Diaphragm pain after eating

What is the diaphragm?

The diaphragm is a large muscle between the abdomen and the chest, it is attached to the ribs and the spine. It is not part of the digestive system, it helps with breathing.

The upper side of the diaphragm is in contact with the heart and lungs, the other side (abdominal diaphragm) is in contact with the liver, stomach, and spleen.

There are openings on the diaphragm (called hiatus) that allow the esophagus, certain nerves, and veins to pass through.

Several conditions can cause diaphragm pain – like exercise, trauma, or pregnancy -, however, in this article we are focusing on eating-related diaphragm pain.

Why does the diaphragm hurt after eating?

In most cases eating does not trigger pain in the diaphragm, however, several organs can cause pain after eating around the diaphragm and one might feel it’s the diaphragm that hurts.

Common causes of eating-related pain around the diaphragm:

  • hiatal hernia
  • liver disease
  • gallbladder problems
  • acid reflux

Chest pain and upper stomach pain can easily be mistaken for diaphragm pain.

Pain in diaphragm and back after eating

Several health problems might cause diaphragm and back pain at the same time, the two most common ones are:

  • Gallbladder inflammation and gallstones: Usually causes pain in the right side. Abdominal pain and right shoulder pain are also common symptoms.
  • Acid reflux: Both back and diaphragm pain are possible symptoms. Most people also experience a burning pain around the middle of the chest, under the sternum.

Pancreatitis and (a very large) hiatal hernia might also back and diaphragm pain after eating.

Breathing problems often cause lower back pain and diaphragm pain. A possible condition that might trigger both back and diaphragm pains is COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease).

COPD causes diaphragm and back pain

COPD is a set of health-related issues that affect the lungs and cause breathing problems.

Eating might worsen symptoms of COPD:

  • Eating too much puts extra pressure on the lungs, which might cause symptoms for people suffering from COPD.
  • People with COPD require more energy for breathing. However, digestion also requires a lot of energy, which is another cause for symptoms after eating.

Fatty and salty foods are the common trigger of pain back and diaphragm pain in people with COPD.

Pain under the diaphragm after eating

Upper stomach pain is often felt as pain or discomfort under the diaphragm. This symptom usually indicates an underlying cause in the digestive tract:

  • Fatty, fried foods might trigger symptoms for people with gallbladder issues or pancreatitis.
  • Spicy foods might irritate peptic ulcers, which might cause pain under the diaphragm.
  • Acid reflux is also a possible culprit, however, in this case, chest discomfort is also a common symptom.
  • Any food that causes nausea might also trigger upper abdominal pain, below the diaphragm.

Upper diaphragm pain after eating

Greasy foods might trigger upper diaphragm pain in people suffering from acid reflux, gallbladder problems, or pancreatitis.

Other possible causes of upper diaphragm pain after eating are:

  • costochondritis
  • COPD

Costochondritis and upper diaphragm pain

Another possible cause of upper diaphragm pain is costochondritis. Costochondritis is the inflammation of the cartilage where the ribs connect to the sternum. If this condition is the cause, the pain usually gets worse when taking a deep breath.

Sugar is a common trigger of pain for people suffering from costochondritis, because of its pro-inflammatory effect.

Since several very different medical conditions might trigger discomfort in the back and diaphragm area, it’s best to go to a doctor for a proper diagnosis.

Sometimes it is not the upper diaphragm but the esophagus that hurts. Both acid reflux and esophageal spasms (e.g. after very cold drinks) might trigger such pain.

Right diaphragm pain

Liver disease and gallbladder problems are common causes of diaphragm pain in the right side, especially after eating fatty foods.

Liver disease

Alcohol abuse and too much sugar consumption are the most significant eating-related risk factors of liver disease.

Infections, certain types of cancer, medications, and several other factors can also cause liver disease.

Even though this condition does not always cause symptoms, when it does, the common symptoms are:

  • upper abdominal pain, which might be felt as diaphragm pain
  • yellowish skin and eyes
  • swelling in the legs
  • dark urine and pale stool
  • nausea, vomiting
  • fatigue

In many cases liver disease can be treated with dietary and lifestyles changes, others require medications or even surgery.

The following lifestyle changes should help to recover from liver disease:

  • avoid alcohol
  • avoid greasy and sugary foods
  • walk, do yoga or other light exercises regularly
  • lose some weight, if you are overweight
  • certain dietary supplements, like VitaPost Liver Support Plus, might also help

Gallbladder issues

Gallbladder problems – like inflammation, gallstones, or bile sludge – are very common triggers of right side pain.

Albeit the gallbladder is under the liver, it can cause pain in the right chest, arm, shoulder, neck, sometimes even in the right leg.

Other common symptoms of gallbladder problems:

  • nausea, vomiting
  • fever, chills
  • yellowish skin and eyes
  • an abdominal cramp that worsens when taking a deep breath

Gallbladder problems can cause severe upper abdominal pain. If the pain doesn’t go away, it might be a medical emergency!

If you have already developed gallbladder problems, you need to consult with a doctor for a proper diagnosis and treatment.

A gallbladder-friendly diet can go a long way in preventing gallbladder issues and managing the conditions of those who already have symptoms.

Gallstone Natural Solution

This study recommends the following foods to avoid gallbladder problems:

  • high amounts of vegetables, fruits
  • low-fat dairy products
  • vegetable oil
  • nuts
  • whole grains
  • legumes
  • fruit juice
  • fish
  • spices
  • low intake of salt

Diaphragm pain on the left side

An enlarged spleen, or pancreatitis might trigger left diaphragm pain after eating.

Enlarged spleen

Infections, blood disorders, certain blood-related cancers (e.g. leukemia), or liver diseases are the common causes of an enlarged spleen (also called splenomegaly).

While this condition usually goes unnoticed, sometimes it can trigger symptoms:

Symptoms usually occur after eating too much, there is no special trigger food for this condition.


The inflammation of the pancreas can trigger pain in the left part of the body. Even though this gland is a bit further from the diaphragm, referred pain might be felt around the diaphragm area.

The most common cause of pancreatitis is long-term heavy drinking. Symptoms are:

  • pain in the left side of the body: stomach, back, chest, ribs, shoulder
  • nausea, vomiting
  • fever
  • yellowish skin and eyes
  • losing weight without trying

Treatment might require a few days of hospitalization, so make sure to contact your doctor if you think you have issues with your pancreas.

A healthy diet and lifestyle can help your pancreas to recover faster or stay healthy:

Center diaphragm pain

The common causes of center diaphragm pain after eating are hiatal hernia and acid reflux. Actually, hiatal hernia might trigger acid reflux episodes.

Hiatal hernia

As mentioned above, there are small openings on the diaphragm, called hiatus. One of these openings allows the food pipe to pass through the diaphragm and connect to the stomach.

Sometimes the stomach pushes through this opening up into the chest. This condition is called hiatal hernia.

Depending on the size of the hiatal hernia, it might cause no symptoms at all, however, large ones might require surgery.

Possible symptoms are:

A hiatal hernia often causes acid reflux.

Acid reflux

We talk about acid reflux when stomach acid can seep back (reflux) into the food pipe.

Common risk factors of acid reflux are:

  • hiatal hernia
  • eating too much
  • smoking, stress
  • pregnancy
  • certain foods and drinks

During acid reflux episodes, the stomach acids irritate the lining of the esophagus, which causes a burning sensation around the center of the chest. This is called heartburn.

Heartburn can easily feel like diaphragm pain, as this is where the esophagus connects to the stomach and the pain might be the most intense around this area.

Final thoughts

While the diaphragm rarely hurts after eating, many other parts of the body can trigger eating-related pain around this area.

No matter what causes upper abdominal or lower chest pain after eating, it is always a good idea to talk to a doctor about the symptoms and get a proper diagnosis.

On the other hand, a healthy diet and lifestyle can help a lot in such cases. As a rule of thumb, limiting fat and sugar intake, alcohol consumption, and smoking should help to manage the condition.

Frequently asked questions

Can you get diaphragm pain after vomiting?

Yes, throwing up is a possible cause of diaphragm pain. Vomiting puts a lot of pressure on the abdomen, chest, and esophagus, which might trigger both chest and diaphragm pain.

Digestive juices might irritate the esophagus, which might also feel like diaphragm pain.

Can you get diaphragm pain from coughing too much?

Yes, just like vomiting, coughing also puts a lot of pressure on the chest and abdomen, therefore chronic coughing might cause diaphragm pain.

Chronic coughing after eating is a possible symptom of acid reflux.