What is Considered Stomach Pain?
Stomach Pain is any discomfort in your abdomen or belly. Stomach pain is also called a stomachache, belly ache or abdomen pain. Stomach pain is normal, usually not serious, and can range from mild discomfort to severe abdominal cramps. However, the intensity of your pain is not always the best gauge for the severity of the possible cause of your stomachache. Your stomach pain may feel sharp, periodic, crampy, localized/in one spot or generalized/spread all over your belly.
Why Does My Stomach Hurt?
Your stomachache can be mild or severe. Common causes of abdominal pain are infections, inflammation, menstrual cramps, blockages, growths, and abdominal diseases or conditions.
Most of the causes of belly aches are not serious and not a reason for concern. However, some stomach aches can be signs of a serious medical condition.
The causes of mild stomach pain include:
- Indigestion, which may feel like your stomach is burning
- Stomach Flu/gastroenteritis
- Acid reflux
- Food poisoning
Severe stomachaches can be very painful and impact everyday functioning. If your pain is so intense that you cannot remain still or must curl into the fetal position, please seek medical care immediately from a Baptist Health provider.
The possible causes of more severe stomach pain include the following:
- Menstrual cramps: Menstrual cramps may also be called stomach cramps.
- Irritable bowel syndrome: This is when you experience irritation in your bowels.
- Lactose intolerance: This is when your body is unable to digest lactose, the sugar in milk or dairy products.
- Crohn’s Disease: This is a condition associated with inflammation of your bowels.
- Gastroesophageal reflux disease: Also known as GERD, this is when stomach acid enters your esophagus.
- Organ rupture: When an organ inside your body bursts or comes close to bursting. One example is when a person’s appendix ruptures (appendicitis)
- Gallstones: Gallstones are also called gallbladder stones. They are hardened digestive fluid.
- Kidney infection: This occurs when viruses or bacteria create in infection in the kidneys.
- Kidney stones: These are solid clusters of crystals in your kidneys. The crystals can be made of several substances, including calcium.
Types of Stomach Pain
There are different types of stomach pain identified by time, intensity, and how the pain feels. Stomach pain may be acute, chronic, or progressive. Acute abdominal pain is temporary, usually lasting a few hours or a few days. Chronic pain is long-term, lasting sometimes weeks, months or longer and usually comes and goes. Progressive stomach aches get worse over time. There may also be additional symptoms with progressive stomach pain.
Stomach pain can also be mild to severe. The intensity of pain does not always correlate with the severity of the potential cause.
In addition, pain can be categorized by location. Pain in the upper abdomen may be the result of gallstones, hepatitis, pneumonia or a heart attack. Pain in the center of the abdomen might be caused by injury or appendicitis. Pain in the lower abdomen or around the belly button can be caused by injury, flu, hardened stool, kidney infection, hernia, appendicitis or cancer. In women, lower abdomen pain can be related to menstrual cramps, miscarriage, endometriosis or ovarian cysts.
Stomach pain can also be grouped by how the pain feels.
Sharp stomach pain comes and goes in sharp or intense spikes. This type of pain can also be described as muscle spasms, waves of pain, short bursts of pain or spikes of pain. Sharp pain is usually severe and may indicate serious conditions such as gallstones.
Abdominal cramps produce a tightening or squeezing sensation in the belly. Cramps are usually related to gas, indigestion, diarrhea, bloating, constipation, menstruation, or possible miscarriage. Cramps tend to come and go, and may disappear entirely on their own.
Inflammation of the stomach may feel like burning in your abdomen. This can be accompanied by irritation and swelling.
Localized stomach pain is discomfort in one specific area of your abdomen. Localized pain is usually an indication of a medical issue with a particular organ such as hernias or stomach ulcers.
When to See a Doctor
There are certain characteristics or associated symptoms of abdominal pain that may indicate a potentially serious condition. If your stomachache resulted from an accident or injury, please seek immediate medical care. Please also get urgent medical attention if you experience bloody stool, severe muscle cramps, a fever higher than 101 degrees Fahrenheit, vomiting, swelling in your abdomen, yellowish eyes or skin, or difficulty breathing.
There are also related symptoms where we suggest that you schedule an appointment with your doctor, although you do not necessarily need urgent care. These conditions include stomach pain that lasts longer than 24 hours, loss of appetite, sudden weight loss, vomiting, fever, pain when urinating, or continuous constipation. If you experience stomach pain or stomach cramps while pregnant or breastfeeding, we recommend that you schedule an appointment with your Baptist Health provider.
Your doctor will diagnose your stomach pain with a physical examination and possibly followed by additional tests. During the medical examination, your doctor will ask about your symptoms, the severity of your pain, and the location of your pain. Your doctor will usually also lightly press down on different parts of your abdomen to check for any sensitivity or swelling.
Your doctor will order additional tests based on the outcome of the exam. (At some Baptist Health Urgent Care locations these tests may need to be referred out to other facilities, like the hospital proper.) Typically, these tests include imaging assessments such as Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) scans, ultrasounds and X-Rays. Imaging tests allow your doctor to look inside your body to check for damaged organs, inflammation, cysts, or any other cause of your discomfort.
In addition to imaging tests, your doctor may collect blood, urine, and stool samples to check for bacterial, viral, and parasitic infections.
The following tests may also be ordered:
- Upper GI: This is essentially an X-ray test that looks for abnormalities in the abdomen like growths, ulcers, swelling, or any blockages.
- Colonoscopy: Your doctor will use a thin, flexible tube with a light and camera affixed to it to look for affected areas inside your colon and intestines.
- Endoscopy: Your doctor will perform this test to examine your esophagus and stomach for potential impacted areas or underlying causes of your pain.
Stomach pain is usually treated by addressing the underlying cause of the pain. Often, this involves medication, surgery, or a combination of both treatments. Medications are prescribed to reduce inflammation, treat infections, or prevent the resurgence of conditions such as acid reflux. Surgery is used to address impacted organs or tissues that are triggering your stomach pain.
We recommend that you avoid taking any over the counter medication unless specifically prescribed by your doctor. Some over-the-counter medications can worsen your pain.
Lifestyle changes such as limiting meal size, eating slowly, regular physical activity and stress management can also help reduce and prevent stomach pain.
When you are ready to reach out for more information, Baptist Health is here to help.
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