Published 23rd August 2023
What can cause a burning sensation in your stomach?
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.
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.
Common triggers include:
drinking too much alcohol, coffee, or fizzy drinks
eating too fast
eating highly acidic, spicy, or greasy foods
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
You can manage most causes of indigestion with medication and dietary changes.
Your symptoms might improve if you eat or drink fewer:
highly acidic foods, like tomatoes and oranges
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
An adverse reaction to food can also present in other ways, including:
fatigue and low energy
nausea and vomiting
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:
uncomfortable fullness during or after eating
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:
More severe and rare reactions can include:
liver, heart, kidney, or circulation problems
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.
Join the community
Be the first to know about ZOE’s breakthrough research, content from the world’s leading scientists, and more.
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:
bloating and swelling
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.
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.
Some possible causes of a burning sensation in your stomach include:
a food intolerance
certain kinds of medication
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:
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.
Abdominal pain syndrome. (2013). https://gi.org/topics/abdominal-pain/
Alcohol and gut-derived inflammation. Alcohol Research. (2017). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5513683/
Food allergy vs food intolerance in patients with irritable bowel syndrome. Gastroenterology & Hepatology. (2019). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6423694/
Food intolerance. (2022). https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/food-intolerance/
Functional dyspepsia: New insights into pathogenesis and therapy. Korean Journal of Internal Medicine. (2016). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4855108/
Global prevalence and burden of meal-related abdominal pain. BMC Medicine. (2022). https://bmcmedicine.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12916-022-02259-7
Helicobacter pylori infections. (2021). https://medlineplus.gov/helicobacterpyloriinfections.html
Indigestion (dyspepsia). (n.d.). https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/digestive-diseases/indigestion-dyspepsia
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). (n.d.). https://www.nhsinform.scot/illnesses-and-conditions/stomach-liver-and-gastrointestinal-tract/irritable-bowel-syndrome-ibs
Managing irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). (n.d.). https://www.nhsinform.scot/illnesses-and-conditions/stomach-liver-and-gastrointestinal-tract/irritable-bowel-syndrome-ibs/managing-irritable-bowel-syndrome-ibs
Mortality and risk factors associated with peptic ulcer bleeding among adult inpatients of Damascus Hospital, Syria: A cross-sectional study. Medicine (Baltimore). (2023). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC10145724/
Non-celiac gluten sensitivity: A review. (2019). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6630947/
NSAIDs. (2022). https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/nsaids/
Pattern of food intolerance in patients with gastro-esophageal reflux symptoms. Minerva Medicine. (2017). https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28884564/
Peptic ulcers (stomach and duodenal ulcers). (n.d.). https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/digestive-diseases/peptic-ulcers-stomach-ulcers
Sex-gender differences in irritable bowel syndrome. Journal of Neurogastroenterology & Motility. (2018). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6175559/
Stomach cancer. (n.d.). https://www.cancer.org/cancer/types/stomach-cancer.html
Symptoms & causes of GER & GERD. (2020). https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/digestive-diseases/acid-reflux-ger-gerd-adults/symptoms-causes
Symptoms and descriptions of pain. (n.d.). https://sisu.ut.ee/arstil_inglise/4symptoms-and-description-pain
Understanding and managing pain in irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). (n.d.). https://aboutibs.org/treatment/understanding-and-managing-pain-in-ibs/
What is the Mediterranean diet? (2020). https://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/healthy-eating/eat-smart/nutrition-basics/mediterranean-diet
July 10, 2023
Why do stress and anxiety cause stomach pain?
Stress-related stomach pains include cramps and nausea. Learn how the gut and brain communicate so you can mak...
February 16, 2023
What causes bloating and how can you deal with it?
Feeling bloated can be uncomfortable and unpleasant. Here are some things to try if it’s affecting you regular...