Symptoms A-Z

Abdominal Pain (Stomach Ache) Symptom, Causes & Questions

Understand your abdominal pain (stomach ache) symptoms, including 10 causes & common questions.

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Abdominal Pain (Stomach Ache) Symptom Checker

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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

Abdominal Pain (Stomach Ache) Symptoms

Abdominal pain can strike with little warning and intense waves of discomfort. In the moment, the cause is less important to you. Relief is. As your stomach churns and you feel as if your stomach pain will get better, what's the best treatment to try?

It depends on the cause of your abdominal pain symptoms. In some cases, the best treatment is time. But in others, immediate medical attention is necessary.

The good news is that abdominal pains are quite typical and may be a symptom of a common illness or condition. Most abdominal pain symptoms are temporary and only last a few hours. These cases are typically related to improper food consumption (like eating too many hot dogs in one sitting) and indigestion [13].

Abdominal pains can feel like cramps in the belly region. Sometimes the abdominal pain is mild and barely noticeable. Other times, it can be so intense that you may be unable to go about your normal activities. What makes abdominal pain even more frustrating is that there is a long list of causes that could be behind it.

Common stomach pain symptoms include:

When monitoring your abdominal pain symptoms, keep track of its starting position and whether or not it moves. For example, lower abdominal pain may indicate appendicitis [14] or an obstruction. Generalized discomfort could be a symptom of the flu or an injury while upper pain could indicate gallstones [15], or in rare cases, a heart attack.

Once you're able to describe your abdominal pain, it's time to move onto the possible causes and start narrowing down the options.

Abdominal Pain (Stomach Ache) Causes

Abdominal pain symptoms can be commonly broken down into the following categories.

Infection-related abdominal pain causes:

  • Viral infections: There are two main types of viral infections, the norovirus [1] and the rotavirus [2]. Both can cause diarrhea, cramps, and nausea from gastroenteritis.

Dietary abdominal pain causes:

  • Indigestion: This is the number one culprit of abdominal pain woes. Bad eating habits and unhealthy lifestyles can upset your digestive system. This will result in discomfort in the stomach and possibly the chest [3]. Indigestion is also a symptom of many gastrointestinal diseases such as ulcers, Crohn's disease, and acid reflux.
  • Drinking habits: Water is always best. That's no secret. But drinking too much of your favorite beverage, whether that's coffee, carbonated drinks, or alcohol, can lead to stomach discomfort especially if you skip a meal or two.

Other abdominal pain causes:

  • Bowel issues: Both diarrhea and constipation can cause abdominal pain symptoms. If your bowel movements are less than normal, you can expect some form of abdominal pain.
  • Stress: Many diseases can come from mental and physical distress. Anxiety and panic disorders are connected to abdominal pain as well [4].
  • Internal injuries: Internal bleeding, stomach ulcers [5], and tearing in any of the stomach muscles, lining, or nearby organs can cause severe abdominal pain that should be treated as soon as possible.

10 Possible Abdominal Pain (Stomach Ache) Conditions

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

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 main symptoms are vomiting and diarrhea, which can be severe enough to require hydration with intravenous fluids. However, other treatments are rarely necessary. In the developing world where access to supportive care is less available, norovirus infection is still responsible for tens of thousands of deaths each year, primarily due to dehydration.

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

Indigestion (dyspepsia)

Indigestion, also called upset stomach, dyspepsia, or functional dyspepsia, is not a disease but a collection of very common symptoms. Note: Heartburn is a separate condition.

Common causes are eating too much or too rapidly; greasy or spicy foods; overdoing caffeine, alcohol, or carbonated beverages; smoking; and anxiety. Some antibiotics, pain relievers, and vitamin/mineral supplements can cause indigestion.

The most common symptoms are pain, discomfort, and bloating in the upper abdomen soon after eating.

Indigestion that lasts longer than two weeks, and does not respond to simple treatment, may indicate a more serious condition. Upper abdominal pain that radiates to the jaw, neck, or arm is a medical emergency.

Diagnosis is made through patient history and physical examination. If the symptoms began suddenly, laboratory tests on blood, breath, and stool may be ordered. Upper endoscopy or abdominal x-ray may be done.

For functional dyspepsia – "ordinary" indigestion – treatment and prevention are the same. Eating five or six smaller meals per day with lighter, simpler food; managing stress; and finding alternatives for some medications will provide relief.

Rarity: Common

Top Symptoms: nausea, stomach bloating, dyspeptic symptoms, bloating after meals, vomiting

Symptoms that always occur with indigestion (dyspepsia): dyspeptic symptoms

Symptoms that never occur with indigestion (dyspepsia): vomiting (old) blood or passing tarry stools, rectal bleeding, bloody diarrhea, fever

Urgency: Self-treatment

Stomach ulcer

A peptic ulcer is a sore in the lining of the stomach or the first part of your small intestine (the duodenum), which causes pain following meals or on an empty 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

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.

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

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-threatening, but finding relief may be frustrating.

In order to have a confirmed diagnosis, your IBS should include two of three key symptoms, including improvement of symptoms after defecating, pain that begins when the frequency of stool changes, or(https://www.buoyhealth.com/symptoms-a-z/pain-when-passing-stools/).

Other key symptoms include abdominal pain and discomfort, as well as bloating, cramping,(https://www.buoyhealth.com/symptoms-a-z/fatigue/). These may all be exacerbated by stress, specific foods, or hormonal changes, especially in women.

Treatment focuses on alleviating your symptoms through supplements and medication.

Rarity: Common

Top Symptoms: fatigue, abdominal pain (stomach ache), nausea or vomiting, constipation, stool changes

Urgency: Primary care doctor

Abdominal Pain (Stomach Ache) Symptom Checker

Take a quiz to find out why you're having abdominal pain (stomach ache)

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

Normal variation of constipation

Constipation means bowel movements which have become infrequent and/or hardened and difficult to pass.

There is wide variation in what is thought "normal" when it comes to frequency of bowel movements. Anywhere from three times a day to three times a week is considered normal.

As long as stools are easy to pass, laxatives should not be used in an effort to force the body to a more frequent schedule.

Constipation is usually caused by lack of fiber in the diet; not drinking enough water; insufficient exercise; and often suppressing the urge to have a bowel movement.

A number of medications and remedies, especially narcotic pain relievers, can cause constipation.

Women are often affected, due to pregnancy and other hormonal changes. Young children who demand low-fiber or "junk food" diets are also susceptible.

Constipation is a condition, not a disease, and most of the time is easily corrected. If simple adjustments in diet, exercise, and bowel habits don't help, a doctor can be consulted to rule out a more serious cause.

Rarity: Common

Top Symptoms: abdominal pain (stomach ache), nausea, stomach bloating, constipation, constipation

Symptoms that always occur with normal variation of constipation: constipation

Symptoms that never occur with normal variation of constipation: vomiting

Urgency: Self-treatment

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.

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

Appendicitis

Appendicitis refers to inflammation of the appendix, a small finger-like structure in the lower right corner of the belly. Appendicitis is extremely common, occurring in about five to 10 percent of people at some point in their lifetime. While it can occur at any age, the most commonly affected groups are adolescents and young adults.

Severe abdominal pain and nausea are the most common symptoms, often accompanied by vomiting and possible fever.

Untreated appendicitis can be life-threatening, therefore, it is usually considered a surgical emergency and remains one of the most common reasons for urgent abdominal surgery. In some hospitals, low-risk cases of appendicitis are managed with antibiotics alone rather than surgery, though surgery remains the gold standard treatment in much of the world.

Rarity: Uncommon

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

Symptoms that always occur with appendicitis: abdominal pain (stomach ache)

Symptoms that never occur with appendicitis: pain in the upper right abdomen, pain in the upper left abdomen, anxiety, pain below the ribs, improving abdominal pain, headache

Urgency: Hospital emergency room

Intestinal inflammation (diverticulitis)

Diverticula are small pouches that bulge outward through the colon, or large intestine. Diverticulitis is a condition where the pouches become inflamed or infected, a process which can cause fever, nausea, vomiting, chills, cramping, and constipation.

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

Abdominal Pain (Stomach Ache) Treatments and Relief

Given that there are many causes for abdominal pain, you might be uncertain when to seek treatment. If any of the following symptoms are present, seek emergency medical attention immediately.

  • Fever
  • Bloody stools
  • Yellow skin
  • Tenderness in the abdomen area that worsens with very light palpation (pressing on the abdomen)
  • Uncontrollably vomiting
  • Associated lightheadedness or dizziness suggesting severe dehydration [16]
  • Absence of bowel movements in the past few days
  • Taking steroids such as prednisone [17] that may mask some symptoms

If the abdominal pain is minimal and tolerable, here are some first aid measures or treatments you can try.

  • Heating Pad: Grab a heating pad and apply to your belly area [18].
  • Chamomile or Peppermint Tea: Both are known to help soothe pain [19].
  • Fiber: Eat foods that are fibrous in nature to improve digestion and help relieve constipation.
  • Medications: Keep medications such as antacids nearby. For diarrhea, grab a banana. If that is not enough, medicines that contain loperamide [20] will help. For constipation, consider a stool softener or a laxative.

In most cases, give your stomach pain a little time to die down on its own. It's uncomfortable but it will pass hopefully sooner rather than later.

FAQs About Abdominal Pain (Stomach Ache)

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

Why does my stomach hurt?

Your stomach may hurt for a variety of reasons. Indigestion due to a large meal, a lack of food, or gas are the most common reasons. The most common pathologic reasons is a "stomach bug" or an infection of the stomach that usually resolves in 710 days. If your stomach pain does not resolve, visit a healthcare provider for evaluation.

Why does the top of my stomach hurt?

The top of your stomach may hurt because of heartburn or reflux of stomach acid into the bottom portion of the esophagus. The stomach is divided into different regions. The top of the stomach is called the "cardia" and this region connects to the esophagus, the tube that food travels through. The cardia can cause pain when stomach acid splashes up through the opening between the esophagus and stomach and burns the lower end of the esophagus.

What causes sharp pain in stomach?

Sharp pain in the stomach can be caused by indigestion, stomach or intestinal infection, ulcer, or a stomach tumor. Indigestion and stomach infections usually self-resolve and are much more common. Many sharp stomach pains are benign, and if they happen infrequently, they can be ignored. Infrequently is not frequently enough to be remembered. Additionally, sharp pains may also come from intense muscle contractions associated with vomiting. However, in this case, it is best to treat the cause of vomiting as the sharp pains will abate as vomiting stops.

What causes pain in the lower abdomen?

Pain in the lower abdomen can be caused by problems with the descending colon, rectum, or genitalia. To determine the cause of pain in the lower abdomen, it is important to recall what activities have occurred recently. Have you been constipated? Have you had trouble urinating? Have you been sick in any way recently? Have you eaten anything unusual or taken any prescribed or illicit drugs recently? Pain in the lower abdomen is commonly caused by stretching or tension placed on organs. Whether muscle contractions during an upset stomach, stretching of bowel from constipation, or an overfull bladder pressing on other organs, lower abdominal pain is common caused by stretching of an organ irritating a nerve. The other common cause of lower abdominal pain is inflammation which can occur in the setting of infection or, more rarely, malignancy.

Why does my stomach hurt after I eat?

Your stomach may hurt after you eat if you haven't eaten in a long time, if you've eaten a particularly large meal, or if you have an ulcer, tumor, or other mass that is not protected from stomach acid by mucus within the stomach. Stomach pain after eating is most commonly caused by the normal contractions/motions of the stomach as it churns and breaks down food with stomach acid. If you have damage to the stomach or a mass of some sort, these motions can aggravate that point of tenderness causing additional stomach pain. Gas is also a common cause of stomach pain after eating. An antacid or fizzy drink may help you belch, releasing the gas and discomfort.

Questions Your Doctor May Ask About Abdominal Pain (Stomach Ache)

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?
  • How would you describe the nature of your abdominal pain?
  • Have you been feeling more tired than usual, lethargic or fatigued despite sleeping a normal amount?

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 why you're having abdominal pain (stomach ache)

Abdominal Pain (Stomach Ache) Symptom Checker Statistics

People who have experienced abdominal pain (stomach ache) have also experienced:

  • 11% Nausea
  • 8% Diarrhea
  • 4% Stomach Bloating

People who have experienced abdominal pain (stomach ache) were most often matched with:

  • 66% Stomach Ulcer
  • 16% Viral (Norovirus) Infection
  • 16% Indigestion (Dyspepsia)

People who have experienced abdominal pain (stomach ache) 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 Pain (Stomach Ache) Symptom Checker

Take a quiz to find out why you're having abdominal pain (stomach ache)

References

  1. Norovirus. Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Published July, 2018. CDC link.
  2. Rotavirus Infections. National Library of Medicine: MedLinePlus. MedLinePlus Link.
  3. Does Heartburn Feel Like a Heart Attack? Harvard Health Publishing. Published Oct, 2017. Harvard Health Publishing.
  4. Stress and the Sensitive Gut. Harvard Medical School: Harvard Health Publishing. Published August 2010. Harvard Health Link.
  5. Symptoms & Causes of Peptic Ulcers (Stomach Ulcers). National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Published November 2014. NIDDK Link.
  6. Cardia. Merriam-Webster. Merriam-Webster Link.
  7. Vomiting in Adults. Healthier Scotland: NHS inform. Published May, 2018. Vomiting in Adults
  8. Descending Colon. Wikipedia. Published July 20, 2018. Wikipedia Link.
  9. Illicit Drug. Elsevier: ScienceDirect. ScienceDirect Link.
  10. Non-Cancerous Tumours of the Stomach. Canadian Cancer Society. Canadian Cancer Society Link.
  11. Ogbru A. Antacids. RxList. RxList Link.
  12. Symptoms & Causes of Indigestion. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Published Nov, 2016. NIH Link.
  13. Appendicitis. National Library of Medicine: MedLinePlus. Published December 6, 2017. MedLinePlus Link.
  14. Cooney J. Gallstones: What Are They? How Are They Treated? American Academy of Family Physicians: American Family Physician. Published March 15, 2000. AFP Link.
  15. Kaneshiro NK, Zieve D, Conaway B, eds. Dehydration. National Library of Medicine: MedLinePlus. Published September 5, 2017. MedLinePlus Link.
  16. Prednisone. RxList. Published April 25, 2018. RxList Link.
  17. Live Science Staff. Study: How Heating Pads Relieve Internal Pain. Live Science. Published July 5, 2006. Live Science Link.
  18. Onderko P. Stomach Soothers. Reader's Digest. Reader's Digest Link.
  19. Imodium. RxList. Published October 18, 2016. RxList Link.