Symptoms A-Z

Severe Abdominal Pain Symptoms, Causes & Common Questions

Understand your severe abdominal pain symptoms, including 10 causes and common questions.

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Contents

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

Severe Abdominal Pain Symptoms

Severe abdominal pain is often referred to by the medical term acute abdomen [1]. Acute abdomen represents the rapid onset of severe symptoms that is always the result of an underlying problem. Severe abdominal pain also requires urgent care and immediate intervention.

Along with severe abdominal pain, you may experience:

Also pay attention to the quality and location of the pain. Your pain may be localized and limited to one area of the abdomen. It may be intermittent, or colicky, which is a term that describes pain that is sudden and feels like a severe muscle spasm [2]. The pain may feel cramping and give you a tightening feeling in your stomach.

Severe Abdominal Pain Causes

Causes of severe abdominal pain symptoms are broad and the list may seem daunting - making it all the more important for you to seek medical attention as soon as possible if you experience symptoms [3].

Inflammatory causes:

  • Organ inflammation: Conditions that cause inflammation to the organs of the abdomen can result in sudden abdominal pain that persists and worsens over time. For example, appendicitis is inflammation of the appendix that results in abdominal pain that often starts around the belly button and travels to the right lower abdomen. The pain can be extremely severe and debilitating. Inflammation of the pancreas is pancreatitis and usually associated with nausea and vomiting. Other abdominal organs that can be inflamed causing severe pain include the gall bladder, liver and kidneys.
  • Infection: Bacterial and viral infections that affect the abdomen can also result in severe abdominal pain. The general medical term for an intestinal infection is gastroenteritis. Often the pain associated with these conditions results in vomiting, diarrhea and nausea.

Obstructive causes:

  • Intestinal: Many things can cause obstruction in the intestine that blocks food or liquid from passing through normally. Often fibrous bands of tissue called adhesions will form in the abdomen after surgery or other inflammatory conditions and lead to obstruction. When these adhesions are not treated, they block blood flow (ischemia) resulting in severe abdominal pain symptoms. Hernias and diverticula (bulging pouches in the digestive tract) can also cause such obstruction. Sometimes the intestines can twist on itself causing obstruction in a condition called intestinal volvulus.
  • Stones: Hardened materials of calcium, digestive fluid, and other substances can form and deposit in different organs of the abdomen leading to obstruction and severe abdominal pain [4]. The kidney and gallbladder are parts of the abdomen that are very susceptible to stone formation. These stones not only block but also irritate the surrounding organ resulting in pain and discomfort that can be exacerbated with things like eating or moving.

Reproductive causes:

  • Male: A condition called testicular torsion in males can result in severe referred abdominal pain symptoms. Torsion occurs when the testicle rotates around the spermatic cord. This condition can result in a lump because the twisting can block blood flow to the scrotum. This blockage will result in buildup and swelling that can appear as a lump. Torsion is extremely painful and extremely dangerous.
  • Female: Complications of pregnancy such as miscarriage or ectopic pregnancy can result in severe abdominal pain in addition to vaginal bleeding. In non-pregnant women, conditions such as ovarian torsion (when the ovary twists arounds it's cord and limits blood flow) as well as ovarian cyst rupture can result in sharp, severe abdominal pain.

Traumatic causes:

  • Direct trauma: Direct trauma to the abdomen such as in a car accident can result in injury and or rupture of the organs. The spleen and liver are organs especially susceptible to rupture during traumatic situations and the resulting blood in the abdomen can irritate the lining of the stomach and further exacerbate pain.

10 Possible Severe Abdominal Pain Conditions

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

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...

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Gall bladder infection (cholecystitis)

Gallbladder infection, also called cholecystitis, means there is a bacterial infection of the gallbladder either with or without gallstones.

The gallbladder is a small organ that stores bile, which helps to digest fats. If something blocks the flow of bile out of the gallbladder – gallstones, damage to the bile ducts, or tumors in the gallbladder – the bile stagnates and bacteria multiplies in it, producing an infected gallbladder.

Risk factors include obesity, a high-fat diet, and a family history of gallstones.

Symptoms include fever; chills; right upper quadrant abdominal pain radiating to the right shoulder; and sometimes nausea and vomiting. A gallbladder infection is an acute (sudden) illness, while the symptoms of gallstones come on gradually.

Untreated cholecystitis can lead to rupture of the gallbladder, which can be life-threatening.

Diagnosis is made through physical examination, ultrasound or other imaging, and blood tests.

Treatment involves hospitalizing the patient for fasting with IV fluids, to rest the gallbladder; antibiotics; and pain medication. Surgery to remove the gallbladder is often done so that the condition cannot recur.

Rarity: Uncommon

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

Symptoms that always occur with gall bladder infection (cholecystitis): abdominal pain (stomach ache)

Symptoms that never occur with gall bladder infection (cholecystitis): pain in the upper left abdomen, pain in the lower left abdomen

Urgency: Hospital emergency room

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.

Symptoms include a predomin...

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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

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

Severe Abdominal Pain Symptom Checker

Take a quiz to find out what might be causing your severe abdominal pain

Ectopic pregnancy

Ectopic pregnancy is a fairly common condition (one to two percent of all pregnancies). An ectopic pregnancy is one that occurs outside the uterus, which is the normal site of fetal development.

The hallmark symptoms of an ectopic pregnancy include severe abdominal pain, vaginal bleed...

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Ruptured ovarian cyst

It is normal for one of the two ovaries to create a small follicle each month. This follicle contains an egg cell that is released as part of the menstrual cycle.

In some cases, however, the egg cell fails to release. The follicle becomes overgrown and may eventually rupture, especially during sexual activity or strenuous exercise.

Symptoms of a ruptured ovarian cyst may be mild and only require over-the-counter pain relievers.

However, sudden severe pain on one side of the lower abdomen, especially with vaginal bleeding, may indicate internal bleeding and is a medical emergency. Take the patient to the emergency room or call 9-1-1.

Diagnosis is made through patient history, physical examination, and ultrasound, as well as blood tests and urine tests to rule out any other cause for the symptoms.

Treatment may involve hospitalization for IV fluids and pain medications. Surgery may be done to control the bleeding and remove any clots, blood, or fluid in the abdomen.

Rarity: Rare

Top Symptoms: stomach bloating, pelvis pain, lower abdominal pain, being severely ill, severe abdominal pain

Urgency: Hospital emergency room

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

Abdominal aortic aneurism (aaa) rupture

The aorta is the major blood highway. Injuries to the aorta can cause life-threatening internal bleeding.

Rarity: Rare

Top Symptoms: being severely ill, nausea, severe abdominal pain, side pain, spontaneous back pain

Symptoms that always occur with abdominal aortic aneurism (aaa) rupture: being severely ill

Urgency: Emergency medical service

Kidney stone

A kidney stone is a stone made up of various possible materials that forms in the kidneys. Factors that increase the risk of forming kidney stones include high levels of calcium, uric acid, and oxalate in the urine, low levels of citrate in the urine, abnormal urine pH, low urine volume, certain urin...

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Severe Abdominal Pain Treatments and Relief

The treatment for many causes of acute abdomen is surgery [5]. If you are stable when you arrive in the emergency room, your medical team will first do an abdominal X-ray or CT scan to get a better idea and look as to what could be causing your severe abdominal pain symptoms.

However, if you arrive and are unstable (symptoms of fever, shortness of breath, low blood pressure, loss of consciousness) your doctors may need to conduct urgent surgery in order to explore the possible causes of your pain whether it be obstruction, inflammation or excessive bleeding. With this exploratory surgery (also called an exploratory laparotomy), your doctors will be able to locate the severe abdominal pain cause and systematically find ways to stop it.

FAQs About Severe Abdominal Pain

Here are some frequently asked questions about severe abdominal pain.

When should I be concerned about a stomach ache?

You should be concerned about abdominal pain if you are also experiencing dizziness, loss of consciousness, a rigid abdomen, or pain that worsens severely if an individual is moved. Additionally, blood in feces or vomiting, chest pain, or an indication that you might be pregnant are also concerning.

Why do I have severe stomach pain during my period?

Severe stomach or abdominal pain during your period can be caused by endometriosis, a disorder in which tissue that usually lines the uterus migrates to areas beyond the uterus. This tissue grows and sloughs off in concert with the woman's menstrual period. This can cause tenderness, pain during sex, and severe abdominal pain during a period. Alternatively, an ectopic pregnancy or pregnancy in which the embryo is somewhere other than the uterus can cause pain but usually much later.

Why do certain foods cause severe stomach pain?

Certain foods can cause severe stomach pain by causing stomach cramps. If you have an ulcer, foods that require vigorous motion to digest or foods that contain acid can cause severe stomach pain. Additionally, foods that are hard may also cause cramps. Foods that are high in fiber, contain large amounts of lactose, or tough meats can also cause severe stomach pain.

Questions Your Doctor May Ask About Severe Abdominal Pain

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 lost your appetite recently?
  • How would you describe the nature of your abdominal pain?

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 severe abdominal pain

Severe Abdominal Pain Symptom Checker Statistics

People who have experienced severe abdominal pain have also experienced:

  • 12% Nausea
  • 11% Diarrhea
  • 9% Vomiting

People who have experienced severe abdominal pain were most often matched with:

  • 37% Gall Bladder Infection (Cholecystitis)
  • 37% Acute Abdomen
  • 25% Gallstones

People who have experienced severe abdominal pain 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”).

Severe Abdominal Pain Symptom Checker

Take a quiz to find out what might be causing your severe abdominal pain

References

  1. Patterson JW, Dominique E. Acute Abdomen. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island, FL: StatPearls Publishing; 2018. NCBI Link.
  2. Phillips MM. Abdominal Pain. U.S. National Library of Medicine: MedlinePlus. Updated December 3, 2018. MedlinePlus Link.
  3. Patient Education: Chronic Abdominal Pain in Children and Adolescents (Beyond the Basics). UpToDate. UpToDate Link.
  4. Abdominal Pain - Unexplained. Cedars-Sinai. Cedars-Sinai Link.
  5. Macaluso CR, McNamara RM. Evaluation and Management of Acute Abdominal Pain in the Emergency Department. International Journal of General Medicine. 2012;5:789-797. NCBI 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.