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Abdominal Pain

Abdominal pain is pain in the stomach or intestinal area. Everyone has this pain from time to time. In many cases it goes away on its own. But abdominal pain can sometimes be due to a serious problem, such as appendicitis. So it’s important to know when to seek help.

Causes of abdominal pain

There are many possible causes of abdominal pain. Common causes in adults include:

  • Constipation, diarrhea, or gas

  • GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease) movement of stomach acid into the esophagus, also known as acid reflux or heartburn

  • Peptic ulcer (a sore in the lining of the stomach or small intestine)

  • Inflammation of the gallbladder, liver, or pancreas

  • Gallstones or kidney stones

  • Appendicitis 

  • Obstruction of the intestines 

  • Hernia (bulging of an internal organ through a muscle or other tissue)

  • Urinary tract infections

  • In women, menstrual cramps, fibroids, or endometriosis of the uterus

  • Inflammation or infection of the intestines

Diagnosing the cause of abdominal pain

Your health care provider will examine you to help find the cause of your pain. If needed, tests will be ordered. Because abdominal pain has so many possible causes, it can be hard to discover the reason for the pain. Giving details about your pain can help. Be ready to tell your health care provider where and when you feel the pain and what makes it better or worse. Also mention whether you have other symptoms such as fever, tiredness, nausea, vomiting, or changes in bathroom habits.

Treating abdominal pain

Certain causes of pain, such as appendicitis or a bowel obstruction, need emergency treatment. Other problems can be treated with rest, fluids, or medications. Your health care provider can give you specific instructions for treatment or self-care based on the cause of your pain.

If you have vomiting or diarrhea, sip water or other clear fluids. When you are ready to eat solid foods again, start with small amounts of easy-to-digest, low-fat foods, such as applesauce, toast, or crackers.

When to call the doctor

Call 911 or go to the hospital right away if you:

  • Can’t pass stool and are vomiting

  • Are vomiting blood or have black, tarry diarrhea

  • Also have chest, neck, or shoulder pain

  • Feel like you are about to pass out

  • Have pain in your shoulder blades with nausea

  • Have sudden, excruciating abdominal pain

  • Have new, severe pain unlike any you have felt before

  • Have a belly that is rigid, hard, and tender to touch

Call your doctor if you have:

  • Pain for more than 5 days

  • Bloating for more than 2 days

  • Diarrhea for more than 5 days

  • Fever of 101°F (38.3°C) or higher

  • Pain that continues to worsen

  • Unexplained weight loss

  • Continued lack of appetite

  • Blood in the stool

How to prevent abdominal pain

Here are some tips to help prevent abdominal pain:

  • Eat smaller amounts of food at one time.

  • Avoid greasy, fried, or other high-fat foods.

  • Avoid foods that give you gas.

  • Exercise regularly.

  • Drink plenty of fluids.

To help prevent symptoms of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD):

  • Quit smoking.

  • Reduce alcohol and certain foods that increase stomach acid. 

  • Lose excess weight.

  • Finish eating at least 2 hours before you go to bed or lie down.

  • Elevate the head of your bed.


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