It’s often possible to settle your upset stomach and diarrhoea from the comfort of your own home, using common items and foods you may already have in your cupboard 

Illustration of the oesophagus & stomach.

Everybody experiences stomach aches from time to time. While they can be both uncomfortable and upsetting – especially in the middle of a busy schedule – usually they are not a sign of any serious problems and symptoms should subside in anywhere from a few hours to a few days. 

What causes a stomach ache? 

The most common cause of stomach pain is due to problems within your digestive system such as indigestion, or issues like trapped wind, constipation or food poisoning. You might also experience stomach aches or abdominal cramps due to period pain or as an indication of other conditions such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome. 

How do I settle a stomach ache?

Luckily, there are some simple solutions to help settle a sore tummy – with most of them found in your kitchen. Sticking to bland, easy-to-digest foods and consuming clear liquids or sports drinks – which help replenish lost electrolytes – should be your first line of defence. There are also some medicines for particular conditions which, if appropriate for you, may help to soothe symptoms.

Staying hydrated is very important when settling a stomach ache, especially if you’re also experiencing vomiting or diarrhoea. If you’re struggling to keep anything down, start by drinking small sips of water or chewing on ice chips before moving onto liquids and food.

Taking a warm bath or using a heating bag or hot water bottle may help tense muscles relax, in turn easing indigestion. However, you may find that lying down may aggravate your symptoms, as this can allow for stomach acid to travel backwards, causing heartburn. If possible, seat yourself upright in a comfortable position until the discomfort subsides. 

What foods should I eat with an upset stomach? 

Bland carbohydrates are often recommended if you’re suffering with an upset stomach. We’ve all heard the old wives’ tale about ginger ale or tea, and while they may not work for everyone, you can consider some of the following, too: 

• The BRAT diet (banana, rice, apple sauce and toast) for diarrhoea 

• Mint, peppermint or spearmint 

• Cinnamon or cloves to help ease digestion

• Cloves

• Coconut water to help replenish high levels of potassium and magnesium, and to assist rehydration

• Lemon juice, baking soda and water to help with indigestion

• Chamomile tea

• An increased intake of fibre e.g. higher-fibre breakfast cereals, wholegrain bread and pulses such as figs to help ease constipation  

Are there any foods to avoid?

Sticking to a healthy, balanced diet is recommended when you’re feeling unwell. While you might be tempted to indulge in a few of your favourite comfort foods, it’s important to avoid anything too spicy, rich or creamy, salty or heavily preserved or anything that is more difficult for your body to digest – unfortunately that does mean that fried foods are off the menu! It’s also advised to avoid smoking and drinking alcohol. 

When to seek medical help 

Most stomach aches will subside after a few hours, but you can talk to a pharmacist about what might be causing your stomach ache and request advice on treatments that might help, including medicines for constipation or indigestion, if applicable. 

It’s also recommended to speak to a doctor if you’re still experiencing the pain a few days later. People with severe, frequent or persistent stomach issues should also consult a medical professional, especially if the pain returns after eating a certain food or engaging in a specific activity. As older adults and children become dehydrated more quickly, you should consider seeking medical attention for them if their stomach ache lasts longer than a day.

Speak to your GP or another medical professional if:

• The pain gets much worse suddenly

• The pain or bloating won’t go away or keeps coming back 

• You feel stomach pain and have problems with swallowing food

• You’re losing weight without trying to

• You’re suddenly peeing more or less often, or peeing suddenly becomes painful

• You’re bleeding from your bottom or vagina, or notice abnormal discharge from your vagina

• If diarrhoea doesn’t go away after a few days

Seek urgent medical attention (call 999 or visit A&E) if: 

• A stomach ache comes on very suddenly or severe 

• It hurts when you touch your stomach 

• You’re vomiting blood or vomit looks like ground coffee

• Your poo is bloody or black and sticky and extremely smelly 

• You cannot pee, poo or pass gas

• You have severe chest pains, or you are struggling to breathe

• If you are diabetic and begin vomiting

• If you collapse