We all deal with abdominal pain from time to time, and while a stomach ache is never fun, it’s a common enough occurrence that most of us know that it’s not usually the end of the world. The issue could be as simple as gas or eating too much too fast, in which case taking an antacid and waiting it out could easily do the trick. However, stomach pain can sometimes appear as a sign of something far more serious – potentially even life-threatening. It can sometimes be difficult to distinguish a simple upset stomach from a dangerous medical issue, but knowing what to look for when your middle starts to hurt can be hugely important to getting the care that you need.
Here are a few things to keep in mind when determining the likely cause of your abdominal pain:
Where is your pain located?
“Stomach pain” can be a bit of a misnomer, as the abdominal region is also home to the intestines, pancreas, spleen, appendix, liver, kidneys, and gallbladder, and the issue could be with any one or combination of these. Locating pain specifically can be a bit tricky, but it can be helpful in diagnosing the problem to at least be able to specify whether the pain is in your upper or lower abdomen, on the right or left side.
What does it feel like?
“Pain” is a pretty broad term that can encompass a lot of different sensations, and different conditions are going to manifest in different ways. Is your pain a dull, constant ache or a sharp stabbing pain? Is it continuous, lasting over a lengthy period of time, or does it come and go? Any of these details may help with identifying the cause of your pain.
Do you have any other symptoms?
Take note of whether your abdominal pain is accompanied by other symptoms. Symptoms that may emerge in combination with stomach pain include nausea, indigestion, bloating, constipation, vomiting, and diarrhea. Identifying any of these can help narrow down the root cause of abdominal pain.
What are the main causes of stomach pain?
Potential causes of abdominal pain vary widely but the most common are infections, abnormal growths, blockages in the digestive system, constipation, stomach flu, stress, and digestive disorders such as Crohn’s, lactose intolerance, or irritable bowel syndrome. Primary causes of serious abdominal pain include:
Appendicitis: Typically a sudden, sharp pain beginning near the navel and moving towards the lower right quadrant of the abdomen. This may be accompanied by a fever. Symptoms will increase in severity as it progresses. Appendicitis is treated by surgical removal of the appendix.
Kidney stones: Kidney stones cause agonizing pain, often described by patients as the worst they have ever experienced, radiating from the midsection sometimes down to the groin area. Pain can be accompanied by vomiting, bloody urine, and fever.
When should you get immediate medical attention?
You should contact a medical professional ASAP if you experience the following symptoms:
- Pain with high fever
- Pain with trouble breathing
- Signs of dehydration (infrequent urination or dark urine, lightheadedness, extreme thirst)
- Pain with urination or frequent urination
- Serious nausea for over 48 hours
- Sudden change in type, location, or intensity of pain
- Severe pain localized in one specific part of the abdomen
How can stomach pain be treated?
Proper treatment depends on the cause of abdominal pain. Infections, inflammation, and digestive disorders can often be treated with prescription medication while serious organ issues may require surgery. Many of the less serious causes of stomach pain can be treated by eating more slowly, cutting out dairy, alcohol, or caffeine, improving posture, and managing stress levels.