Updated 17th April 2024

What can cause a burning sensation in your stomach?

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A burning feeling in your stomach is often due to indigestion. Some other possible causes include ulcers and reactions to foods or medications.

Making small adjustments to your diet or lifestyle can often help ease the burning sensation and reduce how often you experience it.

While some serious conditions can cause the feeling, most of the time, it doesn't result from a health issue that you need to worry about.

Here are five common reasons for a burning sensation in your stomach. We also look at other symptoms you might have and what your treatment options are.

1. Indigestion

Indigestion is also called dyspepsia. It’s a group of gut symptoms that happen at the same time, including a burning feeling in the stomach.

Every year, around 25% of people in the United States experience indigestion at some point. Many people who have it feel a burning sensation in their upper abdomen.

Common triggers include:

  • drinking too much alcohol, coffee, or fizzy drinks

  • eating too fast

  • eating highly acidic, spicy, or greasy foods

  • stress

  • smoking

  • some antibiotics and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), like ibuprofen

Several health conditions can cause indigestion, including:

  • Acid reflux: This involves stomach acid flowing up into your esophagus — the pipe that takes foods and drinks from your mouth to your belly. The issue can cause a burning feeling behind your breastbone. It’s also known as gastroesophageal reflux or heartburn.

  • Functional dyspepsia: This is chronic indigestion that doesn’t have an easily identifiable cause. If you have it, you may experience a burning sensation just below your rib cage.

Other associated symptoms

People with indigestion may also:

  • feel uncomfortably full during or after a meal

  • have bloating and gas

  • burp often, which may bring up food or fluid

  • have a gurgling or growling belly

Treatment options

You can manage most causes of indigestion with medication and dietary changes.

Your symptoms might improve if you eat or drink fewer:

  • alcoholic drinks

  • fizzy sodas

  • caffeinated drinks

  • highly acidic foods, like tomatoes and oranges

  • spicy foods

  • fatty foods

  • greasy foods

Also, you can buy antacid medications over the counter, like sodium bicarbonate or esomeprazole. These help lower the level of acidity in your stomach and soothe the burning sensation.

If you have indigestion that lasts for longer than 2 weeks, contact a doctor.

2. Food intolerances

A food intolerance can lead to a burning feeling and other indigestion-like symptoms

Common intolerances include:

Some foods and drinks can irritate your gut and cause symptoms even if you don’t have an intolerance. Having lots of spicy foods and alcohol can lead to this irritation.

Other associated symptoms

Other common symptoms of a food intolerance are bloating, farting, and diarrhea.

An adverse reaction to food can also present in other ways, including:

  • headaches

  • fatigue and low energy

  • nausea and vomiting

  • constipation

  • joint pain

  • skin rashes


You might need to avoid the triggering food or drink altogether.

But with the help of a dietician, it’s usually possible to find ways to safely include the food or drink in your diet.

Over time, you can often train your body to tolerate the trigger without any symptoms.

To learn more about food intolerances — and allergies — check out this ZOE Science & Nutrition podcast.

3. Peptic ulcers

Peptic ulcers are sores that develop at the top of the intestines or in your stomach lining. Often, the cause is an infection with Helicobacter pylori bacteria. 

A burning sensation in the stomach is the most common symptom of a peptic ulcer. 

This pain may develop anywhere between the belly button and the back of the breastbone. It may be especially noticeable on an empty stomach.

Other causes of peptic ulcers include NSAID use and medical procedures involving the stomach or small intestine.

Males have a higher risk of developing peptic ulcers than females.

Other associated symptoms 

Alongside burning stomach pain, peptic ulcers can cause:

  • bloating

  • belching

  • uncomfortable fullness during or after eating

  • acid reflux

  • nausea

If an H. pylori infection is behind your ulcers, you may also have a reduced appetite and unintentional weight loss.

Peptic ulcers don’t always cause symptoms, however.


A doctor may prescribe antibiotics to treat an H. pylori infection. Or, they may prescribe drugs called proton pump inhibitors to address NSAID side effects. 

Peptic ulcers can take several months to heal fully.

4. Medication side effects

NSAID use can lead to indigestion and peptic ulcers — two causes of a burning feeling in the stomach. 

People take these medications to relieve joint pain, headaches, and premenstrual symptoms. The drugs can also lessen the symptoms of viral infections, like a cold, the flu, and COVID-19.

Common NSAIDs include ibuprofen, naproxen, diclofenac, and aspirin.

Other associated side effects

NSAID use may also cause:

  • headaches

  • dizziness

  • drowsiness

More severe and rare reactions can include:

  • allergic reactions

  • liver, heart, kidney, or circulation problems

  • strokes

Preventing and managing NSAID side effects

If you take NSAIDs to manage the symptoms of a health problem, and you develop a burning sensation in your stomach, speak to a doctor about alternative treatments.

Also, taking NSAIDs with water and food may reduce the risk of developing side effects.

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5. Irritable bowel syndrome

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a long-term digestive condition that causes a range of symptoms.

When IBS causes stomach pain, people often describe it as a stabbing, aching, sharp, or throbbing sensation. However, everyone experiences pain differently, so it could feel like burning.

IBS affects around 5–10% of the world’s population.

According to the International Foundation for Gastrointestinal Disorders, most people with IBS who see a doctor do so because of their abdominal pain.

Research shows that in the U.S., females are twice as likely as males to develop IBS. This study also found that people report worse symptoms — including abdominal pain — during menstruation.

Other associated symptoms

IBS causes severe changes in bowel habits. You may develop constipation, diarrhea, or both.

Other symptoms can include:

  • acid reflux

  • bloating and swelling

  • excessive farting

  • low energy

  • nausea

Treating IBS

No single test can diagnose IBS. Doctors will rule out other conditions, like celiac disease and inflammatory bowel disease, before they start recommending diet changes. 

Managing IBS symptoms often involves changing your intake of triggering foods and drinks. These may include certain sweeteners, or they may be processed foods that contain resistant starch.

One approach to treating IBS is a low-FODMAP diet.

The acronym stands for “fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides, and polyols” and the diet involves avoiding certain carbs and sugars. 

ZOE’s U.S Medical Director Dr. Will Bulsiewicz, who is a board-certified gastroenterologist,  tells us that “Some patients see improvement in their symptoms very quickly if they take these simple steps: Cut out caffeine, alcohol, and spicy and fatty foods.”

He also says that peppermint oil, probiotics, and fiber supplements can help, though you’ll need to go through some trial and error.

A dietitian may recommend adjusting your fiber intake to help you manage constipation and diarrhea.

To learn more about IBS, listen to the ZOE Science & Nutrition podcast on the topic.

Could it be stomach cancer?

Several types of cancer start in the stomach. They don’t always cause symptoms, especially in the early stages. But when symptoms arise, they can include a burning sensation in the abdomen.

However, symptoms like this burning feeling are far more likely to stem from indigestion, infection, or ulcers.

Stomach cancer is not common. It accounts for roughly 1.5% of new cancer diagnoses in the U.S., according to the American Cancer Society. 

Cases are also dropping by 1.5% every year. The society estimates that about 26,500 new stomach cancer cases will be diagnosed in the country in 2023.

Editor’s summary

Some possible causes of a burning sensation in your stomach include:

  • indigestion

  • a food intolerance

  • peptic ulcers

  • certain kinds of medication

  • IBS

Although cancer can also cause this symptom, it’s far more likely to stem from one of the causes listed above.

When to contact a doctor

If you have any of these symptoms alongside a burning sensation in your stomach, seek medical help:

  • frequent vomiting

  • bloody vomit

  • black or tarry stool

  • blood in your stool

  • dizziness or fainting

  • a loss of appetite

  • unexplained weight loss

  • sudden, severe abdominal pain that doesn’t go away

  • pain or difficulty swallowing

  • pain in your arm, chest, jaw, or neck

  • shortness of breath

  • yellowing of your skin or eyes

Also contact a doctor if the burning sensation lasts for longer than 2 weeks.


Learning more about the burning feeling in your stomach can help a doctor find the cause. It’s a good idea to keep track of:

  • the location of the pain

  • how often you feel it

  • when it occurs and how regular the pattern is

  • whether it spreads to other areas

  • any other symptoms, like vomiting, nausea, diarrhea, or constipation

The doctor will ask about your medical and family histories and perform a physical exam to check for swelling, tenderness, and bowel sounds.

If they can’t identify the problem, they may then ask for:

  • blood, urine, and poop tests

  • imaging tests, like X-rays and MRI or CT scans

  • an endoscopy, which involves inserting a long, thin tube with a camera attachment into your stomach

Diet changes and prevention

Dr. Bulsiewicz has described how to reduce acid reflux by changing your diet. And it’s not only what you eat, but how you eat that matters.

According to Dr. B, some strategies include:

  • taking time to enjoy your food and eating in a relaxed way

  • avoiding bending or lying down after eating

  • giving your body 3–4 hours to digest your last meal before you go to bed

  • gradually adding more fiber to your diet

He also recommends the Mediterranean diet, which prioritizes:

  • fruits, veggies, and high-fiber whole grains

  • legumes, seeds, and nuts

  • olive oil as a main source of fat

  • low amounts of lean white meat, fish, dairy, and eggs

When it comes to recommending approaches to IBS, his advice involves attending to the community of bugs in your gut: your gut microbiome.

“If you have irritable bowel syndrome — or frankly, even if you don't — we should all be orienting our diet and lifestyle toward supporting the gut microbiome, because ultimately the gut microbiome plays a central role in the development of IBS.”

With ZOE’s at-home test, you can find out which “good” and “bad” bacteria make up your gut microbiome, along with how your body responds to sugars and fats.

We can then give you personalized advice about which foods will best support your gut health.

To find out more about how it works, take our free quiz today.


A burning sensation in your stomach can stem from several factors. The most common cause is indigestion.

Peptic ulcers, certain foods, certain medications, and IBS can also lead to this burning feeling. 

While some cancers can cause a burning sensation in your stomach, the symptom is far more likely to result from another cause.

Changing your diet could ease the pain. In some cases, a doctor may need to examine you and prescribe treatment. 


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