Abdominal pain refers to pain between the pelvic and chest regions. It can feel sharp, crampy, achy or dull. Also known as a stomachache.
Abdominal pain can be caused by inflammation or diseases of the abdominal organs. The abdomen contains the following major organs:
- Small and large intestines
- Appendix (a portion of the large intestinale)
Significant abdominal pain can also be caused by viral, bacterial, and parasitic infections.
There are many causes of abdominal pain. The main causes of abdominal pain are inflammation, infection, abnormal growths and obstruction (blockage).
Bacteria can enter your digestive system through infections in the throat, intestines and blood. This can lead to abdominal pain. These infections can also lead to changes in digestion such as constipation or diarrhea.
Lower abdominal pain can also be caused by cramps, which are often associated with menstruation. However, pelvic pain is more common.
The following are some other common causes of abdominal pain:
- gastroenteritis (stomach flu)
- Acid reflux is when stomach contents leak backwards into the esophagus. This can cause heartburn and other symptoms.
Chronic abdominal pain can also be caused by diseases that affect the digestive tract. These are the most common:
- gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
- irritable bowel syndrome or spastic colon (a disorder that causes abdominal pain, cramping, and changes in bowel movements)
- Crohn’s disease (an inflammatory bowel disease)
- lactose intolerance (the inability to digest lactose, the sugar found in milk and milk products)
The following are causes of severe abdominal pain:
- Organ rupture or near-rupture (such a burst appendix or appendicitis).
- gallbladder stones (known as gallstones)
- kidney stones
- Kidney infection
Types and causes of abdominal pain
You can describe abdominal pain as being either localized, cramp-like or colicky.
The pain is localized to one part of the abdomen. This kind of pain is usually caused by problems within a specific organ. Localized pain can be caused by stomach ulcers, which are open sores in the stomach’s inner lining.
Cramp-like symptoms can include constipation, diarrhea, bloating, flatulence, and constipation. It can also be caused by miscarriage or menstruation in women. It can be temporary and disappear on its own, or it may require treatment.
Colicky pain can be a sign of more serious conditions like gallstones and kidney stones. This type of pain can feel like severe muscle spasms and is often felt suddenly.
Pain in the abdomen
It may be that the location of the pain in the abdomen is a clue to the cause.
A generalized pain in the abdomen, not just one area, may be a sign of:
- appendicitis (inflammation of the appendix)
- Crohn’s Disease
- traumatic injury
- irritable bowel syndrome
- urinary tract infection
A lower abdominal pain that is centered in the abdomen could indicate:
The following can cause pain in the lower abdomen of women with a female reproductive organ:
- severe menstrual pain (called dysmenorrhea)
- ovarian cysts
- pelvic inflammatory disease
- Ectopic pregnancy
Upper abdominal pain could be caused by:
The cause of pain in the middle of the abdomen could be:
- uremia (buildup of waste products in your blood)
Low left abdominal pain could be caused by:
Sometimes, upper left abdominal pain can be caused by:
- enlarged spleen
- fecal impaction (hardened stool that can’t be eliminated)
- Kidney infection
- heart attack
Lower right abdominal pain can be caused by:
- hernia (when an organ protrudes through a weak spot in the abdominal muscles)
- Kidney infection
Upper right abdominal pain could be caused by:
When do you need to visit the doctor
Mild abdominal pain can be treated. In some cases, however, it may be worth visiting the doctor.
If your abdominal pain is severe or associated with trauma (from an injury or accident), or pressure in your chest, call 911.
If you feel that the pain is too severe to be able to sit still, or you need to curl up into a ball for comfort, you should immediately seek medical attention.
- bloody stools
- Fever greater than 101 degrees Fahrenheit (38.33degC).
- vomiting up blood (called hematemesis)
- persistent nausea or vomiting
- Yellowing of the eyes or skin
- swelling or severe tenderness of the abdomen
- difficulty breathing
If you have any of these symptoms, make an appointment to see your doctor.
- Abdominal pain that lasts more than 24 hours
- Constipation for a prolonged period
- Urinating can cause a burning sensation
- Appetite loss
- Unexplained weight loss
If you have abdominal pain, whether you are pregnant or breastfeeding, consult your doctor immediately.
If you don’t already have a gastroenterologist, the Healthline FindCare tool can help you find a physician in your area.
What causes abdominal pain?
A series of tests can help determine the cause of your abdominal pain. Your doctor will perform a physical exam before ordering any tests. To check for tenderness or swelling, your doctor will gently press on different areas of your abdomen.
This information, along with the location of the pain in the abdomen, will allow your doctor to determine the best tests to order.
To view the organs, tissues, or other structures of the abdomen in detail, imaging tests such as MRI scans and ultrasounds can be used. These tests are useful in diagnosing tumors, fractures and ruptures as well as inflammation.
There are also other tests:
- colonoscopy (to look inside the colon and intestines)
- endoscopy (to detect inflammation and abnormalities in the esophagus and stomach)
- upper GI (a special X-ray test that uses contrast dye to check for the presence of growths, ulcers, inflammation, blockages, and other abnormalities in the stomach)
To look for signs of bacterial, viral and parasitic infections, blood, urine and stool samples can be taken.
How do I prevent stomach pain?
Some forms of abdominal pain can be prevented. The following steps can be taken to reduce the chance of experiencing abdominal pain:
- Eat a healthy diet.
- Get water regularly
- Exercise regularly.
- Eat smaller meals.
To minimize discomfort if you have Crohn’s disease or another intestinal disorder, you should follow the advice of your doctor. Do not eat within two hours of your bedtime if you have GERD.
Lieing down too quickly after eating can cause stomach pain and heartburn. Before you lie down, wait at least two hours after eating.
The 7 Best Foods for an Upset Stomach
Most people experience an upset stomach from now on.
Common symptoms include nausea, indigestion, vomiting, bloating, diarrhea or constipation.
There are many causes of upset stomachs and the treatment options vary depending on which one you have.
A variety of foods can help settle upset stomachs and make you feel better faster.
These are the top 12 foods to soothe an upset stomach.
1. Ginger can relieve nausea and vomiting
An upset stomach can cause nausea and vomiting.
Both of these symptoms can be treated naturally with ginger, which is a sweet, edible root that has bright yellow flesh.
Ginger can be enjoyed raw, cooked, steeped in hot water or as a supplement, and is effective in all forms
Morning sickness is a form of nausea and vomiting that can be experienced during pregnancy.
In a review of six studies involving over 500 women, it was found that 1 gram ginger daily is associated with five times less nausea and vomiting in pregnancy.
People undergoing major surgery or chemotherapy may find ginger helpful, as severe nausea and vomiting can result from these treatments.
The severity of these symptoms can be significantly reduced by taking 1 gram of ginger daily before undergoing chemotherapy or surgery.
You can use ginger to treat motion sickness. Ginger can be taken before you feel nausea and accelerate your recovery.
It isn’t clear how this works, but it is believed that ginger regulates nerve system signaling in stomach and speeds up stomach emptying, which reduces nausea and vomiting.
Ginger is considered safe. However, higher than 5 grams of ginger per day can cause heartburn, stomach pain, and diarrhea.
2. 2. Chamomile may reduce vomiting and relieve discomfort in the intestines
Chamomile is an herb with small white flowers that can be used to treat upset stomachs.
Chamomile can be dried and brewed into a tea or taken by mouth as a supplement.
Historically, chamomile has been used for a variety of intestinal troubles, including gas, indigestion, diarrhea, nausea and vomiting
However, despite its widespread usage, there are only a few studies that support its effectiveness in treating digestive problems.
A small study showed that chamomile supplementation reduced nausea after chemotherapy treatment. However, it is not clear if it would have similar effects on other types.
A study in animals showed that chamomile extracts reduced diarrhea in mice. This was due to intestinal spasms being lessened and a decrease in the amount of water secreted. However, more research is required to determine if this works for humans.
The common use of chamomile in herbal supplements to relieve gas, indigestion, and diarrhea in babies is also a reason for concern.
It is difficult to determine if the beneficial effects of chamomile are due to chamomile and other herbs.
While chamomile’s gut-soothing properties are well known, no research has yet been done to show how it can relieve stomach upset.
3. Peppermint may help with symptoms of Irritable Bowel Syndrome
For some people, upset stomach is caused by irritable bowel syndrome, or IBS. IBS, which is a chronic gut disorder, can cause nausea, constipation, and stomach pain.
Although IBS can be very difficult to manage, research shows that peppermint may help with the discomfort.
Taking peppermint oil capsules daily for at least two weeks can significantly reduce stomach pain, gas and diarrhea in adults with IBS ..
Peppermint oil is believed to relax the muscles of the digestive tract and reduce the severity intestinal spasms that could cause pain or diarrhea.
Although the research is encouraging, further studies are needed to determine if peppermint leaf and peppermint tea have similar therapeutic effects.
Most people are safe with peppermint, but it is best to be cautious if you have severe reflux, hiatal Hernias or kidney stones, liver and gallbladder problems, or severe reflux.
4. Licorice may reduce stomach cramps and help prevent them from happening.
Licorice is a popular remedy for indigestion and may also prevent painful stomach ulcers.
Licorice root was traditionally eaten whole. Today, it’s most commonly taken as a supplement called deglycyrrhizinated licorice (DGL).
DGL is preferable to regular licorice root due to its lack of glycyrhizin. This chemical, which occurs naturally in licorice, can cause fluid imbalances and high blood pressure.
Test-tube and animal studies have shown that DGL relieves stomach pain by decreasing inflammation and increasing mucus production. This helps protect stomach acids from damaging tissues.
This may be especially helpful for people suffering from an upset stomach caused by excessive stomach acid or acid reflux.
DGL supplements can also be used to relieve stomach pain, indigestion and ulcers due to an overgrowth of bacteria called H. Pylori.
Numerous studies have demonstrated that DGL supplements can eradicate H. DGL supplements can be used to reduce symptoms and promote healing of stomach ulcers.
Licorice is an intestinal soothing herb that can reduce inflammation and infection, which may help to relieve upset stomach symptoms.
5. Flaxseed relieves constipation and stomach pain
Flaxseed (also known as Linseed) is a small fibrous seed that can regulate bowel movements, relieve constipation, and alleviate abdominal pain.
Chronic constipation refers to a lack of bowel movement per week and can often be associated with discomfort and abdominal pain.
Flaxseed, consumed either as ground flaxseed meal or flaxseed oil, has been shown to relieve uncomfortable symptoms of constipation.
Adults who consumed approximately 4 ml (4 oz) flaxseed oil daily for 2 weeks showed a greater bowel movement and better stool consistency.
Another study showed that people who consumed flaxseed muffins daily had 30% more bowel movements per week than those who did not.
Flaxseed has been shown to have additional benefits in animals, such as preventing stomach ulcers or reducing intestinal spasms. However, these effects are not yet proven in humans.
6. Papaya can improve digestion and may be effective for parasites and ulcers
Papaya, also called pawpaw, a sweet, orange-fleshed tropical tree that can be used to treat indigestion.
Papaya contains papain, a powerful enzyme that breaks down proteins in the food you eat, making them easier to digest and absorb .
People may not have enough natural enzymes in their bodies to properly digest their food. Taking additional enzymes like papain can help with indigestion.
Although there hasn’t been much research on papain’s benefits, at least one study showed that regular consumption of papaya concentrate can reduce constipation and bloating among adults.
Some West African countries also use papaya as a traditional treatment for stomach ulcers. These claims have been supported by a limited number of animal studies, but more human research is needed.
Finally, papaya seeds have also been taken by mouth to eliminate intestinal parasites, which can live in the gut and cause severe abdominal discomfort and malnutrition.
Numerous studies have demonstrated that seeds have antiparasitic qualities and can increase the number parasites in children’s stool.
7. Green Bananas Help Relieve Diarrhea
Diarrhea is often associated with an upset stomach due to food poisoning or infection.
Many studies have shown that children suffering from diarrhea may be able to reduce their episodes by giving them cooked, green bananas.
In fact, one study found that the addition of cooked, green bananas was nearly four times more effective at eliminating diarrhea than a rice-based diet alone .
The powerful antidiarrheal effects of green bananas are due to a special type of fiber they contain known as resistant starch.
Resistant starch is not digestible by humans so it continues to travel through the digestive system all the way to colon, which is the last portion of the intestines.
Once it has reached the colon, it slowly ferments by your gut bacteria to make short-chain fat acids. These stimulate the bowels and increase water absorption.
These results are quite impressive but more research is needed to determine if green bananas can have the same antidiarrheal properties in adults.
It is not known if ripe bananas have enough resistant starch to produce the same results, as resistant starches can be converted to sugars when a banana ripens.