digestion
- Stay hydrated
- Avoiding foods and drinks that can irritate the stomach
- Practice stress management techniques such as meditation, deep breathing exercises, and yoga, as stress can trigger or worsen spasms
- Maintain proper posture, especially during physical activities, to help prevent muscle strain and overexertion
When to Seek Medical Attention
If stomach spasms are intense, persist for prolonged periods, or are associated with other concerning symptoms such as blood in your stool, unexplained weight loss, or severe discomfort, it’s crucial to seek medical attention. These could be indications of a more serious underlying health issue.
Also, if abdominal pain and spasms are interfering with your daily life or causing you significant distress, you should consult a healthcare professional. A doctor can help identify the root cause of the spasms and suggest suitable treatment strategies.