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  • Jean Ang

What Should I Do When My Upper Abdomen Hurts?

Imagine being overwhelmed with work the whole morning. You were rushing for a deadline that you even forgot your breakfast. Lunchtime came round and you gulped down a bowl of noodles. And then... Ah. The full attack of the upper abdominal pain was nigh. 胃痛! This is your stomach warning you that what you did earlier was not right.

Upper abdominal pain (epigastric pain),  胃痛, is pain or discomfort below the ribs in the upper abdomen which includes heartburn, bloating, and gas. It is one of the most common gastrointestinal conditions. We see many patients with wrenching epigastric pain in our clinic daily.

The main symptom of acid reflux, indigestion, gastritis, GERD, gallstones, cholecystitis, appendicitis, liver abscess, peptic ulcer, bowel obstruction, and diverticular disease is usually this upper abdominal pain.

Epigastric pain may also occur with conditions that cause inflammation of the digestive organs, such as gastritis and pancreatitis. Just for your information, the pain from acute pancreatitis (AP) often radiates to the back.


In TCM, the earliest mention of epigastric pain was in one of the two books of Yellow Emperor's Canon of Medicine.《灵枢:邪气脏腑病形篇》云:"胃病者,腹瞋胀,胃脘当心而痛。The various descriptions of pain include distending, sharp/stabbing, dull and colicky. There are at least eight syndromes, six acute/excessive (实证) and two deficient (虚证). The most common syndrome in layman terms is 'indigestion due to hectic exertion', or 'eating when your adrenaline is still high'.


What should you do when you are down with epigastric pain?

  1. Find somewhere to lie down 45° and rest

  2. Place a hot pack or warm water bottle on your abdomen

  3. See a medical doctor/General Practitioner/licensed Chinese Medicine physician

  4. Press on the acupoint nei(1) guan(1) 内关穴 located near your wrist while waiting to see the doctor

Not all epigastric pain could be controlled and relieved solely by milk, ginger or essential oils. More often than not, only specific medications can treat epigastric pain, particularly for Chinese medicine. Hence we do not recommend self-medication. Please seek help for a thorough checkup and definite diagnosis.

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