Abdominal Pain: What You Should Know

Just about everybody at one time or another will get a bellyache. Most causes of abdominal pain aren't worrisome, and your doctor can easily diagnose and treat the problem. Sometimes, though, it can be a sign of a serious illness. Learn which symptoms to watch out for and when you should get medical help.

What Are the Most Common Causes of Abdominal Pain?

Whether you've got a mild stomachache, sharp pain, or cramps, abdominal pain can have many causes. For instance, you might have indigestion, constipation, a stomach virus, or, if you're a woman, menstrual cramps.

Other possible causes include:

You may also get abdominal pain if you're lactose intolerant or have ulcers or pelvic inflammatory disease. Some other causes include:

When Should You Contact Your Doctor?

If your abdominal pain is severe, doesn't go away, or keeps coming back, talk to your doctor. Call 911 right away if your belly hurts because you had a recent injury there or if you have any chest pain.

You should also contact her as soon as you can if you have symptoms along with the pain, such as:

  • Fever
  • Can't keep food down for more than 2 days
  • Signs you're getting dehydrated
  • Can't have a bowel movement, especially if you're also vomiting
  • Pain when you pee, or you need to urinate often

Also call your doctor if:

  • Your belly is tender to the touch.
  • Pain lasts more than a few hours.

You may also get symptoms that could be a sign of a problem inside your body that needs treatment as soon as possible. For example, get medical care right away if you have abdominal pain and you also:

How Does Your Doctor Figure Out the Cause of Your Abdominal Pain?

Since there are so many possible causes, your doctor will do a thorough physical exam. She'll also ask you some questions about your symptoms. She'll want to know what type of pain you have. For instance, is it a severe stabbing pain or a dull ache?

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Some other questions your doctor may ask you:

  • Does it hurt throughout your abdomen, or is it just in one particular area?
  • When does it hurt? Always? More often in the morning or at night?
  • If the pain comes and goes, about how long does it last each time?
  • Does it hurt after you eat certain foods or drink alcohol?
  • Are you in pain during menstruation?
  • How long have you been hurting?
  • Does the pain sometimes move into your lower back, shoulder, groin, or buttocks?
  • Do you take any medications or herbal supplements?
  • Are you pregnant?
  • Does any activity ease the pain, such as eating or lying on one side?
  • Were you injured recently?

After your exam is over and your doctor is done asking you questions, she may recommend you get tests to help find the cause of your pain. These may include stool or urine tests, blood tests, barium swallows or enemas, an endoscopy, X-ray, ultrasound, or CT scan.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Melinda Ratini, DO, MS on May 02, 2017

Sources

National Institutes of Health.

Mayo Clinic: "Abdominal Pain."

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