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Abdominal Pain

What is abdominal pain?

Abdominal pain is aching or cramping in your belly. The abdomen, or belly, is the area between your chest and pelvis. The pain can range from mild discomfort to cramping or severe pain.

What is the cause?

Many things can cause abdominal pain, such as:

  • Ulcers, indigestion or heartburn
  • Infections, such as food poisoning or stomach flu
  • Food allergy or trouble digesting milk products or gluten
  • Stress and anxiety
  • Constipation, diarrhea, or gastritis (stomach irritation)
  • Hernia
  • Urinary tract infection or kidney stones
  • Muscle strain
  • Appendicitis

Women may have pain caused by menstruation, pregnancy, cramping of the uterus during childbirth or breast-feeding, or a disease or infection in the uterus

Sometimes abdominal pain is caused by a problem in another part of the body, such as the lungs or the heart. For example, a heart attack can cause upper abdominal pain.

You cannot always tell where the problem is or how serious the problem is from the severity of the pain. Mild conditions such as gas or stomach flu may cause severe pain, while more serious problems such as appendicitis or cancer may cause only mild pain at first.

How is it treated?

Often there are simple things you can do at home to feel better.

If you are seen by your healthcare provider, your provider will ask about your symptoms and medical history and examine you. You may have tests or scans to help diagnose a medical condition that is causing your symptoms. Be sure to tell your provider:

  • When you first felt the pain
  • Where it hurts
  • When it hurts
  • How long it hurts (minutes or hours at a time)
  • Anything you do that makes it hurt (for example, eat, walk, lie down)
  • What, if anything, you have done that makes it better (for example, avoiding fatty foods)

Your treatment will depend on what is causing the pain. Your provider may prescribe medicine to:

  • Treat pain
  • Treat or prevent an infection
  • Relieve gas and bloating
  • Reduce the acid in your stomach

How can I help take care of myself?

Here are some things you can do that might help you feel better.

  • Put a hot water bottle or heating pad on your stomach. Cover the hot water bottle with a towel or set the heating pad on low so you don’t burn your skin.
  • Take a warm bath.
  • If the cramps are stress-related, learning ways to relax may help.
  • If you also have gas and bloating, it may be relieved with nonprescription medicine that contains simethicone.
  • Antacids may help to relieve indigestion, heartburn, and nausea.
  • Nonprescription pain relievers such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen can help relieve menstrual or muscle pain, but aspirin and ibuprofen can make an upset stomach worse. Read the label and take as directed. Unless recommended by your healthcare provider, you should not take these medicines for more than 10 days.
    • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medicines (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen, naproxen, and aspirin, may cause stomach bleeding and other problems. These risks increase with age.
    • Acetaminophen may cause liver damage or other problems. Unless recommended by your provider, don't take more than 3000 milligrams (mg) in 24 hours. To make sure you don’t take too much, check other medicines you take to see if they also contain acetaminophen. Ask your provider if you need to avoid drinking alcohol while taking this medicine.

If you have seen your healthcare provider about the pain, follow their instructions. Ask your provider:

  • How and when you will hear test results
  • How long it will take to recover
  • If there are activities you should avoid and when you can return to your normal activities
  • How to take care of yourself at home
  • What symptoms or problems you should watch for and what to do if you have them

Make sure you know when you should come back for a checkup.

Call 911 right away if you have abdominal pain along with jaw, arm, shoulder, chest, or back pain; sweating; nausea; shortness of breath; or anxiety. These symptoms may mean you are having a heart attack.

Developed by RelayHealth.
Adult Advisor 2015.1 published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2014-10-22
Last reviewed: 2014-06-02
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
Copyright ©1986-2015 McKesson Corporation and/or one of its subsidiaries. All rights reserved.
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