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HealthSheets™

Abdominal Pain

Abdominal pain is pain in the stomach or belly area. Everyone has this pain from time to time. In many cases it goes away on its own. Certain types of abdominal pain can be from a serious problem, like appendicitis. So it’s important to know when to get help.

Healthcare provider examining woman's abdomen in exam room.

We understand that gender is a spectrum. We may use gendered terms to talk about anatomy and health risk. Please use this sheet in a way that works best for you and your provider as you talk about your care.

Causes of abdominal pain

There are many possible causes of abdominal pain. Common causes in adults include:

  • Constipation, diarrhea, or gas

  • Stomach and intestine inflammation caused by a virus or bacteria (gastroenteritis, or 'stomach flu')

  • Stomach acid flowing back up into the esophagus (acid reflux or heartburn)

  • Severe acid reflux, called GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease)

  • A sore in the lining of the stomach or small intestine (peptic ulcer)

  • Inflammation of the gallbladder, liver, or pancreas

  • Gallstones or kidney stones

  • Appendicitis 

  • Intestinal blockage 

  • An internal organ pushing through a muscle or other tissue (hernia)

  • Urinary tract infections

  • In women, menstrual cramps, fibroids, ovarian cysts, pelvic inflammatory disease, or endometriosis

  • Chronic inflammation or infection of the intestines, including Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis

  • Irritable bowel syndrome

Diagnosing the cause of abdominal pain

Your healthcare provider will give you a physical exam help find the cause of your pain. If needed, you'll have tests. Belly pain has many possible causes. So it may take a little time to find the reason for your pain. Giving details about the type of pain, such as sharp or dull, can help. Tell your provider where and when you feel the pain, and what makes it better or worse. Also let your provider know if you have other symptoms such as:

  • Fever

  • Tiredness

  • Upset stomach (nausea)

  • Vomiting

  • Changes in bathroom habits

  • Blood in the stool or black, tarry stool

  • Weight loss that you can't explain (involuntary weight loss)

Also report any family history of stomach or intestinal problems, or cancers. Tell your provider about all your alcohol use and any illegal drug use. Tell your provider about all medicines you take, both prescription and over the counter. This includes any vitamins, herbs, and other supplements.

Treating abdominal pain

Some causes of pain need emergency medical care right away. These include appendicitis or a bowel blockage. Other problems can be treated with rest, fluids, or medicines. Your healthcare provider can give you specific instructions for treatment or self-care based on what's causing your pain.

 

If you have vomiting or diarrhea, sip water or other clear fluids. When you're ready to eat solid foods again, start with small amounts of easy-to-digest, low-fat foods. These include applesauce, toast, or crackers.

Call 911

Call 911 right away if you:

  • Can’t pass stool and are vomiting

  • Are vomiting blood or have bloody diarrhea or black, tarry diarrhea

  • Have chest, neck, or shoulder pain

  • Feel like you might pass out (faint)

  • Have pain in your shoulder blades with nausea

  • Have sudden, severe belly pain

  • Have new, severe pain unlike any you've felt before

  • Have a belly that is rigid, hard, and hurts to touch

When to call the healthcare provider

Call your healthcare provider right away if you have:

  • Pain that's getting worse or not getting better

  • Bloating that's getting worse or not getting better

  • Diarrhea that's getting worse or not getting better

  • Fever of 100.4°F (38°C) or higher, or as directed by your provider

  • Weight loss for no reason

  • Continued lack of appetite

  • Blood in your stool

How to prevent abdominal pain

Here are some tips to help prevent abdominal pain:

  • Eat smaller amounts of food at each meal.

  • Don't eat greasy, fried, or other high-fat foods.

  • Don't eat foods that give you gas.

  • Exercise regularly.

  • Drink plenty of fluids.

To help prevent GERD symptoms:

  • Quit smoking.

  • Reduce alcohol and foods that increase stomach acid.

  • Don't use aspirin or over-the-counter pain and fever medicines, if possible. This includes nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs).

  • Lose excess weight.

  • Finish eating at least 2 hours before you go to bed or lie down.

  • Raise the head of your bed.

© 2000-2021 The StayWell Company, LLC. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.