Everyone experiences abdominal pain from time to time. Other terms used to describe abdominal pain are stomachache, tummy ache, gut ache and bellyache. Abdominal pain can be mild or severe. It may be continuous or come and go. Abdominal pain can be short-lived (acute) or occur over weeks, months or years (chronic). Call your doctor right away if you have abdominal pain so severe that you can't move without causing more pain, or you can't sit still or find a comfortable position.
Abdominal pain has many potential causes. The most common causes — such as gas pains, indigestion or a pulled muscle — usually aren't serious. Other conditions may require more-urgent medical attention. While the location and pattern of abdominal pain can provide important clues, its time course is particularly useful when determining its cause. Acute abdominal pain develops, and often resolves, over a few hours to a few days. Chronic abdominal pain may be intermittent, or episodic, meaning it may come and go. This type of pain may be present for weeks to months, or even years. Some conditions cause progressive pain, which steadily gets worse over time.
Gallstones are stones that form in the gallbladder, a tiny sac that hangs out under the liver, disgorging bile as needed to digest fats. These stones cause swelling and can block the duct into the intestine, resulting in pain. Gallstone pain tends to strike the right side of the upper abdomen, particularly after fatty meals.
Inflammation of the pancreas can cause burning pain in the upper or middle abdomen. Some people even have shooting pain that drives right through to their back. You may lean forward or lie on your back to try to relieve the pain, which may subside into a dull ache, nausea, and vomiting. Too much alcohol can be a culprit as well.
Gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD, can cause pain in the upper stomach and lower chest, aka heartburn. The cause? A valve that separates the stomach from the esophagus is weak, allowing food and acid from the stomach to splash upwards. Ouch, pretty hurtful.
Millions of people around the world have lactose intolerance. In fact, in some areas of the world, the lactose intolerant outnumber those who can digest lactose, a sugar found in milk and milk products. This type of food intolerance causes milder abdominal pain, bloating, diarrhea, burping, gas, and indigestion.
Medication side effects
No drug is without side effects and sometimes that includes abdominal pain.
Oral bisphosphonates, a popular class of drugs that helps preserve bone density and prevent osteoporosis, can cause swelling—and therefore pain—in the lower esophagus.
Diverticulitis is an inflammation of “diverticula” or pockets that form in the lining of the intestine, usually the colon. Symptoms can include cramping in the lower abdomen, which may respond to antibiotics. A high-fiber diet can help. In more severe cases, it can cause abscesses, bleeding, and even perforations, resulting in severe pain, or even the need for surgery or a hospitalization.
Make an appointment with your doctor if your abdominal pain worries you or lasts more than a few days. In the meantime, find ways to ease your pain. For instance, eat smaller meals if your pain is accompanied by indigestion. Avoid taking over-the-counter pain relievers such as aspirin or ibuprofen because these can cause stomach irritation that may worsen abdominal pain.