Read below about abdominal pain (stomach ache), including causes, treatment options and remedies. Or get a personalized analysis of your abdominal pain (stomach ache) from our A.I. health assistant. At Buoy, we build tools that help you know what’s wrong right now and how to get the right care.

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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 Overview

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.

A.I. Health Assistant Causes for Abdominal Pain (Stomach Ache)

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

  1. 1.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
  2. 2.Indigestion (Dyspepsia)

    Indigestion, also known as dyspepsia, is a condition that causes pain or discomfort in the stomach after eating. In some cases, indigestion also causes heartburn, burping, and nausea. Indigestion or dyspepsia is a very common complaint. Every year, about 1 in every 4 people will experience an episode of dyspepsia, of which most cases do not have a serious underlying cause.

    These symptoms are likely to resolve, if they persist you should discuss this with your primary care physician.

    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
  3. 3.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.

    2-4 weeks with treatment

    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
  4. 4.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
  5. 5.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

    Abdominal Pain (Stomach Ache) Checker

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

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  6. 6.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
  7. 7.Normal Variation of 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, but can resolve in days to weeks

    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
  8. 8.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.

    Acute pancreatitis typically goes away after a few days with treatment. Untreated, it can be deadly

    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
  9. 9.Appendicitis

    Your appendix is a small, tube-like organ attached to the large intestine, with no known function. It is located in the lower right part of the abdomen. A blockage (caused by intestinal gunk, typically) inside of the appendix causes appendicitis. The blockage leads to increased pressure, problems with blood flow, and inflammation. If the blockage is not treated, the appendix can burst and spread infection into the abdomen.

    Modern hospitals use laparoscopic procedures which only require 3 small (<1 inch) incisions. These procedures are now often done without admission to the hospital for an overnight stay, and healing time is very fast. You can expect to resume normal activities within a few days after the surgery. Full recovery may take 4-6 weeks, and before then, you should avoid strenuous activity.

    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
  10. 10.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.

    Likely to recover within months to years without requiring 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

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 7–10 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)

  • Q.Have you experienced any nausea?
  • Q.Any fever today or during the last week?
  • Q.How would you describe the nature of your abdominal pain?
  • Q.Have you been feeling more tired than usual, lethargic or fatigued despite sleeping a normal amount?

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

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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) had symptoms persist for:

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

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