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Why Abdominal Pain Worsens With Movement

If your stomach pain gets worse when you move around, it may be just a cramp, but it also may be a sign of appendicitis, diverticulitis, pancreatitis, or a stomach ulcer.
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Last updated October 1, 2021

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8 most common causes

Stomach Ulcer
Crohn's Disease
Appendicitis
Pelvic Inflammatory Disease
Ectopic Pregnancy
Diverticulitis
Pancreatitis
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Esophageal perforation

Abdominal pain quiz

Take a quiz to find out what's causing your pain.

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9 causes for abdominal pain that gets worse with movement

Acute abdomen

Acute abdomen refers to sudden, severe abdominal pain that is considered a medical emergency, requiring immediate diagnosis and often urgent surgical intervention. People of both genders and all ages are at risk for acute abdomen because it can have such varied causes.

Stomach ulcer

A peptic ulcer or gastric ulcer is an open sore that forms when inflammation occurs in the stomach lining.

This stomach inflammation is caused by the bacteria Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) and by prolonged use of pain relievers such as ibuprofen or aspirin. Chronic inflammation allows acid to damage the stomach lining and an ulcer may form.

Smoking, drinking alcohol, stress, and spicy foods may aggravate ulcers, but do not cause them.

Symptoms include burning pain in the stomach; heartburn; nausea; and bloating.

The pain may be worse between meals or at night. Antacids will only work for a short time. There may be dark red blood in the vomit or stools.

Left untreated, ulcers may bleed and cause anemia. They may perforate the stomach and cause peritonitis (serious infection of the abdominal cavity.)

Diagnosis is made through physical examination and by testing breath and stool for H. pylori. Endoscopy is sometimes used.

Treatment involves a course of antibiotics to kill the bacteria, and medication to block excess acid and heal the stomach.

Rarity: Uncommon

Top Symptoms: fatigue, nausea, loss of appetite, moderate abdominal pain, abdominal cramps (stomach cramps)

Symptoms that never occur with stomach ulcer: pain in the lower left abdomen

Urgency: Primary care doctor

Pelvic inflammatory disease

Pelvic inflammatory disease, or PID, is the general term for a bacterial infection of a woman's reproductive organs.

PID is most often a complication of a sexually transmitted disease (STD) such as gonorrhea or chlamydia. However, it is possible to get PID from other causes.

Any woman can be affected. It is most often found in sexually active women under age 25, especially those who have had PID before, have multiple partners, and/or douche frequently.

Symptoms include fever, lower abdominal pain, foul-smelling vaginal discharge, pain and/or bleeding during sex, and pain on urination.

Untreated PID can cause infertility due to damaged tissue in the reproductive tract, as well as chronic pelvic and abdominal pain. Unprotected sex partners will be infected as well.

Diagnosis is made through symptoms, pelvic examination, vaginal and cervical swabs, and urine tests.

Treatment is with a course of antibiotics. Be sure to finish all of the medication as directed, even when you begin feeling better.

To prevent PID, have all partners (male or female) tested for STDs and avoid unprotected sexual contact.

Rarity: Common

Top Symptoms: fever, abdominal pain or unusual vaginal discharge, vaginal discharge, nausea or vomiting, vaginal bleeding, pelvis pain

Symptoms that always occur with pelvic inflammatory disease: fever, abdominal pain or unusual vaginal discharge

Urgency: In-person visit

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Intestinal inflammation (diverticulitis)

When the passage of food through the colon becomes sluggish, the food can stagnate, increase in bulk, create pressure, and cause diverticula – or pouches – to form in the walls of the large intestine. If these pouches become inflamed, the condition is called diverticulitis.

Risk factors are a low-fiber diet, smoking, obesity, chronic constipation, and lack of "good" bacteria in the gut.

Patients over 50, with a previous history of inflammatory disease of the colon, are most susceptible.

Symptoms include persistent abdominal pain; fever; nausea and vomiting; and constipation sometimes alternating with diarrhea.

Left untreated, diverticulitis can lead to intestinal blockage and scarring. Rupture of an inflamed pouch can result, leading to peritonitis. These are medical emergencies. If suspected, take the patient to the emergency room or call 9-1-1.

Diagnosis is made by ruling out other conditions through physical examination; blood, urine, and stool tests; and CT scan.

Less serious cases are treated with a high-fiber diet, fluids, probiotics, antibiotics, and lifestyle management. Others may require intravenous antibiotics and/or surgery.

Rarity: Uncommon

Top Symptoms: abdominal pain (stomach ache), nausea, loss of appetite, diarrhea, constipation

Symptoms that never occur with intestinal inflammation (diverticulitis): pain below the ribs, pain in the upper right abdomen

Urgency: Hospital emergency room

Esophageal perforation

An esophageal perforation is a hole in the esophagus. The esophagus is the tube food passes through as it goes from the mouth to the stomach.

You should seek immediate medical care at an ER! This is a medical emergency! A perforated esophagus can lead to a massive infection and requires prompt diagnosis (imaging) and treatment (fluids, antibiotics, possibly surgical repair).

Rarity: Ultra rare

Top Symptoms: being severely ill, shortness of breath, chest pain, fever, trouble swallowing

Symptoms that always occur with esophageal perforation: being severely ill

Urgency: Hospital emergency room

Ectopic pregnancy

Ectopic pregnancy, or tubal pregnancy, means that a fertilized egg has not implanted in the uterus as it should. Instead, it has attached elsewhere – usually inside one of the fallopian tubes.

The condition is caused by scarring and damage to the fallopian tube from pelvic inflammatory disease or injury; by hormonal imbalance; or possibly by abnormal development of the fertilized egg. Other risk factors include smoking, use of an IUD, and use of fertility drugs.

Early symptoms include light vaginal bleeding, pelvic discomfort, and sometimes referred shoulder pain. Later symptoms include sudden severe pain on one side of the lower abdomen, vaginal bleeding, shoulder pain, and fainting.

The fallopian tube cannot accommodate a growing pregnancy. Eventually it will rupture, causing uncontrolled bleeding within the abdomen. If ectopic pregnancy is suspected, take the patient to the emergency room or call 9-1-1.

Diagnosis is made through pelvic examination, blood tests, and ultrasound.

Treatment almost always requires surgery, though in some cases medications can be used.

Prevention involves avoiding pelvic inflammatory disease by always practicing safe sex.

Crohn's disease flare

Crohn's disease is an inflammation of the bowel. It is caused by a faulty immune system response which makes the body attack the lining of the intestines.

The disease usually appears before age thirty and can affect anyone. Those with a family history may be most susceptible. Smoking is a known risk factor.

Aggravating factors include stress, poor diet, and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen and aspirin.

Early symptoms usually develop gradually, but can appear suddenly. These include fatigue, loss of appetite, fever, mouth sores, diarrhea, abdominal pain, and blood in stool.

Untreated Crohn's disease can cause ulcers throughout the digestive tract as well as bowel obstruction, malnutrition, and deteriorating general health.

Diagnosis is made through blood test and stool sample test. Colonoscopy, CT scan, MRI, endoscopy, and/or enteroscopy may also be used.

Crohn's disease cannot be cured, but can be managed through reducing the inflammation. Antibiotics, corticosteroids, and immune system suppressors may be tried. Excellent nutrition, vitamin supplements, smoking cessation, and reduction in stress can be helpful.

Rarity: Rare

Top Symptoms: fatigue, nausea, stomach bloating, loss of appetite, abdominal cramps (stomach cramps)

Urgency: In-person visit

Abdominal pain quiz

Take a quiz to find out what's causing your pain.

Take abdominal pain quiz

Appendicitis

Appendicitis is an inflammation of the appendix, the small, finger-shaped pouch projecting off the colon on the lower right side of the abdomen.

The inflammation is caused by anything blocking or irritating the appendix opening or walls, such as hard stool or damage from other bowel disease. The blocked appendix can quickly swell with bacteria and pus.

Appendicitis is most common from ages 13-30, but can happen to anyone.

Symptoms include sudden, severe pain in the abdomen that begins near the navel and soon moves to the lower right side. There may be low-grade fever; nausea and vomiting; feeling bloated; and constipation or diarrhea.

If not treated, an infected appendix can rupture and cause a life-threatening infection of the abdomen called peritonitis. This is why appendicitis is a medical emergency. If suspected, take the patient to the emergency room or call 9-1-1.

Diagnosis is made through patient history, physical examination, blood and urine tests, and imaging such as ultrasound or x-ray.

An inflamed appendix must be surgically removed as soon as possible.

Acute pancreatitis

Acute pancreatitis is the inflammation of the pancreas, which creates and releases insulin and glucagon to keep the sugar levels in your blood stable. It also creates the enzymes that digest your food in the small intestine. When these enzymes accidentally get activated in the pancreas, they digest the pancreas itself, causing pain and inflammation.

You should go to the ER. There, diagnosis is made by physical examination, imaging, and blood tests. Treatment typically involves intravenous (IV) fluids and medicines to control the pain.

Rarity: Rare

Top Symptoms: constant abdominal pain, nausea or vomiting, being severely ill, severe abdominal pain, fever

Symptoms that always occur with acute pancreatitis: constant abdominal pain

Urgency: Hospital emergency room

Questions your doctor may ask about abdominal pain that gets worse with movement

  • Any fever today or during the last week?
  • Have you experienced any nausea?
  • Have you lost your appetite recently?
  • Have you been feeling more tired than usual, lethargic or fatigued despite sleeping a normal amount?

Self-diagnose with our free Buoy Assistant if you answer yes on any of these questions.

Abdominal pain that gets worse with movement symptom checker statistics

People who have experienced abdominal pain that gets worse with movement have also experienced:

  • 14% Abdominal Pain (Stomach Ache)
  • 6% Pain In The Lower Left Abdomen
  • 5% Nausea

People who have experienced abdominal pain that gets worse with movement were most often matched with:

  • 37% Appendicitis
  • 37% Acute Abdomen
  • 25% Stomach Ulcer

People who have experienced abdominal pain that gets worse with movement had symptoms persist for:

  • 41% Less than a day
  • 34% Less than a week
  • 11% Over a month

Source: Aggregated and anonymized results from Buoy Assistant.

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