Studies suggest that there is a strong link between antibiotic use and stomach pain. Population studies of children, for instance, find that antibiotic-associated abdominal pain occurred in around 9.3 percent of patients, with constipation affecting 8.0 percent.
Further studies in adults confirm that antibiotics are major disruptors of gut microbiota. Clinical consequences of antibiotic use can include cramps, bloating and diarrhea.
Is it normal for antibiotics to make your stomach hurt?
Because of the way that antibiotics work, stomach problems are a common complaint. According to research on a panel of antibiotics (including some of the most commonly prescribed), “gastrointestinal and dermatologic events are the most frequent,” with problems occurring in 5.5 percent of patients.
Stomach complaints emerge during and after antibiotic usage because of the critical role gut microbes play in digestive health. Bacteria are responsible for bulking up stools (so that they pass more easily through the colon), absorbing certain nutrients from your diet, breaking down hard-to-digest sugars, sugar alcohols, and fiber, and releasing beneficial compounds into your bloodstream, such as short-chain fatty acids. When antibiotics disrupt these functions, it can lead to a cascade of unwanted symptoms and side effects such as stomach pain.
Why do antibiotics make your stomach hurt?
Antibiotics can’t tell the difference between good and bad bacteria in your body. Therefore, they kill both the infection-causing and health-supporting microbes indiscriminately.
When gut microbiota dies, it can have a range of unwanted side effects including diarrhea, stomach cramps, vomiting, and nausea. Gut flora may return to normal afterwards, particularly if you are on a short course, but symptoms may last for a couple of weeks.
How long does stomach pain from antibiotics last?
Antibiotic-related stomach pain typically lasts for a few days after starting the course of antibiotics. In some cases, the stomach pain may be more severe and may require over-the-counter medication for relief.
If the stomach pain is accompanied by other symptoms, such as nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea, it is important to contact a healthcare provider as soon as possible. This could be a sign of a more serious reaction to the antibiotic.
Most side effects from antibiotics resolve on their own within a few days, but it is important to follow the instructions of a healthcare provider if they are severe or do not improve.
How to stop stomach pain from antibiotics?
Taking antibiotics is often necessary. If infections develop, they can become life-threatening. Fortunately, there are several things that you can do to stop stomach pain from antibiotics. Here’s a rundown:
1. Consume Prebiotic-Rich Foods
Prebiotics are not the same as probiotics. Probiotics, such as kefir and sauerkraut, contain live cultures which multiply once they reach your gut. By contrast, prebiotics are foods that contain substances that gut microbiota like to eat, such as fiber.
Eating plenty of prebiotics, such as nuts, peas, lentils, berries, beans, and bananas, while taking antibiotics can lessen the impact on your gut flora. Even though the medicines will kill billions of individual bacteria, prebiotics provide food that allows them to multiply faster, allowing them to continue their regular function for longer.
2. Eat at the same time as taking your antibiotics
You’ll notice that the labels on some antibiotics recommend that you take them with food while others suggest an empty stomach. Most antibiotics absorb through the stomach lining best when the stomach is empty. However, manufacturers of antibiotics known to cause gastrointestinal distress will often instruct patients to take them with meals. The presence of food may help to reduce the impact of anti-microbial substances on the gut flora, protecting it from damage.
3. Eat yoghurt
Yoghurt is a fermented food that contains billions of healthy live cultures. Eating it can help to repopulate your gut microbiome during and after a course of antibiotics.
If dairy causes gastrointestinal problems for you, try plant-based alternatives, such as tempeh, kimchi or miso. Adding multiple probiotics to your diet may help to improve the diversity of your gut flora so that it continues functioning normally.
4. Add garlic to your diet
Garlic is a source of prebiotics. And it’s delicious too. Adding it regularly to your meals while taking antibiotics can help you limit the damage to your gut microbiota.
5. Keep your portions small
Lastly, you’ll want to keep your food portions on the smaller side. Large servings can push the balance of bacteria in your stomach even further out of whack after a course of antibiotics, worsening cramping and bloating. Don’t worry: you can return to your normal eating patterns once the course is over.
6. Use probiotics
Probiotics are live bacteria that are similar to the beneficial bacteria found in the gut. Taking probiotics while on antibiotics can help to reduce the risk of gastrointestinal side effects. Probiotics work by restoring the balance of gut bacteria, which can be disrupted by antibiotics. They can also help to break down food and absorb nutrients more effectively. As a result, probiotics can be an effective way to reduce stomach pain caused by antibiotics.
7. Drink more water
One way to help reduce these side effects is to drink plenty of water. Water helps to flush the digestive system, which can help to reduce the risk of constipation and other issues. In addition, water helps to thin the mucus that lines the stomach, making it less likely to irritate the lining of the stomach.
8. Vitamin K
Vitamin K helps to reduce inflammation and soothes the lining of the stomach, providing relief from pain. In addition, it helps to restore the normal balance of bacteria in the gut, which can further reduce discomfort.
9. Take antacids or other medications
Antacids, such as Tums and Rolaids, can help neutralize stomach acid and provide relief from stomach pain. Other medications that may be recommended include histamine blockers, such as cimetidine (Tagamet) and ranitidine (Zantac), and proton pump inhibitors, such as omeprazole (Prilosec) and lansoprazole (Prevacid). These medications can help to reduce stomach acid production and provide relief from pain.
How to prevent stomach pain from antibiotics?
There are a few things you can do to help prevent stomach pain from antibiotics. First, take your antibiotic with food. This will help to protect your stomach lining from being irritated by the medication. Second, try to take probiotics at the same time as your antibiotic. Probiotics can help to restore the balance of bacteria in your gut, which can reduce inflammation and prevent stomach pain. Finally, be sure to drink plenty of fluids. This will help to keep your digestive system moving and prevent constipation, which can exacerbate stomach pain
How else can antibiotics affect your stomach?
Antibiotics affect people differently. For some, stomach pain will be the only symptom, while others will experience a range of issues. Other common side effects of antibiotic use include loss of appetite (or feeling uncharacteristically full all the time), diarrhea, vomiting, and feeling like you are about to be sick.
Again, the vast majority of these symptoms should end once you finish your course of treatment. However, recovery may take longer. Studies reveal that it takes most gut bacteria species between one and two months to repopulate after an antibiotics course.
When to see a doctor?
Experiencing mild stomach pain after taking antibiotics for a few days isn’t usually anything to worry about. In most cases, the pain only lasts for part of the course.. (For instance, if you are on a seven-day course, you might only have stomach pain for the first three days).
However, if the pain becomes severe, you’ll need to talk to a doctor. Severe pain could suggest damaging disruption of gut microbiota, constipation, and uncontrollable bowel spasms.
Get help from an online doctor
If you are taking antibiotics and your stomach pain becomes severe, seek medical attention from an online doctor. They can talk to you about the antibiotics you are taking, your symptoms, and whether you require immediate medical attention.
Signs of severe gastrointestinal distress include:
- Persistent nausea and vomiting that won’t go away
- Vomiting blood
- Constipation combined with vomiting
- A sudden and severe pain in your stomach
- Bowel bleeding
- Yellowing of tissues around the eyes
- Stomach complaints that for several days
- Issues while pregnant
- Abnormal bloating, tenderness or swelling of the abdominal region
In some cases, you may need to stop taking the antibiotics you are on right now and switch to a different course.
- Antibiotics disrupt the gut’s microbiota
- Changes in metabolism can result in stomach pain
- You can reduce the risk of stomach pain while on antibiotics by eating prebiotics and probiotics, taking pills with meals, and avoiding large portions
- If you experience severe or persistent pain while taking antibiotics, contact your doctor for urgent care
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- Ramirez J, Guarner F, Bustos Fernandez L, Maruy A, Sdepanian VL and Cohen H (2020) Antibiotics as Major Disruptors of Gut Microbiota. Front. Cell. Infect. Microbiol. 10:572912. Available from: https://doi.org/10.3389/fcimb.2020.572912
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- Heta S, Robo I. The Side Effects of the Most Commonly Used Group of Antibiotics in Periodontal Treatments. Med Sci (Basel). 2018 Jan 18;6(1):6. doi: 10.3390/medsci6010006.