Everyone has had stomach pain at one time or another. Quite often, abdominal pain is easily explained, such as when you have a stomach bug or ate expired food. Perhaps you have a mild intolerance to lactose but indulge in ice cream once in a blue moon, knowing you’ll pay for it a little bit later. However, other types of stomach pain aren’t so easily explained. Maybe they’re acute, or prolonged—or both. It’s important to know when you should take a trip to your gastroenterologist or healthcare provider and when you should likely ride out the discomfort. Read on to learn more about different types of stomach pain and when you should consider seeing a physician.
What Are the Common Causes of Stomach Pain?
There are many different reasons why you may be experiencing stomach pain. Location matters, as well as the type of pain. It’s important to realize that the pain you may be feeling in your stomach may be emanating from an adjoining organ. For example, pain from these organs is classified as abdominal pain:
- Small and large intestines
If you need to see a physician, they can often better diagnose you, depending on where the pain is localized.
Most stomach pain isn’t too serious—the majority of abdominal pain you’ll experience in your lifetime will be caused by infection or inflammation, menstrual cramps (for women), constipation, and stomach flu (gastroenteritis). Other common causes of stomach pain are:
- Acid reflux or GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease )
While you may experience diarrhea as part of stomach flu, when it presents on its own, it can also cause significant cramping. Vomiting can cause stomach pain while it is occurring and can also make your abdominal muscles sore, causing you to feel pain for a more extended period of time. Heartburn and acid reflux can also feel like abdominal pain, and stress can take a toll on the stomach.
How Do I Know if My Stomach Pain Is Serious?
Gastrointestinal issues, such as acid reflux, GERD, and even stomach flu may require treatment, but they are not as serious as some other causes of stomach pain. Diseases of the digestive system can also cause abdominal pain, and these can be more serious than a bout with the flu or a case of food poisoning. Issues that may be cause for concern include:
- Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). This condition mainly affects the quality of life, but its effect can be substantial.
- Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis. Collectively, these are classified as inflammatory bowel diseases (IBDs) and affect the colon differently. You can suffer from one or both IBDs.
- Food allergies. Food allergies, such as lactose intolerance, can cause pain. You may be mildly intolerant or have a severe allergy, but it’s best to be properly diagnosed by your physician.
- Celiac disease. Celiac disease is a food allergy to gluten. Those with celiac disease who eat gluten and do not get diagnosed can damage their intestines over time.
- Organ rupture. The most common of these is a burst appendix or appendicitis.
- Gallbladder stones or kidney stones. Both of these conditions should be evaluated by a medical professional, and both can be very painful.
- Urinary tract infection (UTI) or kidney infection. Untreated UTIs can often blossom into full-blown kidney infections, which can be dangerous. These usually present with flank pain (back of the stomach).
When Should I See the Doctor for Stomach Pain?
Most of the time, your stomach pain will disappear when the condition or infection passes. Stomach flu, for example, often only lasts for 24 hours. You should always call your doctor if the pain does not subside within a day or two, if you have chest pain associated with stomach pain (this could indicate a heart attack), or if the pain is associated with a recent injury. Other reasons you should see the doctor for stomach pain include:
- Blood in the stool
- A fever over 101° Fahrenheit
- Vomiting of blood
- Yellowing of eyes or skin (jaundice, which can indicate liver problems)
- Swelling of the abdomen
- Difficulty breathing
Also, if your pain is acute and localized, you should contact your doctor or proceed to the nearest emergency room. Appendicitis can present on the lower right side with acute pain and is a very serious condition if not treated immediately. It is rare, but several of these symptoms are associated with abdominal, colorectal, or ovarian cancer, so it's best to make an appointment when in doubt.
Where Stomach Pain Is Located
If you see your healthcare provider, they will ask you where you feel the pain and what type of pain it is. While your doctor can run diagnostic tests, such as blood tests, CT scans, or MRIs, they will first ask you to describe and locate the pain. For example, if your pain is felt all over and not in a specific area, it could be stomach flu, Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis, or IBS. If you feel pain in the lower abdomen, it could be appendicitis (right side), intestinal obstruction, or ectopic pregnancy. Upper abdominal pain can be inflammation of the liver, gallstones, or even pneumonia.
How Do I Relieve Stomach Pain?
If your pain doesn’t warrant a visit to your physician, but it is still bothersome and uncomfortable, there are some things you can do to relieve stomach pain. Again, this depends on its location and type of pain. Over-the-counter treatments can help, such as antacids for heartburn and acid reflux and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) for muscle pain or aches. NSAIDs include ibuprofen, naproxen, and aspirin. Acetaminophen is an analgesic and can also help with stomach pain.
You can also modify your diet to help prevent stomach pain. If you are sensitive or mildly intolerant to certain foods, such as lactose or gluten, it’s better to avoid them. If you have a full-blown allergy, such as celiac disease, you must avoid gluten in your diet.
Visit our Team of Gastroenterologists in Jackson, MS
If you see your gastroenterologist, they can help with treatments as well. Your doctor can prescribe antibiotics to treat an infection, or corticosteroid injections or numbing agents, depending on the type of pain.
If you need more information on the causes and treatments of stomach pain or if you need to be seen by a physician, contact us at GI Associates today. We have three locations where we provide comprehensive, quality care for our patients with all types of gastrointestinal distress and disorders.