Description and function of the stomach
Your stomach is an integral part of your digestive system. The stomach is a muscular, sac-like organ in the gastrointestinal tract of humans and many other animals, including several invertebrates. The stomach has a dilated structure where food is digested through physical and chemical processes.
The stomach has three main functions in the digestive system:
- It stores food.
- It mixes food with digestive juices and broken down into smaller particles
- It slowly empties its contents into the small intestine.
The stomach is divided into four sections: the fundus, the body, the antrum, and the pylorus. The fundus is the uppermost part of the stomach. The body is the main section of the stomach. The antrum is the lower part of the stomach. The pylorus is the opening of the stomach that leads to the small intestine.
The stomach wall is lined with mucous membranes. These membranes produce mucus and bicarbonate. Mucus protects the stomach lining from the acid in the digestive juices. Bicarbonate neutralizes the acid in the stomach contents.
The stomach muscles mix the food and digestive juices. This process is called peristalsis. The muscles contract and push the food and juices towards the pylorus. The pylorus is a valve that controls the passage of food into the small intestine.
The stomach can hold about one litre of food. When the stomach is empty, it is about the size of a small pear. When it is full, it can expand to the size of a football.
The stomach secretes digestive juices. These juices contain hydrochloric acid and pepsin. Hydrochloric acid kills bacteria and other microorganisms in food. Pepsin is an enzyme that starts the digestion of proteins.
The stomach muscles contract about three times a minute. These contractions keep the food and juices moving and prevent them from staying in the stomach for too long. If the food and juices remain in the stomach for too long, they can start to decompose.
The stomach empties its contents into the small intestine. The process of emptying is called gastric emptying. The stomach contents are emptied into the small intestine in small amounts over a period of time.
Stomach pain is one of the most common health complaints and a leading cause of 16 million visits by Canadians to their emergency departments (ED). Stomach pain also accounts for more than 9.6 million ED’s visits each year in the United States. The good news is that most causes of stomach pain are not severe and can be easily treated with simple remedies.
The most common cause of stomach pain or upset is indigestion or digestive problems. This usually happens after overeating, eating too fast, or eating high-fat or spicy foods. Indigestion can also be caused by stress, smoking, drinking too much caffeine, or taking certain medications.
Most stomach pain or upset go away on its own within a few hours. But if the pain is severe or lasts more than a few days, it could be a sign of a more serious condition. If you have any of the following symptoms, seek medical attention right away:
- Black, tarry stools
- Bright red blood in your stool
- Bloody vomit
- Chest pain
- Difficulty swallowing
- Persistent vomiting
- Severe abdominal pain
- Shortness of breath
- Unexplained weight loss
If you have stomach pain that is not severe and does not go away, there are several home remedies you can try to help alleviate the pain.
First, try to identify what is causing the pain. If you think it might be indigestion, avoid eating foods that are known to trigger indigestion, such as spicy, fatty, or fried foods. It would help to avoid drinking alcohol, smoking, or eating too quickly.
If your stomach pain is due to gas or bloating, try to relieve the pressure by passing gas. You can also try lying on your back with a pillow under your knees or taking a hot bath.
Drinking plenty of fluids, especially water, can also help to ease stomach pain. And if the pain is due to constipation, drinking fluids and eating high-fibre foods can help relieve the pain by making bowel movements easier.
Other significant sources of stomach pain (Diseases and conditions)
Several diseases and conditions can affect the stomach, ranging from mild to severe.
The most common stomach disorder is gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), characterized by the backflow of stomach acid into the esophagus. This can lead to heartburn, chest pain, and damage to the esophageal lining. Treatment for GERD typically involves lifestyle changes and medication.
Another common stomach disorder is irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), which is a chronic condition that can cause abdominal pain, bloating, and changes in bowel habits. IBS is often treated with dietary changes, medication, and stress management.
Less common but more serious stomach disorders include ulcers, cancer, and gastroparesis. Ulcers are open sores that form on the stomach lining, which can be very painful. Stomach cancer is relatively rare, but it is a serious disease that can be fatal. Gastroparesis is a condition in which the stomach muscles stop working correctly, and it can cause nausea, vomiting, and weight loss.
Stomach flu, also known as gastroenteritis, is a condition that results from a virus or other infection that causes inflammation of the stomach and intestines. The most common symptoms of stomach flu are nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and abdominal cramps.
Although stomach flu can be uncomfortable, it is usually not serious. It will resolve on its own within a few days. However, some people may experience more severe symptoms, such as dehydration, that require medical treatment.
There are a few things you can do to help relieve the symptoms of stomach flu:
- Drink plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration.
- Eat small, frequent meals.
- Avoid dairy, spicy, and fatty foods.
- Get rest.
Suppose your symptoms are severe or persist for more than a few days. In that case, it is important to see a doctor to rule out other potential causes, such as food poisoning or a more serious illness.
Over-the-counter medicines for the stomach
There are many different over-the-counter medicines for the stomach. Some are designed to treat specific conditions, while others are general remedies. Here is a look at some of the most popular over-the-counter medicines for the stomach:
Antacids: Antacids are a type of medication that is used to relieve heartburn, indigestion, and nausea. They work by neutralizing stomach acids. There are many different brands and types of antacids available. Some examples include Tums, Rolaids, and Maalox.
H2 Blockers: H2 blockers are a type of medication that is used to decrease the production of stomach acid. They are often used to treat heartburn, indigestion, and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). Some examples of H2 blockers include ranitidine (Zantac), famotidine (Pepcid), and Axid.
Proton Pump Inhibitors: Proton pump inhibitors are a medication used to decrease stomach acid production. They are often used to treat heartburn, indigestion, GERD, and peptic ulcers. Some examples of proton pump inhibitors include Prevacid, omeprazole (Prilosec), and Nexium.
Antidiarrheal Medications: Antidiarrheal medications are a type of medication that is used to treat diarrhea. They work by slowing down the movement of the intestines. Some examples of antidiarrheal medications include loperamide (Imodium) and diphenoxylate (Lomotil).
Bismuth Subsalicylate: Bismuth subsalicylate is a medication used to treat diarrhea, indigestion, and nausea. It works by binding to the bacteria that cause diarrhea. Bismuth subsalicylate is the active ingredient in Pepto-Bismol.
There are many different over-the-counter medicines for stomach pain and ache. Whether you live in Lynnwood, Ogden or Riverbend, or any other Calgary community, talk to your doctor or your pharmacist at Ogden Pharmacy to determine which one is right for you.