Abdominal pain is a very common problem that can be caused by very simple situations, like indigestion, excess gas or excessive stress. It usually does not require any specific treatment, and can be relieved with rest, avoiding fatty or sugary foods, and plenty of fluids.
Nonetheless, abdominal pain may also be a sign of gastritis, acid reflux, irritable bowel syndrome, gallbladder disease or even cancer.
If you abdominal pain is very intense, lasts for over 2 days, or emerges with other symptoms like fever, vomiting and weight loss, you should see a doctor for assessment and treatment as appropriate.
Abdominal pain can occur for the following reasons:
1. Excess gas
Excess intestinal gas is the main cause of abdominal discomfort, especially in those that commonly experience constipation. Gas can also occur with other intestinal problems, like irritable bowel syndrome or lactose intolerance. Some people may also notice more gas after eating specific foods, like eggs, beans, milk or soda. Read more about the common causes of excess gas.
Abdominal pain from excess gas is usually sharp and can be accompanied by other symptoms like abdominal swelling, heartburn, chest tightness or frequent belching. Learn more about how to recognize gas symptoms in the stomach and intestines.
What to do: A great tip is to decrease foods that cause excessive gas, like beans and soda. You are advised to drink lemon balm tea with fennel to relieve discomfort.
Indigestion can also cause abdominal pain, as well as heart burn, burping, a full stomach sensation and excessive fatigue. It occurs when different types of food are mixed and eaten, or following a fatty meal, as these are usually harder to digest.
What to do: In addition to making dietary changes, you can also take teas that promote optimal digestion, like boldo tea or anise tea. There are also some pharmacy medications you can consider taking, like Gaviscon or sodium bicarbonate tablets.
3. Excess stress
Some psychological problems caused by stress, like depression or burnout, can alter how your gastrointestinal system functions. IT can lead to abdominal discomfort that can be mistaken from stomach or intestinal problems.
In addition to a stomach ache and abdominal pain, some people experiencing intense stress may also notice diarrhea or constipation, nausea, difficulty breathing and muscular pain.
What to do: Ideally, you should relax or remove stressful triggers so that you can determine whether the abdomnial pain is related. Try some light exercise, getting a massage or resting in a calm room, If symptoms persist, you should see a doctor to rule out any other causes.
4. Gastritis or gastric ulcer
Inflammation of stomach lining, or gastritis, or the presence of an ulcer can cause intense stomach pain, especially after eating. This pain can also be triggered with spicy or fatty food and can be accompanied by other symptoms like frequent nausea, weight loss, vomiting and bloating.
Check out our online gastritis symptoms test to assess your risk for this condition.
What to do: If your pain is very intense, you should see a gastroenterologist for more specific testing, like endoscopy, to rule out an ulcer. In the meantime, you should try to maintain a light diet to help reduce symptoms. Learn more about the gastritis and ulcer diet advised for patients with these symptoms.
Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) occurs when stoamch contents and acid back-flow up to the esophagus. This leads to irritation and inflammation of the esophageal lining. It is frequently noted in people with a history of hiatal hernias, obesity, diabetes or smokers. However it can occur in anyone of any age due to other problems, like stomach issues and prolonged gastric emptying. Read more about what can cause GERD and acid reflux.
In addition to abdominal pain, GERD can also lead to a burning throat sensation, frequent belching, indigestion, bad breath and a sensation of a knot in the throat. These symptoms can worsen when bending down or when lying down immediately after eating.
What to do: Avoid lying down immediately after eating. You can try sleeping with the head of your bed elevated to prevent problems at night. You are also advised to maintain a GERD diet and to take medications as prescribed by your gastroenterologist.
6. Lactose or glucose intolerance
Some food intolerances, like lactose or gluten intolerance, can occur when the body is unable to digest these substances. They lead to inflammation along the digestive tract, which causes generalized pain and discomfort after meals. These symptoms are especially pronounced after eating foods like bread, pasta, cheese or milk.
Pain from a food intolerance is usually diffuse (felt throughout the abdomen) and accompanied by symptoms like bloating, diarrhea, excess gas, irritability or vomiting. Overtime, some patients experience weight loss and muscle mass loss.
Check out our online glutence intolerance symptoms quiz to determine your risk for this condition.
What to do: If you suspect you may have a food intolerance, you should consult a gastroenterologist to confirm a diagnosis and start treatment as appropriate. In these cases, you should avoid all foods with the triggering substance.
7. Irritable bowel syndrome
Irritable bowel syndrome is a disorder caused by inflammation along the intestinal lining. It is not always caused by anything specific, and may be related to stress or a food sensitivity.
As a result of inflammation, it is common for patients to report abdominal pain, excess gas and alternating periods of diarrhea and constipation.
What to do: You should see a gastroenterologist to confirm a diagnosis and start treatment as necessary. In cases where triggers are identified, these should be avoided when possible.
8. Uterine or ovarian disease
Problems in the uterus (e.g. uterine inflammation or endometriosis) or ovaries (like ovarian cysts) can be the main causes of lower abdominal pain in women.
Abdominal pain from uterine or ovarian issues can also cause symptoms like constant or cramping pain, which can range from moderate to intense. It can also cause breakthrough bleeding or irregular periods. Learn more about the endometriosis symptoms that cause pain within the abdominal cavity.
What to do: If you experience abdominal pain that may be related to your menstrual cycle, you should see a gynecologist for testing, like a pap test or ultrasound, to identify the underlying problem and treat as necessary.
9. Gallbladder or pancreatic disease
More serious problems in the gallbladder or pancreas, like gallstones or inflammation, can cause pain in the upper abdominal. This pain tends to worsen over time or become more intense after a meal. In addition to intense abdominal pain, some people also experience symptoms like fever, bloating, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea or yellow stool.
What to do: These problems should be treated promptly and should be assessed in a hospital setting if suspected. Read more about the symptoms of gallstones and the treatment typically prescribed.
10. Intestinal parasites
Intestinal parasites are a common finding, especially in those who prefer undercooked meals. Pain is usually not felt with intestinal parasites, although it can become more apparent if the parasites are left untreated for a long time. Some people may also experience weight loss, anal itching, diarrhea, appetite changes, fatigue for no apparent reason and bloating.
Check out other symptoms of intestinal worms and how they are treated.
What to do: You should see a family doctor or gastroenterologist if you believe your symptoms are related to parasites. If confirmed, the doctor may prescribe anti-parasitics like albendazole.
11. Intestinal or stomach cancer
Abdominal pain is rarely a sign of cancer, however more advanced intestinal or stomach cancer can lead to constant pain that is difficult to describe.
If the abdominal pain is indeed related to cancer, other symptoms will usually emerge, like blood in the stool, vomiting blood, dark stool, stomach heaviness, anal heaviness, frequent fatigue or weight loss with no apparent reason. Read more about the symptoms of stomach cancer and how this cancer is typically treated.
What to do: If you suspect cancer, especially if you have a family history of cacer, you should see a gastroenterologist. Patients over the age of 50 should complete screening endoscopies and colonoscopies as directed by their doctors.