You know that awful feeling: you're nauseous; your stomach feels like it's tied in a knot, and you don't even want to move. What does your pain mean? Well, let's talk today about abdominal pain.
So, what causes abdominal pain?
Almost everyone has pain in their belly at one time or another. Most of the time, a serious medical problem is not the cause, and how bad your pain is doesn't always reflect the seriousness of the problem causing your pain. You may feel very bad pain if you are having gas or stomach cramps due to viral gastroenteritis, better known as a stomach virus. And some life-threatening conditions, such as colon cancer or a very early case of appendicitis, may cause only mild pain, or no pain at all.
The important thing to know about abdominal pain is when you need immediate medical care.
Less serious causes of abdominal pain include constipation, irritable bowel syndrome, food allergies, lactose intolerance, food poisoning, and a stomach virus.
Other, more serious, causes include appendicitis, an abdominal aortic aneurysm, a bowel blockage, cancer, and gastroesophageal reflux.
Sometimes, you may have abdominal pain from a problem that isn't in your belly, like a heart attack, menstrual cramps, or pneumonia.
So, what do you do about abdominal pain?
Well, if you have mild abdominal pain, here are some helpful tips:
Try sipping water or other clear fluids. Avoid solid food for the first few hours. If you've been vomiting, wait 6 hours and then eat small amounts of mild foods like rice, applesauce, or crackers. If your pain is high in your abdomen and occurs after meals, antacids may help, especially if you are feeling heartburn or indigestion.
You should seek medical attention if you have abdominal pain and are being treated for cancer, you can't pass any stool, you're vomiting blood, or you have chest, neck, or shoulder pain. Call your doctor if you have abdominal pain that lasts 1 week or longer, if your pain doesn't improve in 24 to 48 hours, if bloating lasts more than 2 days, or if you have diarrhea for more than 5 days.
Review Date: 2/19/2016
Reviewed By: Laura J. Martin, MD, MPH, ABIM Board Certified in Internal Medicine and Hospice and Palliative Medicine, Atlanta, GA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.