Your digestive system and your respiratory system share a closer relationship than you might think. Functionally, they both help you absorb and transmit nutrients, and expel waste products. Physically, your stomach and lungs are located close to one another, and share many of the same parts of the body (your mouth and throat, for instance) when they are functioning properly.
Because your digestive and respiratory organs are so closely aligned, cough and stomach pain can often go hand in hand. Ailments that affect your lungs can have an adverse effect on your ability to digest food. Conditions that lead to abdominal pain or otherwise impact your gut function can negatively impact your ability to breathe, too.
If you are experiencing stomach pain when coughing, sneezing, or laughing, there could be a number of reasons for your discomfort. For some people, abdominal pain when coughing or sneezing signals that they have overly exerted or strained their stomach muscles, either through lifting, twisting, intense ab workouts, or from excessive coughing itself. That kind of stomach pain is usually short-lived, and will go away on its own with proper rest or light physical therapy within a few weeks.
For others, abdominal pain when coughing may signal an underlying health condition that requires medical treatment. In this article, I’ll cover the relationship between stomach pain and cough, including why you may be feeling stomach pain from coughing too much, and when your symptoms indicate that you may be suffering from a more serious health condition instead. I’ll also discuss stomach pain from coughing remedy options that you can try at home, and when it may be time for you to make a doctor’s appointment to rule out medical conditions that could be causing your discomfort.
Can Excessive Coughing Cause Abdominal Pain?
If you suspect that you are in abdominal pain from coughing or sneezing an excessive amount, you may be right. Intense coughing, even from a short-term case of the common cold, can overuse and strain your stomach muscles, making your abdomen feel sore—and coughing, sneezing, or laughing especially uncomfortable.
You can also strain or “pull” your stomach muscles from lifting heavy objects improperly, twisting the wrong way, or engaging in especially strenuous abdominal exercises. Abdominal pain from improper form or overzealous activity is usually short-lived, and easily able to be treated at home with a few simple remedies.
If your pain is severe, doesn’t improve quickly, or is accompanied by other symptoms like fever or dry cough, call your doctor to make an appointment. Your cough and stomach pain may be caused by a severe enough strain that you need physical therapy to help fully heal, or related to an underlying health condition that needs medical treatment.
What Helps a Stomach Ache From Coughing?
If you have reason to believe that your stomach muscles have been overworked through intense cough or another activity, a normal body temperature, and no other symptoms, your pain will probably go away on its own. Rest and recuperate, take an over-the-counter cough medicine or pain medication like ibuprofen or acetaminophen, and ice your stomach muscles with an ice or gel pack. You should be able to feel more comfortable within a few days, if not hours.
If you are experiencing fever, cough, stomach pain, and other symptoms that suggest your discomfort isn’t due to muscle strain, you may be suffering from a condition that requires medical treatment beyond simple home remedies. Note where you feel the pain—Do you feel upper abdominal pain when coughing? Lower stomach pain when coughing? Pain in the right side of your stomach?—and any other symptoms you are experiencing and make an appointment with your doctor to get to the root of the issue.
Risks and Related Conditions
There are a number of risk factors and related conditions that can cause patients to develop abdominal pain or stomach spasms while coughing or sneezing—some more acute and severe than others.
- Patients at risk for gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD): GERD is a digestive disease in which stomach acid (bile) flows back into your food pipe (esophagus) and irritates its lining. Patients with GERD may experience the uncomfortable effects of acid reflux (sharp pain in stomach when coughing, heartburn), at least twice a week. Their coughing may occur regularly after mealtimes, when lying down, or sometimes may occur for no identifiable reason. People who are overweight or who smoke are at particular risk for GERD, but it can also develop in individuals who regularly consume food and drinks that trigger heartburn—fatty, spicy, or fried foods, alcohol, citrus fruits, and caffeine products, among others.
- Patients who suffer from a hernia: This condition describes when an organ pushes through the abdominal muscle or tissue that usually holds it in place. Hernias are a fairly prevalent condition: 25% of men and 2% of women will experience a hernia in their lifetime. Symptoms of hernia include pain in the abdomen while lifting, coughing, or bending over, an abdominal bulge that burns or feels painful, and nausea. Individuals at risk for this condition include those with a family history of hernia, older men, people who suffer from chronic constipation, and people who are overweight.
- Patients who have appendicitis: Appendicitis is the inflammation of the appendix often caused by a blockage in the organ’s lining. Patients with appendicitis may experience broad stomach pain that gradually centralizes to their right side and progressively worsens. They may feel acute pain when they cough or sneeze, and present other symptoms like vomiting, diarrhea or constipation, fever, loss of appetite, inability to pass gas and nausea. Appendicitis affects one in 1,000 people living in the United States every year, and individuals at particular risk are between 10-30 years old, are male, and have a family history of the condition. Appendicitis is considered a medical emergency. If you believe you are suffering from appendicitis, call 911 or go to your nearest emergency room right away.
- Patients who develop a dry cough: This, along with stomach pain and other symptoms like fever, shortness of breath, body aches, nausea, vomiting, or loss of smell and taste may indicate coronavirus (COVID-19) symptoms. Most people with COVID-19 will only develop a mild or moderate case and can recover safely by isolating themselves at home. If you believe you have COVID-19 and are experiencing severe symptoms like trouble breathing, a dip in mental alertness, confusion, persistent pain or pressure in your chest, or a bluish tint to your lips, call 911. If possible, put a facemask on before help arrives.
When to See a Doctor
You should speak to a doctor if you are experiencing stomach pain when coughing and your symptoms are severe, don’t improve quickly, or are accompanied by any of the following symptoms:
- Dry cough
- Burning sensation in your throat
- An abdominal bulge that feels painful to the touch
- Black or bloody stools
- Trouble breathing
Your symptoms may be caused by an underlying condition that requires further medical treatment.
How K Health Can Help
It’s important to differentiate between stomach pain caused by coughing and stomach pain caused by an underlying medical condition. Did you know you can get affordable primary care with the K Health app? Download K to check your symptoms, explore conditions and treatments, and if needed text with a doctor in minutes. K Health’s AI-powered app is HIPAA compliant and based on 20 years of clinical data.