Symptoms A-Z

Common Reasons for Stomach Cramps and Pain & What to Do About Them

Abdominal cramps can be caused from an array of issues originating from either dietary factors, gastrointestinal conditions like constipation or gas, or an infection. Stomach cramps can also be caused by anxiety, menstruation, or medication. Read below for other causes and treatment options.

An image depicting a person suffering from abdominal cramps (stomach cramps) symptoms

Abdominal Cramps (Stomach Cramps) Symptom Checker

Take a quiz to find out what might be causing your abdominal cramps (stomach cramps)

Contents

  1. Symptoms
  2. Causes
  3. 10 Possible Conditions
  4. Treatments and Relief
  5. FAQs
  6. Questions Your Doctor May Ask
  7. Statistics
  8. References

Stomach Cramps Symptoms Explained

Maybe you couldn't resist eating last weekend's takeout that was lingering in your fridge, or you 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

It's likely to experience the following.

What Are the Causes of Stomach Pain?

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

Causes of stomach cramps may be related to dietary habits, such as the following.

  • 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

Causes of cramps due to processes of the gastrointestinal system may be related to the following.

  • 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

You may be experiencing stomach cramps due to an infection, such as the following.

  • 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

Other causes that can result in stomach cramps include the following.

  • 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 (Advil, Motrin) or naproxen (Aleve) 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.

10 Possible Abdominal Cramps (Stomach Cramps) Conditions

The list below shows results from the use of our quiz by Buoy users who experienced abdominal cramps (stomach cramps). This list does not constitute medical advice and may not accurately represent what you have.

Menstrual cramps

Menstrual cramps, also called dysmenorrhea, are actually contractions of the uterus as it expels its lining during a woman's monthly period.

A certain amount of mild cramping is normal, triggered by hormone-like substances called prostaglandins. However, painful cramps may be caused by underlying conditions such as endometriosis, uterine fibroids, high prostaglandin levels, or pelvic inflammatory disease (PID.)

Severe cramping may be present, as well as nausea, headache, and dull pain that radiates to the low back and thighs. It is most common in women under age 30 who smoke, have heavy and irregular periods, and have never given birth.

An obstetrician/gynecologist (women's specialist) can do tests for underlying conditions such as those mentioned above. Women over age 25 who suddenly begin having severe cramps should see a doctor to rule out the sudden onset of a more serious concern.

Treatment of mild cramping can be done with heating pads to the abdomen and with over-the-counter pain relievers such as ibuprofen. Birth control pills, which regulate the menstrual cycle, are often effective in lessening cramps.

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

Viral (norovirus) infection

If you ever heard of an entire cruise ship of people coming down with the same “stomach bug,” chances are that was norovirus. Fortunately, norovirus usually goes away on its own after a few days, but is pretty unpleasant and can spread extremely easily. The ...

Read more

Ovulation pain (mittelschmerz) or midcycle spotting

Mittelschmerz is a German word that translates as "middle pain." It refers to the normal discomfort sometimes felt by women during ovulation, which is at the midpoint of the menstrual cycle.

Each month, one of the two ovaries forms a follicle that holds an egg cell. The pain occurs when the follicle ruptures and releases the egg.

This is a dull, cramping sensation that may begin suddenly in only one side of the lower abdomen. In a few cases, there may be vaginal spotting. Mittelschmerz occurs about 14 days before the start of the next menstrual period.

Actual Mittelschmerz is not associated with nausea, vomiting, fever, or severe pelvic pain. These symptoms should be evaluated by a medical provider since they can indicate a more serious condition.

Diagnosis is made through patient history.

Treatment requires only over-the-counter, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs to relieve the pain. An oral contraceptive will stop the symptoms, since it also stops ovulation.

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

Irritable bowel syndrome (ibs)

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a chronic disorder of the large intestine. It is characterized by recurrent abdominal pain and bowel movement issues that can be difficult to treat. Signs and symptoms of IBS are usually not severe or life-threateni...

Read more

Gallstones

Gallstones are small, round deposits found in the gallbladder, the organ where bile is stored. Gallstones can be subclassified a number of ways. Oftentimes, gallstones will be referred to as either cholesterol stones or pigment stones depending on the makeup of the gallstone.

Gallstones can also be class...

Read more

Abdominal Cramps (Stomach Cramps) Symptom Checker

Take a quiz to find out what might be causing your abdominal cramps (stomach cramps)

Food poisoning

Food poisoning, also called foodborne illness or "stomach flu," is an acute infection of the digestive tract from food contaminated with bacteria, viruses, parasites, or other toxins. It actually has no relation to influenza.

Any food can become contaminated if not prepared under clean conditions, cooked thoroughly, or stored at cold temperatures. Meat, fish, dairy products, and fresh fruits and vegetables are some of the most easily contaminated foods.

Symptoms include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and abdominal pain, and sometimes fever and chills.

Most people recover on their own with supportive care, meaning rest, fluids, and over-the-counter pain relievers and fever reducers.

However, dehydration can result if the vomiting and/or diarrhea are not controlled and IV fluids may be needed.

If there is also blurred vision, dizziness, or paralysis, the nervous system may be affected due to botulism. This is a medical emergency. Take the patient to the emergency room or call 9-1-1.

Proper food preparation and storage, along with frequent and thorough handwashing, is the best prevention.

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

Premenstrual syndrome

Premenstrual syndrome (PMS) is a condition that can produce emotional and physical symptoms in women in the days leading up to their menstrual cycle. Common symptoms include bloating, cramping, headaches, irritability, fatigue, and sleep and appetite changes. These symptoms...

Read more

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.

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

Ovarian torsion

Ovarian torsion, also called adnexal torsion or tubo-ovarian torsion, is the twisting of the "stem," or supporting fleshy pedicle, of the ovary.

This condition can occur when a mass forms on the surface of the ovary and pulls it over. This is most often a complication of cystic ovaries.

It is most common in women under thirty or past menopause. It can occur during pregnancy.

Symptoms include severe, one-sided, lower abdominal pain with nausea and vomiting.

Diagnosis is made by ultrasound. The ovary will appear enlarged due to the torsion cutting off the circulation. There will be free pelvic fluid and a twisted pedicle.

Ovarian torsion is a medical emergency. The ovary can die due to loss of circulation, causing infection, abscess, or peritonitis. Surgery must be done to prevent tissue death and subsequent complications. In the majority of cases the affected ovary must be removed, which also removes the cyst or mass that caused the torsion.

Proper treatment of polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) can help prevent at least one cause of ovarian torsion.

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

New onset crohn's disease

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, stomach bloating, loss of appetite, constipation, abdominal cramps (stomach cramps)

Urgency: Primary care doctor

How to Treat Abdominal Cramps

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.

Keep the following in mind.

  • 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 [7].
  • 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.

Taking more medications or supplements may exacerbate the problem.

  • Heat: Many people find gentle heat from a heating pad or hot water bottle to be soothing [8].
  • Massage: Massaging the belly for a few minutes can sometimes do the trick as well, especially in children [9].

Medications play an important role in treating stomach cramps symptoms.

Try the following, often available over-the-counter.

  • Gas-reliever: Over-the-counter drugs like simethicone [10] are best for cramps with gas.
  • Antacids: Pepto-Bismol, Tums, Zantac and Pepcid work to soothe the stomach.
  • Laxative or stool softener: If constipation [11] 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 [12].
  • 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 [13].

When to see a doctor

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 [13] 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 [15], dizziness, clamminess, 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 [15], 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 [16].

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 [17]. 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 [18].

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

To diagnose this condition, your doctor would likely ask the following questions:

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

The above questions are also covered by our A.I. Health Assistant.

If you've answered yes to one or more of these questions

Take a quiz to find out what might be causing your abdominal cramps (stomach cramps)

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) were most often matched with:

  • 33% Menstrual Cramps
  • 33% Viral (Norovirus) Infection
  • 33% Ovulation Pain (Mittelschmerz) Or Midcycle Spotting

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

Source: Aggregated and anonymized results from visits to the Buoy AI health assistant (check it out by clicking on “Take Quiz”).

Abdominal Cramps (Stomach Cramps) Symptom Checker

Take a quiz to find out what might be causing your abdominal cramps (stomach cramps)

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. MacDonald A. Why Eating Slowly May Help You Feel Full Faster. Harvard Medical School: Harvard Health Publishing. Published October 19, 2010. Harvard Health Link
  8. Abdominal Pain Self Care. Healthdirect. Published July 2017. Healthdirect Link
  9. O'Neill T. Abdominal Self Massage. University of Michigan Health System. Published Sept, 2014. UMHS Link
  10. Simeticone. Wikipedia. Published June, 2018. Wikipedia Link
  11. Constipation. Wikipedia. Published Sept, 2018. Wikipedia Link
  12. Anti-Diarrheal Medicines: OTC Relief for Diarhhea. American Academy of Family Physicians: FamilyDoctor. Published January 18, 2018. FamilyDoctor Link
  13. Medicines and the Digestive System. John Hopkins Medicine. John Hopkins Medicine Link
  14. Vomited During Pregnancy. American Pregnancy Association. American Pregnancy Association Link
  15. Gastric Acid. Wikipedia. Published September 5, 2018. Wikipedia Link
  16. Diarrhea. Wikipedia. Published Sept 2018. Wikipedia Link
  17. What is Prostaglandins? Endocrine Society: The Hormone Health Network. The Hormone Health Network Link
  18. Menstrual Cramps. Center for Young Womens Health. Published July 19, 2018. CYWH Link

Disclaimer: The article does not replace an evaluation by a physician. Information on this page is provided as an information resource only, and is not to be used or relied on for any diagnostic or treatment purposes.