Abdominal pain & gerd: understand the symptoms

Abdominal pain can be a blight on any day. Aches and pains in our abdomens can affect us not only physically but also mentally. Wondering about the cause of such symptoms can also add unnecessary stress to our lives.

Heartburn, acid reflux, indigestion, GERD – there are so many terms relating to gastrointestinal issues that it can sometimes become confusing. We frequently use these terms interchangeably, despite them being different conditions. Knowing which of these terms is associated with abdominal pain can therefore be difficult. Here Rennie guides you through some of the distinctions between these terms and explains which may be linked to the discomfort in your abdomen.


Acid reflux, which can lead to heartburn, is simply the movement of acid from the stomach up into the oesophagus. This typically results in a burning sensation in the chest or throat. This is occasionally accompanied by pain in the upper abdomen.


Indigestion is a wide-ranging term used to describe a series of issues causing pain and discomfort in the upper abdomen. It can be the result of increased sensitivity of the stomach lining to stomach acid, or the stretching of the stomach due to eating.

Symptoms of indigestion can include:

  • A pain that typically starts in the upper abdomen and moves up behind your breastbone
  • Pain behind the ribs
  • Nausea and/or vomiting
  • A rumbling or gurgling stomach
  • A knotted stomach or cramps
  • Bloated stomach
  • Feeling uncomfortable after eating
  • Excessive burping or flatulence
  • A burning sensation in your belly.

Indigestion is generally not serious and can normally be resolved with lifestyle changes. However, it can be a symptom of worse problems if recurring frequently. You should see a doctor if your indigestion coincides with:

Abdominal pain
  • Black stools
  • vomiting blood
  • frequent vomiting
  • unexplained weight loss
  • pain in jaw, arm, or neck
  • constant severe stomach pain
  • shortness of breath
  • sweating
  • yellowing of eyes or skin


Gastro-oesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD) is caused by the weakening of the lower-oesophageal sphincter (the valve at the bottom of your food pipe), which allows acid reflux to occur. It is a chronic condition, in which the sufferer usually experiences severe and frequent bouts of acid reflux, generally occurring two or three times a week.

However, GERD can cause people to suffer with other symptoms of indigestion too. For example, people suffering from GERD tend to also suffer with frequent pain in the upper abdomen. Other symptoms of GERD include regurgitation of sour liquid, coughing, wheezing, and difficulty swallowing.

If you are worried you may have GERD then you should seek medical advice.


GERD is not the only underlying condition that can cause recurrent bouts indigestion. Other less common conditions include:

  • Gastritis – inflammation of lining of the stomach, often caused by bacterial infections. Abdominal pain, nausea and vomiting are the most common symptoms.
  • Peptic Ulcers – a sore in the lining of the stomach. Most often the result of overuse of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen and aspirin. A dull ache or burning sensation in the abdomen is the most frequent symptom.
  • Stomach Cancer – symptoms include a poor appetite, unexplained weight loss, vomiting blood and blood in stools. Remember though that these symptoms are all more commonly explained by an infection. Do not panic if suffering with them, but do seek medical advice from a doctor.