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Feeling pressure in your belly? Causes and treatment options

Deciphering that feeling of pressure in your abdomen

Many of us are familiar with stomach discomfort, often aware of the cause, such as overeating during a meal. Typically, this leads to a temporary feeling of tension without significant repercussions. However, acute, severe, or persistent abdominal pain can also indicate underlying health issues. If you're experiencing prolonged or recurrent abdominal discomfort with no apparent cause, it's time to seek a doctor for a thorough evaluation (1)!

Identifying the exact cause of abdominal pain can be challenging. When the pain cannot be linked to any visible damage or diseases, it falls under the category of functional disorders. Within the gastrointestinal tract, this includes conditions like functional dyspepsia or irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) (2).

Excessive filling of the stomach may exert a noticeable pressure on the upper abdominal region, perceived by some as an uncomfortable feeling of fullness and by others as pain. This p erception varies depending on various factors, including the sensitivity of nerves in the gastrointestinal tract (3).

In individuals without pre-existing medical conditions, dietary and stress factors often play a role in this pressure you feel in your belly. In this article, we will explore specific medical conditions where abdominal pressure serves as a prominent symptom: bloated stomach, gastritis, functional dyspepsia, and IBS. Additionally, we'll provide recommendations for prevention and symptom relief.

Inadequate dietary habits leading to abdominal pressure

The familiar discomfort of a bloated stomach post-meal isn't solely influenced by food choices but also by eating habits. Stomach pain is frequently linked to overeating, with certain foods or meal combinations presenting greater challenges to the digestive system. Notably, high-fat meals, alcohol, and coffee can exacerbate gastric discomfort. Individual t olerance levels vary, and even nutritious foods like legumes, various cabbage types, members of the allium family (such as onions), certain fruits, and whole grains may trigger digestive issues in some individuals. A prudent approach involves individual testing and, if necessary, temporary elimination of specific foods (3). Employing various food preparation methods, such as pre-soaking legumes or incorporating digestion-friendly spices like cumin, can enhance digestibility (4).

Another cause for diet-related abdominal pain could be food intolerances like lactose or fructose intolerance. In such cases, the body lacks specific enzymes or transport proteins to properly digest these substances. Complete avoidance is rarely required since the severity of symptoms typically correlates with the quantity of ingested food (5).

Stress-induced abdominal pain: the significance of the gut-brain axis

graphic of gut and brain connection
The communication between the gut and the brain profoundly impacts both health and overall well-being.

Have you heard of the terms "enteric nervous system" or "gut-brain axis"? These terms describe the intricate interplay between mental health and the functionality of our digestive and immune systems.

In addition to the central nervous system, the gut houses the largest concentration of nerve cells. These cells regulate the functions of our digestive tract and consistently transmit information between the abdominal region and the brain. When the stomach or intestines undergo expansion, such as after a meal, signals are sent to the brain, giving rise to sensations like satiety, fullness, or even discomfort, such as abdominal pain. Conditions like functional dyspepsia or IBS may lead to hypersensitivity, causing these signals to be interpreted as pain (6).

Moreover, the stomach responds to stress, anxiety, and tension by, for example, moderating gastric emptying or increasing the production of stomach acid. In certain individuals, stress-induced situations can result in nausea, while being concerned about something may lead to a decreased appetite. For some, emotions like anxiety, worry, depression, and stress can potentially contribute to the onset or exacerbation of gastrointestinal disorders (3,6).

For more comprehensive insights about this topic, feel free to explore the following blog posts:
This is how the gut and brain are connected
The causes of a disturbed gut-brain connection

Abdominal tightness as a symptom of medical conditions

Persistent, recurrent, or severe abdominal discomfort can be indicative of various medical conditions. Seeking medical attention for a thorough diagnosis and appropriate treatment is crucial (1). Let's explore some medical conditions where the sensation of pressure in the abdominal area commonly presents itself as a symptom:


Bloating, while occasionally affecting individuals without underlying health concerns, often presents as a symptom of diverse digestive disorders. This condition involves the accumulation of gas within the gastrointestinal tract, leading to abdominal distension. Although meteorism is often associated with increased flatulence, this may not always be the case. Sometimes, bloating is purely a subjective experience resulting from heightened sensitivity of the abdominal wall. Such occurrences commonly coincide with functional dyspepsia or IBS.

Disease management typically involves dietary adjustments. Deliberate, methodical chewing can mitigate inadvertent air swallowing during meals. Recommended dietary modifications include avoiding irregular, excessive meals, excessive caffeine intake, carbonated beverages, and artificial sweeteners. Certain foods, although generally nutritious, can provoke bloating and flatulence in some individuals, such as legumes, cruciferous vegetables, members of the allium family, as well as certain fruits and whole grain products. Given individual variations in tolerance, personalized experimentation and, if warranted, temporary exclusion are recommended. Incorporating digestion-friendly spices like cumin or fennel may offer some relief (4).

Medical evaluation is essential to exclude potential underlying organ-related pathologies, bacterial intestinal dysbiosis, or food intolerances.


Gastritis denotes an inflammatory response of the gastric mucosa to various triggers. Key risk factors encompass Helicobacter pylori infection and the use of potentially ulcerogenic medications. Lifestyle factors including smoking, stress, and dietary habits also play a role. Gastritis patients frequently exhibit alterations in gastric acid secretion, either excessive or insufficient. Another form of the condition, autoimmune gastritis, involves the immune system attacking the stomach lining.

Symptoms of gastritis typically manifest following prolonged illness and encompass a spectrum of symptoms, including upper abdominal discomfort, bloating, nausea, and postprandial vomiting. Neural communication between the gastrointestinal tract and the brain also influences gastritis: stress and emotional agitation may escalate gastric acid secretion or impede gastric emptying, highlighting the complex interplay between psychological stressors and gastrointestinal health. Stress can also worsen gastritis in individuals with Helicobacter pylori colonisation.

Certain foods increase the acidity level in the stomach, which can further burden the mucous membrane. These include smoked, heavily fried, particularly fatty and sugary foods, as well as alcohol, caffeine, and certain spices. Additionally, the composition, portion size, and regularity of meals influence the intensity and duration of gastric acid exposure to the gastric mucosa (3).

graphic of the stomach and doctors
The regulation of gastric acid plays a significant role in gastritis and functional dyspepsia.

Functional dyspepsia

Functional dyspepsia is a commonly diagnosed digestive disorder. Symptoms include upper abdominal pain, belching, nausea, or (early) fullness after meals. When no organic causes can be found, such as a stomach ulcer, it is referred to as a functional disorder - in this case, functional dyspepsia (6,7).

The causes of functional dyspepsia are often challenging to ascertain. A medical examination often reveals inadequate food transport, excessive gastric acid, hyperactivity of stomach muscles, or organ dysfunction. If symptoms persist, seeking medical advice is crucial to rule out serious organ diseases (7). Psychological stress or disturbances in the gut-brain communication are considered the primary reasons for the development of functional dyspepsia. An irritable stomach often coexists with other gastrointestinal problems such as IBS or acid reflux (6).

Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)

Patients with IBS experience constipation, diarrhea, bloating, and/or abdominal pain. A medical diagnosis is essential to exclude organic bowel diseases such as inflammation or tumors. Intolerances to lactose or fructose, which cause a similar onset of symptoms, can also be detected during a professional diagnosis (7).

IBS is associated with an altered microbiome composition and disruptions in the gut-brain axis: patients perceive pain or ordinary stimuli in the intestine more intensely than healthy individuals. Psychological factors such as stress can exacerbate IBS symptoms or even trigger the condition (8).

As an example, a low-FODMAP diet may alleviate symptoms of IBS. FODMAPs are short-chain carbohydrates found in many otherwise healthy foods. FODMAPs are poorly absorbed in the small intestine, then pass into the colon where they are fermented by bacteria. In individuals with a sensitive gut, this can cause symptoms such as diarrhea, abdominal pain, and bloating. Professional guidance in implementing this diet is advisable to most effectively identify individual food intolerances. Long-term elimination diets are generally recommended only when a food intolerance or allergy is definitively diagnosed (8).

graphic of the gut and doctors
Irritable bowel syndrome is associated with alterations in the gut microbiota.

More information about this topic:
This is how successful the low-FODMAP diet is for irritable bowel syndrome
Living with irritable bowel syndrome – this is how you get your symptoms under control

What can alleviate abdominal discomfort?

The strategies to alleviate gastrointestinal discomfort are as diverse as their triggers, and different approaches may be effective for different individuals. Here are some suggestions to enhance your well-being:

Stress management and relaxation techniques

As mentioned earlier, stress profoundly affects our digestive system through the gut-brain axis. Effective stress management with regular relaxation periods can prevent numerous complaints and alleviate symptoms. Prioritize minimizing stress and conflict in your daily life. Set aside dedicated time for activities that promote relaxation and stress relief, such as outdoor exercise, yoga , meditation, or engaging in your favorite hobbies. Massages can also stimulate the digestive organs and improve well-being (7). Additionally, using a hot water bottle or a warm cherry stone pillow can provide relief for abdominal discomfort, as heat relaxes the abdomen and creates a comforting sensation (10).

Adjusting your diet to support your digestive system

Making changes to your diet can be challenging but can have a significant impact on long-term well-being. Consider the following strategies to ease the strain on your digestive system (7,8,9):

  • Stick to consistent meal times.
  • Opt for frequent, smaller meals throughout the day.
  • Chew your food thoroughly , ensuring each bite is consumed mindfully. This encourages adequate production of digestive juices and prevents excessive air swallowing.
  • Include plenty of steamed or cooked vegetables in your diet .
  • Avoid heavily fried and excessively fatty foods.
  • Limit your intake of sugar, alcohol, and caffeine.

Keeping a food diary can help identify foods that may not be well-tolerated. Often, it's not just the type of food but also the quantity or how it's prepared that affects tolerance. Consider consulting a nutrition professional to guide you through this process. Generally, long-term elimination diets that cut out entire food groups are not recommended (8).

If you're looking for tasty, gut-friendly recipes and valuable insights to improve your dietary choices, check out our comprehensive e-book "Microbiome Food" for gut-friendly nutrition. Additionally, browse through our recipe blog for healthy culinary inspiration.

Physical activity for enhanced well-being

Engage in activities that bring you joy to promote digestion and overall well-being. Outdoor exercise, in particular, can effectively reduce stress levels. Consider incorporating a "digestive walk" into your routine after meals to stimulate intestinal movement, providing soothing relief (9). The German Society for Gastroenterology, Digestive and Metabolic Diseases recommends exercise as a method to alleviate various gastrointestinal complaints, emphasizing its role in long-term improvement in quality of life (8).

two people walkin in a forest
Exercise supports digestion, reduces stress, and promotes well-being.

Natural remedies and herbal treatments for abdominal pain

Traditional herbal medicine offers numerous plant-based remedies that can aid in gastrointestinal issues. These include:

  1. Bitter plants such as artichoke, wormwood, or angelica root stimulate digestion (7).
  2. Alkaline potato juice can provide relief for gastric hyperacidity or upper abdominal discomfort (7,11).
  3. Enteric-coated peppermint oil capsules have been shown to relieve symptoms of IBS, particularly pain and bloating (8). Other herbal options for managing IBS include rosehip powder, caraway oil capsules, St. John's Wort, lavender oil, various herbal teas, or herbal mother tinctures (plant extracts with alcohol) (11).
  4. Camomile flowers have antispasmodic, digestive, and anti-inflammatory properties (7,10).
  5. Tea preparations from caraway, fennel, or anise can have anti-flatulent effects (4).
  6. The herbal blend STW-5 (Iberogast), consisting of bitter candytuft, angelica root, camomile flowers, caraway fruit, milk thistle fruit, lemon balm leaves, peppermint leaves, celandine, and licorice root, has demonstrated efficacy in various symptoms of functional gastrointestinal issues such as IBS or functional dyspepsia. These plant-based ingredients primarily act as mucosal protectants, anti-inflammatory agents, and soothe hypersensitive digestive organs (8,12).
herbs for digestion
Camomile, peppermint, and caraway can help relieve digestive issues.

The impact of the gut microbiome on your well-being

In summary, abdominal discomfort can stem from various causes, and similarly, diverse strategies can help alleviate symptoms on an individual basis. If medical issues have been ruled out as causes , it's essential to boost your digestive system with a healthy lifestyle. Your gut bacteria's composition mirrors the level of self-care you engage in. A myBioma gut microbiome analysis provides valuable insights into your unique gut microbiome and its connection to your metabolism and the gut-brain axis.

Test your gut microbiome to gain deeper insights into your health.


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Carina Gurtner BSc, BA
Carina Gurtner BSc, BA
As a nutritionist and media & communication scientist, Carina uses her expertise to communicate complex health topics in an understandable way. Her aim is to inspire others to lead a conscious, healthy and sustainable lifestyle.