Sharp Abdominal Pain: 7 Common Causes & What to Do

Updated in May 2023

Sharp abdominal pain may be related to eating high-carb foods or lactose, which can lead to more intestinal gas or constipation.

However, sharp abdominal pain accompanied by other symptoms, like diarrhea, vomiting, fever and general malaise may be a sign of another health condition, like gallbladder stones, appendicitis or a UTI. 

If your abdominal pain does not resolve on its own or if pain is gradually worsening or accompanied by other symptoms, you should consult your doctor for further assessment possible treatment. 

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What causes sharp abdominal pain?

The most common causes of sharp abdominal pain are: 

1. Intestinal gas

Intestinal gas can be produced in the stomach or gut and is usually the result of the fermentation of high-carb foods or lactose. Some types of legumes (like beans, chickpeas and lentils), some vegetables (like cabbage and cauliflower) and fizzy drinks can also lead to increased intestinal gases. Learn more about what can cause excess gas

In some cases, intestinal gas can be related to a health condition like lactose intolerance, hypochlorhydria, parasites or IBS. When intestinal gases are excessive, they can cause symptoms like sharp abdominal pain, throat burning, sharp chest pain and constant burping. 

What to do: Intestinal gases usually do not lead to other health problems, however they can be uncomfortable and cause anxiety and general malaise. To relieve and eliminate intestinal gas, you should increase you water intake, eat slowly, chew thoroughly and avoid drinking fluids during meals. You can use medications like simethicone to relieve symptoms. 

Check out these home remedies for gas so that you can relieve discomfort naturally. 

2. Constipation

Constipation is characterized by a reduction in bowel movements, or very hard stool that requires excessive straining to eliminate. 

This condition can occur for many reasons, which are mainly related to inadequate fiber and water intake and lack of physical activity. Symptoms of constipation include bloating and sharp abdominal pain, which occur due to fecal accumulation and gas production. 

What to do: Treatment for constipation consists of lifestyle changes, like increased fiber intake and drinking more water (about 2 liters per day). You should also have also have bowel movements when you have the desire to, as holding stool in can change its consistency and make it harder to pass. 

Frequent constipation or irregular bowel movements should be assessed by a family doctor or gastroenterologist. The doctor will assess the underlying cause, and may prescribe laxatives to help with bowel elimination. 

3. Appendicitis

Appendicitis is characterized by inflammation of the appendix, which is a small organ located at the end of the large intestine. This inflammation can be caused by a obstruction in the appendix due to to stool, and can cause symptoms like sharp abdominal pain that is specifically felt in the lower right abdomen, as well as vomiting, fever, loss of appetite and general malaise. 

If you notice symptoms of appendicitis, you should seek urgent medical attention. Appendicitis that is left untreated can lead to a rupture appendiz, which can contaminate other abdominal organs with harmful bacteria. To confirm appendicitis, the doctor may order tests like an ultrasound, urinte test and blood work. 

What to do: Once confirmed, treatment for appendicitis consists of surgical removal of the appendix. The doctor may prescribe medications like analgesics to relieve pain and antibiotics to prevent the emergence of other infections. 

4. Irritable bowel syndrome

Intestinal bowel syndrome (IBS) is an intestinal illness characterized by abnormal bowel habits. Patients will typically present with periods of diarrhea that alternate with periods of constipation. This condition causes symptoms like bowel urgency, mucus from the anus, abdominal discomfort, floating and sharp abdominal pain. 

These symptoms tend to come on gradually, and many people may not have all of these symptoms. The cause of IBS is not fully known, however it may be related to hypersensitivity to certain foods at an intestinal level. 

IBS is diagnosed by a gastroenterologist through assessing the patient’s health history and ordering tests to rule out other illnesses. 

What to do: To treat IBS, the doctor will likely fiber supplements to regulate bowel movements and intestinal flora, as well as antispasmodics to reduce bloating, distension and gas. It is important to see a registered dietitian as well to help guide an eating plan that prevents worsening and eases symptoms. Read more about the IBS diet and how to incorporate it into your eating routine.

5. Urinary tract infection

A urinary tract infection (UTI) occurs when the urinary tract becomes contaminated by bacteria (like Escherichia coli and Staphylococcus saprophyticus) or fungus (like Candida sp.). Women are more susceptible to UTIs due to anatomivally shorter urethras, which allows for microorganisms to enter the urinary tract easily. 

UTI symptoms include burning and sharp abdominal pain when urinating. UTIs that reach the kidneys can also cause lower back pain. Diagnosis can be confirmed through a positive urine test. 

O que fazer: UTI treatment is usually aimed at eliminating bacteria in the urinary tract with antibiotics, like timetoprim and ciprofloxacin. Home remedies, like cranberry juice, can be used as a complement to medical therapy to speed-up recovery.

6. Gallbladder stones 

Gallbladder stones, also known as cholelithiasis, is characterized by the formation of small masses (or calculi) within the gallbladder or biliary tract. The gallbladder is essential for fat digestion, and if it becomes blocked, symptoms like nausea, vomiting and sharp abdominal pain can be felt. 

Gallbladder stones can form when bile becomes overloaded with fat from the liver. The condition is diagnosed by a family doctor or gastroenterologist through assessment and testing, like an abdominal ultrasound. 

What to do: Treatment for gallbladder stones usually consists of surgical removal of the masses and antibiotics to prevent infections, like burdock root tea. 

7. Menstrual cramps, pregnancy or ovulation

Menstrual cramps can occur due to uterine contractions during periods and can cause sharp abdominal pain. Early pregnancy can also cause sharp abdominal pain, as hormonal fluctuations and anatomical changes are occurring within the uterus. Abdominal pain with bleeding should be urgently assessed. Read more about what can cause abdominal pain during pregnancy

Ovulation, or the fertile period, is associated with the release of an egg to be fertilized by the sperm, a process which can also cause sharp abdominal pain. 

What to do: Menstrual cramps that last for over 72 hours or are intolerable should be assessed by a gynecologist to determine whether they are associated with another health condition, like endometriosis. Abdominal pain during pregnancy, however should be monitored, as pain with vaginal bleeding requires immediate attention. 

When to see a doctor

You should seek urgent medical attention if your abdominal pain is sharp and accompanied by symptoms like: 

  • Fever
  • Anal bleeding
  • Vomiting for over 24 hours 

These signs may be a sign of other health conditions, which require immediate diagnosis and treatment.