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Abdominal Cramps (Stomach Cramps) Symptoms

Maybe you couldn't resist last weekend's takeout or decided to have an extra plate at the buffet, and now you're paying the price. Or you've started a new medication that just doesn't sit right.

Though we often refer to belly (or abdominal) pain as stomach cramps, the discomfort can also come from irritation of surrounding organs like the intestines. It can be especially noticeable around mealtime, though there are a large number of causes for this problem.

Common stomach cramps symptoms are:

Abdominal Cramps (Stomach Cramps) Causes Overview

Broadly speaking, the causes of stomach cramps fit into several groups. In many cases, certain foods or changes in diet are to blame [1]. Infections are another common cause and can spread between people. In other situations, the problem is with the stomach and gastrointestinal organs themselves. Sometimes the cause remains unknown even when the stomach cramps symptoms are bothersome. Let's examine some causes by category.

Dietary stomach cramps causes:

  • Overeating: Eating too much forces the stomach to stretch to accommodate a large amount of food.
  • Spicy or oily foods: Heavy dishes, especially those not usually in your diet, often cause stomach discomfort.
  • Dairy products: Some people's bodies are not able to break down dairy products like milk, yogurt or ice cream.
  • Gluten: This is a type of protein found in grains like wheat and barley that should be avoided by those with Celiac Disease [2].

Gastrointestinal stomach cramps causes:

  • Gas: The uncomfortable bloat caused by gas is usually relieved when it leaves the body.
  • Constipation : Without regular bowel movements, things can quickly back up and lead to pain and distension.
  • Stomach ulcers: These painful sores in the lining of the stomach, also known as peptic ulcers, are often caused by bacteria [3].
  • Functional abdominal pain: This is a common kind of pain that is not caused by a physical problem with the organs in the belly. Treatment focuses on controlling the symptoms. This condition is also known as centrally mediated abdominal pain syndrome (CAPS) [3].
  • Inflammatory bowel disease: Excess inflammation in your intestines is painful and may come with joint pains or rashes and often diarrhea or bowel movements with blood.

Infectious stomach cramps causes:

  • Viral infections: Most contagious cases of stomach cramps are caused by viruses and result in vomiting or diarrhea. They are especially common in children [4].
  • Food poisoning: Spoiled or contaminated food can contain bacteria that make you feel sick. Be wary of food that has not been refrigerated or is past the expiration date.

Other stomach cramps causes:

  • Anxiety : Frequent worry takes a physical toll on the body and proper treatment by a professional goes a long way in relieving symptoms [5].
  • Medications: Certain drugs like ibuprofen or naproxen can be harsh on the stomach, especially when taken without food. There are suggestions to keep in mind when taking these medications to avoid abdominal cramps [6].
  • Menstrual pain: Women can experience stomach cramps as a regular part of the menstrual cycle.

A.I. Health Assistant Causes for Abdominal Cramps (Stomach Cramps)

The list below shows results from the use of our A.I. Health Assistant by Buoy users who experienced abdominal cramps (stomach cramps). This list does not constitute medical advice.

  1. 1.Menstrual Cramps

    Dysmenorrhea is a term describing pain associated with menstruation (or when one gets a period). It's very common, happening to about 50% of women. Primary dysmenorrhea means that the pain is directly caused by a menstrual period, which is different than "secondary" dysmenorrhea, where a disorder is causing the pain.

    2-3 days before a period. Peaks in the mid-20s and declines in frequency afterwards.

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    abdominal pain (stomach ache), abdominal cramps (stomach cramps), painful periods, lower back pain, abdominal pain that shoots to the back
    Symptoms that always occur with menstrual cramps:
    abdominal pain (stomach ache)
    Symptoms that never occur with menstrual cramps:
    being severely ill, disapearance of periods for over a year
    Urgency:
    Self-treatment
  2. 2.Viral (Norovirus) Infection

    Noroviruses are a group of related viruses that leads to nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and cramps. These viruses cause gastroenteritis, an inflammation of the stomach and intestines. When the diarrhea and/or vomiting is severe, dehydration can occur. Symptoms of dehydration include a dry mouth, dizziness, urinating less frequently and dark urine.

    Usually resolves within 2-3 days.

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    diarrhea, vomiting or nausea, fatigue, nausea, abdominal pain (stomach ache), headache
    Symptoms that always occur with viral (norovirus) infection:
    diarrhea, vomiting or nausea
    Symptoms that never occur with viral (norovirus) infection:
    severe abdominal pain, throbbing headache, severe headache, tarry stool, vaginal bleeding, alertness level change
    Urgency:
    Self-treatment
  3. 3.Ovulation Pain (Mittelschmerz) or Midcycle Spotting

    Mittelschmerz, also known as ovulation pain or mid-cycle pain, is abdominal pain that occurs around the time the egg is released from an ovary. Ovulation can sometimes cause some mild vaginal bleeding, spotting or blood-stained/brown discharge as well.

    As ovulation occurs monthly, it's possible you will experience this pain once a month.

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    abdominal pain (stomach ache), last period approximately 2 weeks ago, vaginal bleeding, bloody vaginal discharge, pelvis pain
    Symptoms that always occur with ovulation pain (mittelschmerz) or midcycle spotting:
    last period approximately 2 weeks ago
    Urgency:
    Self-treatment
  4. 4.Irritable Bowel Syndrome (Ibs)

    Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is very common problem that affects the large intestine. It can cause stomach pain, cramps, bloating, constipation, or diarrhea. Doctors think that IBS is caused by the brain sending wrong messages to the bowels, such as during times of high stress, causing physical changes.

    IBS is a chronic condition that may last for years, but it is not life-threatening and does not damage the bowels or lead to more serious illnesses.

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    fatigue, abdominal pain (stomach ache), nausea or vomiting, constipation, stool changes
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor
  5. 5.Gallstones

    Gallstones are hardened deposits of digestive fluid that can form in your gallbladder. Your gallbladder is a small, pear-shaped organ on the right side of your abdomen, just beneath your liver.

    Curable with surgical treatment, but not necessary unless symptoms begin

    Rarity:
    Uncommon
    Top Symptoms:
    abdominal pain (stomach ache), nausea, loss of appetite, pain in the upper right abdomen, vomiting
    Symptoms that always occur with gallstones:
    abdominal pain (stomach ache)
    Symptoms that never occur with gallstones:
    abdominal pain that improves after passing stools
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor

    Abdominal Cramps (Stomach Cramps) Checker

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  6. 6.Food Poisoning

    Food poisoning is a common ailment that causes gastrointestinal symptoms like nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. It is caused by improperly handled or unrefrigerated food.

    1-3 days

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    nausea, abdominal pain (stomach ache), headache, abdominal cramps (stomach cramps), dizziness
    Symptoms that never occur with food poisoning:
    severe fever, being severely ill, bloody diarrhea
    Urgency:
    Self-treatment
  7. 7.Premenstrual Syndrome

    Premenstrual syndrome (PMS) is a very common condition. PMS has a variety of symptoms including cramping, mood swings, food cravings, fatigue, irritability, breast tenderness & depression.

    Symptoms of premenstrual syndrome can last all the way into menopause.

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    stomach bloating, anxiety, constipation, depressed mood, breast pain
    Symptoms that never occur with premenstrual syndrome:
    constant sadness, severe sadness, disapearance of periods for over a year
    Urgency:
    Self-treatment
  8. 8.Chronic Constipation

    Constipation is a very common condition affecting the large intestine. It is characterized by difficulty passing stool, or passing stool less often. Commonly it is linked to not eating enough dietary fiber, not drinking enough fluids, or not getting enough exercise. Some medications can cause constipation as well.

    Variable

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    stomach bloating, constipation, abdominal cramps (stomach cramps), pain when passing stools, rectal bleeding
    Symptoms that always occur with chronic constipation:
    constipation
    Symptoms that never occur with chronic constipation:
    unintentional weight loss
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor
  9. 9.Ovarian Torsion

    The twisting, or torsion, of the ovary around its surroundings. This may result in loss of blood to both the ovary and the fallopian tube. When diagnosed, this condition is considered an emergency and requires immediate surgery.

    Patients are generally discharged home within 24 hours of surgery in uncomplicated cases. The patient follows up with the surgeon 1 week after surgery, and additional follow-up is regulated as needed.

    Rarity:
    Rare
    Top Symptoms:
    abdominal pain (stomach ache), nausea or vomiting, nausea, moderate abdominal pain, loss of appetite
    Symptoms that never occur with ovarian torsion:
    diarrhea, pain below the ribs, mild abdominal pain
    Urgency:
    Hospital emergency room
  10. 10.New Onset Crohn's Disease

    Crohn's disease is a disorder caused by chronic inflammation in the digestive tract. The damaging inflammation causes abdominal pain, diarrhea, weight loss, and malnutrition.

    Not expected to reduce life expectancy

    Rarity:
    Rare
    Top Symptoms:
    fatigue, stomach bloating, loss of appetite, constipation, abdominal cramps (stomach cramps)
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor

Abdominal Cramps (Stomach Cramps) Treatments and Relief

Though stomach cramps can be frustrating, the good news is there's plenty you can do to address the problem.

Many causes of stomach cramps will resolve on their own after just a few hours, though of course, it's best to prevent the problem in the first place.

  • Slow down at mealtime: For those who tend to overeat, try taking smaller meals, eating more slowly and taking time to chew carefully. There are many benefits to chewing slowly [13].
  • Eat with caution: If trying a new or spicy food, go slow and don't be afraid to say no. Your stomach will thank you later.
  • Avoid common offenders: Those who cannot tolerate dairy or gluten should avoid these ingredients and be sure to carefully check food labels. The good news is that foods are increasingly well marked.

When stomach cramps do hit, try these techniques before reaching for the medicine cabinet.

  • Heat: Many people find gentle heat from a heating pad or hot water bottle to be soothing [14].
  • Massage: Massaging the belly for a few minutes can sometimes do the trick as well, especially in children [15].

Medications play an important role in treating stomach cramps symptoms.

  • Gas reliever: Over-the-counter drugs like simethicone [16] are best for cramps with gas.
  • Antacids: Pepto-Bismol, Tums, Zantac and Pepcid work to sooth the stomach
  • Laxative or stool softener: If constipation [17] is suspected, try a medication like Colace to soften stool and a stimulant laxative such as senna or Miralax to get things moving.
  • Anti-diarrheal: On the other end of the spectrum, loperamide relieves diarrhea that may be associated with cramps [18].
  • Antibiotics: This prescription option is only required if your doctor suspects a bacterial infection.

If you've recently started or changed a medication and have developed stomach cramps symptoms, it's best to talk with your doctor as this may be addressed [19].

You should also see a doctor if you experience:

FAQs About Abdominal Cramps (Stomach Cramps)

Here are some frequently asked questions about abdominal cramps (stomach cramps).

Is it normal to have stomach pain during pregnancy?

While heartburn or indigestion and vomiting [7] are more common during pregnancy, abdominal pain — if it is unusual or particularly severe — may need examination by a medical professional. Stomach pain is worrisome if it is accompanied by vaginal bleeding [9], dizziness, claminess, fever, or fainting.

What causes stomach cramps after eating?

Stomach cramps after eating can be caused by stretching of the stomach after a prolonged fast, a particularly large amount of food, a rapid change in the pH (or acidity) of the stomach [9], or ingestion of any number of toxins. It is most commonly a benign condition that resolves with time.

What causes stomach cramps and diarrhea?

Diarrhea is caused by either inadequate absorption of liquid by the intestines, causing watery stool, or hyperactivity of the stomach and intestines giving insufficient time for absorption of nutrients within the bowels. Essentially, food moves through the bowels too fast due to increased activity of both the stomach and the intestines [10].

Can you experience stomach cramps from menstruation?

Yes, it is possible to experience stomach cramps accompanying menstruation. During menstruation, prostaglandins — chemicals associated with female fertility — are released [11]. This chemical can cause non-rhythmic contractions of the uterus at a low frequency. When the uterus contracts, it can squeeze out blood and block return blood flow. This lack of blood flow can cause the sensation of a cramp [12].

Questions Your Doctor May Ask About Abdominal Cramps (Stomach Cramps)

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

If you've answered yes to one or more of these questions, try our abdominal cramps (stomach cramps) symptom checker to find out more.

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Abdominal Cramps (Stomach Cramps) Symptom Checker Statistics

  • People who have experienced abdominal cramps (stomach cramps) have also experienced:

    • 18% Bloody Vaginal Discharge
    • 14% Vaginal Bleeding
    • 6% Nausea
  • People who have experienced abdominal cramps (stomach cramps) had symptoms persist for:

    • 41% Less Than a Day
    • 34% Less Than a Week
    • 11% Over a Month
  • People who have experienced abdominal cramps (stomach cramps) were most often matched with:

    • 33% Menstrual Cramps
    • 33% Viral (Norovirus) Infection
    • 33% Ovulation Pain (Mittelschmerz) or Midcycle Spotting
  • Source: Aggregated and anonymized results from visits to the Buoy AI health assistant (check it out by clicking on “Take Quiz”).

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References

  1. Food Poisoning: Symptoms, Treatment & Prevention. American Academy of Family Physicians: FamilyDoctor. Published August 30, 2017. FamilyDoctor Link.
  2. Wolfram T. Celiac Disease: Alleviating Gastrointestinal Symptoms. Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Published September 13, 2017. Academy Link.
  3. Symptoms & Causes of Peptic Ulcers (Stomach Ulcers). National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Published November 2014. NIDDK Link.
  4. Subodh KL, Zieve D, Ogilvie I, eds. Viral Gastroenteritis (Stomach Flu). National Library of Medicine: MedLinePlus. Published May 11, 2016.MedLinePlus Link.
  5. Why stress may cause abdominal pain, from the Harvard Mental Health Letter. Harvard Health Publishing. Published Aug, 2010. Harvard Link.
  6. Medicines and the Digestive System. John Hopkins Medicine. John Hopkins Medicine Link.
  7. Vomited During Pregnancy. American Pregnancy Association. American Pregnancy Association Link.
  8. Bleeding During Pregnancy. American Pregnancy Association. Published August 2015. American Pregnancy Association Link.
  9. Gastric Acid. Wikipedia. Published September 5, 2018. Wikipedia Link.
  10. Diarrhea. Wikipedia. Published Sept 2018. Wikipedia Link.
  11. What is Prostaglandins? Endocrine Society: The Hormone Health Network. The Hormone Health Network Link.
  12. Menstrual Cramps. Center for Young Women’s Health. Published July 19, 2018. CYWH Link
  13. MacDonald A. Why Eating Slowly May Help You Feel Full Faster. Harvard Medical School: Harvard Health Publishing. Published October 19, 2010. Harvard Health Link.
  14. Abdominal Pain Self Care. Healthdirect. Published July 2017. Healthdirect Link.
  15. O'Neill T. Abdominal Self Massage. University of Michigan Health System. Published Sept, 2014. UMHS Link.
  16. Simeticone. Wikipedia. Published June, 2018. Wikipedia Link.
  17. Constipation. Wikipedia. Published Sept, 2018. Wikipedia Link.
  18. Anti-Diarrheal Medicines: OTC Relief for Diarhhea. American Academy of Family Physicians: FamilyDoctor. Published January 18, 2018. FamilyDoctor Link.
  19. Medicines and the Digestive System. John Hopkins Medicine. John Hopkins Medicine Link.