What is it?
Stomach pain is an uncomfortable sensation in the abdominal area. There are several different reasons for stomach pain, but you can narrow it down based on the location of the pain. Generalized pain occurs in at least half of the abdomen, like indigestion or an upset stomach. Localized pain is in one specific area of the abdomen. If it comes on suddenly and worsens quickly, it is more likely to be symptomatic of a serious issue. Pain from cramps can be intermittent, and move around the abdomen. Most cramps can be relieved by passing gas or having a bowel movement, or go away on their own within 24 hours.
What causes it?
Stomach pain has a wide range of causes. Severe and mild illness or injury can cause stomach pain, as can muscle strains, certain medications, ovarian cancer, menstruation, appendicitis, indigestion, food poisoning, gastroenteritis, blood vessel issues, and many other problems. In many cases, stomach pain does not require immediate attention. However, there are some cases in which you should see a doctor.
If you suddenly feel severe pain in the abdomen, this could be due to a rupture or perforation in one of the major organs. If you have a pain that increases when you move around, but doesn’t seem to be a muscle strain, you should have a doctor check you for appendicitis or gall bladder disease. Minor pain that does not abate or becomes more severe over the course of several hours or days should also be checked out.
When to Schedule a Doctor’s Visit
- Discomfort lasts for more than a week
- Pain does not improve within one or two days
- Pain becomes more severe and frequent, accompanied by nausea and vomiting
- Bloating persists for more than two days
- A burning sensation when you urinate
- Stomach pain accompanies a fever of over 100°
- Poor appetite for at least a week, or unexplained weight loss
- Vomiting for more than 24 hours
- Severe diarrhea for more than two days
- Black, tarry, or bloody stools
Who is at risk?
Almost everyone has had an upset stomach at some point in his or her life. The vast majority of stomach pains will go away on their own, and you may not know the cause. There are no risk factors that make any one person more likely to suffer from stomach pain than another. Some diseases, like Crohn’s disease, peptic ulcer disease, and gallbladder disease, list stomach pain as a side effect. Certain medications can also induce stomachaches.
Signs and Symptoms
There are different kinds of stomach pain. Pain can be categorized by location (general or localized to a certain region of the abdomen) as well as by severity (mild, moderate, or severe) and type (dull, cramp-like, achy, sharp, etc.) Stomach pains can occur on their own, or may be accompanied by gas, bloating, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, constipation, or fever. When you see your health care provider, he or she will likely ask you if the pain is intermittent, and if certain foods, drinks, or activities seem to exacerbate the pain. Sometimes, stomach pains can radiate into the back, shoulder area, and groin. The symptoms and signs that accompany stomach pain will depend on the reasons for your pain.
The tests your doctor will perform vary significantly depending on the type of stomach pain you are experiencing. First, he or she will ask you several questions to try to determine the cause of your stomach pain. In many cases, it is simply a case of the flu, dehydration, a pulled muscle, a reaction to food or medication, or something else that will pass within a few days.
In some instances, though, your doctor may be concerned about a more severe problem, like appendicitis, gallstones, diverticulitis, or an intestinal blockage. He or she may order imaging tests to get a closer look at what is going on inside your abdomen. This can include MRIs, ultrasounds, and X-rays. A colonoscopy or endoscopy will allow the doctor to examine what is happening in the colon and intestines using a small camera or microscope. The results of these tests will help your doctor figure out what next steps you need to take, if any.
Mild or moderate stomach pain often goes away on its own, or is relieved by the expulsion of gas or a bowel movement. Hydration is essential to keep everything in your stomach and gastrointestinal tract moving forward, and a high-fiber diet promotes a strong, healthy digestive system. Treatments for more severe stomach pains vary depending on the cause of the pain, and can range from rest to medication to surgery.