Abdominal pains are about as common as health complaints come. But do you know what causes these symptoms, or how you might prevent them from happening so frequently.

A spicy curry, food that has gone past its used by date, a cold on the tummy: these are just some of the things we often attribute to abdominal pains. And as the receptacle for everything we ingest, it is true that the stomach and surrounding organs involved in digestion take more than its fair share of punishment and can be a source of regular pain.

Let us introduce you to five of the most common causes, to help you get to the bottom of your own upset digestive system – you never know when it might help you determine the difference between a dodgy meal and something more sinister.

Intolerances

Lactose intolerance – An allergy to the sugar found in milk and milk products, lactose intolerance is actually more common than tolerance. While in the UK we as a nation drink litres of milk and eat tons of cheese every year, areas of the world such as Asia and Africa find that lactose is much less agreeable with them.

Gluten intolerance – An allergy to the protein found in rye, barley and wheat, which damages the small intestine. Once unable to absorb nutrients, the small intestine may be the source of pain and cause problems such as diarrhea, weight loss and even malnutrition. The most serious form of gluten intolerance is known as Coeliac disease.

Lactose and gluten intolerances commonly cause mild abdominal pain, bloating, diarrhea and indigestion.

Irritable Bowel Syndrome

IBS is not only incredibly common, it is also unfortunately a problem that can affect the digestive system for life. Chronic abdominal pains, bloating, diarrhea and/or constipation are frequently associated with IBS and may last for days or even months on end.

IBS can be managed through a combination of medication and a close attention to diet, exercise and even stress-management. IBS is more common among women than it is among men.

Parasites

It may not be a pleasant thought, but we all have little organisms inhabiting our bodies. Some – such as bacteria in our stomachs – can actually help to keep our bodies functioning properly. Others, can have a more damaging impact on our insides.

Parasites are most commonly ingested into the body through contaminated food or water, and although they may initially be too small to notice they may grow to be a sizeable issue. Tapeworms, for instance, can grow up to several metres in length.

Symptoms of parasitic infection can include constipation, diarrhea and gas, leading to severe discomfort and abdominal pains. Those who suspect they may be infected with parasites should immediately consult a health professional.

Gallstones

So called because they form in the gallbladder, gallstones can be particularly troublesome because they swell large enough to block the ducts into the intestine. The resulting pain caused by blockages can progressively worsen as the gallbladder and intestines become inflamed and sore.

Acid Reflux

Acid reflux is a condition caused by a faulty valve at the top of the stomach. When the Lower Oesophageal Sphincter (LOS) fails to close after food is ingested, the acid produced in the stomach can move up into the oesophagus. The result is typically a combination of heartburn, regurgitation, bloating and burping.

Treating acid reflux can involve portion control at meal times, lying down after a meal, weight management, maintaining a healthy diet and using acid reflux medications such as Omeprazole or Lansoprazole.