What Causes Stomach Spasms?
Stomach spasms are contractions of your abdominal muscles (abs), stomach, or intestines. Depending on which part of your body is spasming and how badly, it might feel like either a slight muscle twitch or stomach cramps.
In most cases, stomach spasms themselves are harmless, but they could be a symptom of an underlying condition. Read on to learn more about potential causes of stomach spasms and when to call your doctor.
Causes of stomach spasms
Identifying the cause of your stomach spasms can help you treat this symptom. Here are 11 conditions that may be responsible for your symptom.
1. Muscle strain
Overworking your abdominal muscles could cause them to spasm. Spasms due to muscle strain are most likely to occur in people who do strenuous and frequent exercise, especially crunches and situps.
Other symptoms of muscle strain are:
- tenderness or pain in your abs
- pain that gets worse with movement
Losing electrolytes from dehydration caused by sweating, vomiting, and diarrhea can result in muscle spasms throughout your body, including your stomach. This happens because muscles need electrolytes such as calcium, potassium, and magnesium to work properly. When they don’t have these electrolytes, your muscles may start working abnormally and seizing up. Learn more about identifying and treating an electrolyte imbalance.
Other symptoms of dehydration include:
- extreme thirst
- dark yellow urine
A buildup of gas in your stomach can cause your intestinal muscles to spasm as your body tries to release the gas. If you have gas, you might also have:
- distended stomach or bloating
- sharp stomach pain
- a feeling of fullness
- an urge to pass gas or burp
4. Inflammatory bowel disease
These diseases, such as Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis (UC), are chronic inflammatory conditions. Crohn’s disease can affect any part of the gastrointestinal tract, while UC only affects the colon. In both conditions, inflammation can cause bowel spasms.
Other symptoms of inflammatory bowel diseases are:
- weight loss
- abdominal cramps and pain
- night sweats
- feeling like you urgently need to go to the bathroom
5. Irritable bowel syndrome
- stomach pain or cramping
- bloated feeling
- diarrhea (sometimes constipation and diarrhea will alternate)
6. Gastritis and gastroenteritis
Gastritis and gastroenteritis are both stomach inflammation, but in gastroenteritis, the intestines are also inflamed. Infections, such as from Helicobacter pylori, Norwalk virus, and rotavirus, usually cause these conditions.
Other symptoms of gastritis and gastroenteritis include:
- nausea and vomiting
- diarrhea (gastroenteritis only)
- stomach pain
7. Infectious colitis
Colitis can cause abdominal cramping due to irritation and inflammation of the colon, which causes it to spasm. Some bacteria that can cause colitis include Clostridium, Salmonella, and E. coli. Parasites such as Giardia can cause colitis too.
8. Ischemic enteritis and colitis
Sometimes colitis is caused by lack of blood supply to the small bowel and colon. Spasms can occur in this type of colitis as well.
Your bowels may cramp when you experience constipation as they distend in response to increased pressure inside them.
An ileus is when your bowels become “lazy” or “sleepy.” This can occur for a number of reasons including infection, inflammation, recent surgery (especially in the abdomen), narcotic use, severe illness, and lack of physical activity. An ileus causes your bowels to fill with air and fluid, resulting in distention and pain.
Stomach spasms in pregnancy
Stomach spasms are a common occurrence in pregnancy. Most causes of stomach spasms during pregnancy are harmless, but you should see a doctor if you have pain, or constant or recurring spasms.
Some possible reasons for spasms in pregnancy are:
Gas is a very common symptom of pregnancy. This is because the progesterone your body produces to support the pregnancy also relaxes your muscles, including the muscles of your intestine. That slows down your digestion and allows gas to build up.
Other symptoms include:
- sharp stomach pain
- a feeling of fullness
- an urge to pass gas or burp
Braxton-Hicks contractions, also known as false labor, often happen in the last trimester of pregnancy. They usually feel more like a tightening of muscles than the pain of actual labor, and they aren’t regular. These contractions are harmless, but it’s a good idea to check with your doctor if you experience them, especially if they start to become regular.
Your baby moving
When your baby kicks or rolls over, it might feel like a muscle spasm in your stomach, especially during your second trimester. At this point, your baby probably isn’t big enough for you to feel strong kicks, so movement feels more like a spasm or twitch.
Your stomach muscles stretch during pregnancy to accommodate the baby. When muscles stretch, they might also twitch as they try to maintain their original size. Muscle stretching can also lead to dull, achy pain (round ligament pain), but is considered a normal part of pregnancy.
When to see a doctor
Most stomach spasms are harmless and go away without further treatment. If your stomach spasms are painful or happen often, they could be a sign of a more serious medical issue. See your doctor if you have any of these symptoms in addition to stomach spasms:
- blood in your bowel movements
- severe pain, especially chest pain
- long-lasting or recurring stomach spasms
- shortness of breath
You should also see your doctor if your stomach spasms are interfering with your daily life or causing you distress.
Home remedies for immediate relief
If your stomach spasms are bothering you, there are ways you can get immediate relief or treat them at home. Some at-home treatments will treat the underlying cause of muscle spasms, while others relax the stomach muscles so that they stop spasming.
If you’re having stomach spasms in pregnancy, talk to your doctor before trying any home remedies. Some home treatments may not be safe during pregnancy.
Heat can help to relax your stomach muscles. This is particularly helpful if muscle strain or overuse is causing your spasms.
Massaging your stomach muscles can help to relax them.
Chamomile can be used to calm an upset stomach and could help manage spasms. It’s also considered a home remedy for gas.
If your stomach spasms are caused by dehydration, replenishing your electrolytes may help. Try drinking a sports drink like Gatorade or eating a banana.
Use caution, however, if you have a history of kidney failure, because some electrolytes, particularly potassium, can rise to dangerous levels with supplements.
Also, if you develop dizziness or you pass out because of dehydration, you’ve lost a significant amount of body fluid. Seek immediate treatment in the nearest emergency room for intravenous fluid replacement to prevent your body from going into shock and to prevent damage to your heart, liver, brain, and kidneys.
You must be cautious with OTC pain medications. Ibuprofen and similar drugs can cause gastric ulcers and kidney damage if taken in excessive amounts. Acetaminophen in large amounts can cause liver damage and even liver failure. If you feel that you need to take more of these medications than the recommended dosage on the bottle, you should consult with a doctor.
Stomach acid can cause gastritis, which in turn can cause stomach spasms. In these cases, antacids or OTC proton pump inhibitors can help your spasms by reducing stomach acid.
If your spasms are caused by muscle strain, cutting back on exercise and resting your stomach muscles will help stop the spasming.
Stomach spasms caused by conditions such as gas, dehydration, and muscle strain can usually be treated at home. Other conditions or severe stomach spasms usually require treatment from a doctor.
Your doctor will try to determine the underlying cause of your stomach spasms and treat that cause. Treatment might include:
- antibiotics for gastritis or gastroenteritis caused by bacteria
- a class of medication called aminosalicylates for UC and some cases of Crohn’s disease
- corticosteroids for UC and Crohn’s disease
- antispasmodic medications if you have IBS or very severe spasms not controlled by other treatments
Preventing stomach spasms
If your stomach spasms are caused by a condition such as inflammatory bowel disease or IBS, treating those conditions is the best method to prevent stomach spasms. For stomach spasms caused by muscle strain, gas, or dehydration, here are some ways you can help prevent them from happening:
- Exercise correctly. Working your muscles hard can be good for your health, but working them too hard or incorrectly can lead to injuries. Always make sure you use proper form and rest if you need to.
- Stay hydrated. A loss of electrolytes due to dehydration can cause stomach spasms. Making sure you stay hydrated, therefore, can help reduce spasms.
- Changing your diet may help prevent stomach spasms caused by gas, gastritis, IBS, and inflammatory bowel disorders.
- If gas is causing your stomach spasms, limiting fiber intake might help. Eating fiber can help people with constipation caused by IBS and gastritis.
- Limit your alcohol consumption.
- Limit spicy foods, which can irritate your stomach and make spasms worse.
- Fatty foods can also increase symptoms in these conditions and should be limited.
- If you have an inflammatory bowel disease, work with your doctor to find the safest foods for you to eat.
Outlook for stomach spasms
Stomach spasms can sometimes just be normal muscle movement, and are often caused by conditions treatable at home.
Sometimes they can be a sign of a problem that requires a doctor’s attention, however. If your stomach spasms are severe, persistent, or last longer than a few days, or if you have fever, blood in the stool or vomitus, or persistent nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea, you need to seek medical attention.