Boots WebMD Partners in Health
Return To Boots

Digestive health centre

Abdominal pain

It is common to experience abdominal pain, and while this is not usually a sign of anything serious - it can sometimes be a symptom of a more serious medical condition that requires medical attention.

What are the most common causes of abdominal pain?

Whether it is a mild stomachache, sharp pain or stomach cramps, abdominal pain has numerous causes. These include:

What symptoms of abdominal pain are causes for concern?

If your abdominal pain is severe or if it is accompanied by any of the following symptoms, seek medical advice as soon as possible:

  • Fever
  • Inability to keep food down for several days
  • Inability to pass stools, especially if you are also vomiting
  • Vomiting blood
  • Bloody stools
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Painful or unusually frequent urination
  • The pain occurs during pregnancy
  • The abdomen is tender to the touch
  • The pain is the result of an injury to the abdomen in the previous days
  • The pain lasts for several days

These symptoms can be an indication of an internal problem that requires treatment as soon as possible.

How is the cause of abdominal pain determined?

Because there are so many potential causes of abdominal pain, your doctor will perform a thorough physical examination, discuss with you the type of symptoms you are experiencing, and ask you several related questions about the pain you are feeling. These questions may include:

  • What type of pain are you experiencing? Is the pain throughout your abdomen or is it confined to a particular area?
  • Where in your abdomen does the pain seem to be located?
  • What type of pain are you experiencing? Is it stabbing and severe? Is it a dull ache?
  • When does the pain occur? Always? More often in the morning or at night? If the pain comes and goes, about how long does it last each time? Does it occur after eating certain types of foods or after drinking alcohol? During menstruation?
  • How long have you had this pain?
  • Does the pain also radiate to your lower back, shoulder, groin or buttocks?
  • Are you currently taking any medications or herbal supplements?
  • Are you pregnant?
  • Does any activity such as eating or lying on one side relieve the pain?
  • Have you been injured recently?

Once an initial evaluation has been completed, your doctor may arrange some tests to help diagnose your pain. These may include blood, stool or urine tests, barium meals or enemas, an endoscopy, x-ray, ultrasound or a CT (or CAT) scan.

How is abdominal pain treated?

Treating abdominal pain depends on its cause. Medications may be given for problems such as inflammation, indigestion or ulcers. Sometimes antibiotics are needed for infections. If your doctor thinks that your abdominal pain is caused by certain foods or beverages, you may be advised to avoid these for a time to see whether the pain improves. In some cases such as appendicitis and hernia, surgery is necessary.

WebMD Medical Reference

Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks on November 10, 2016

Mind, body & soul newsletter

Looking after your
health and wellbeing.
Sign Up Now!

Popular slideshows & tools on BootsWebMD

woman_holding_head_in_pain
How to help headache pain
rash on skin
Top eczema triggers to avoid
boost your metabolism
Foods to lower LDL (bad) cholesterol
period_questions_answered
Tips to support digestive health
woman looking at pregnancy test
Is your body ready for pregnancy?
sick child
Dos and don'ts for childhood eczema
couple makigh salad
Nutrition for over 50s
bucket with cleaning supplies in it
Cleaning and organising tips
adult man contemplating
When illness makes it hard to eat
Allergies
Allergy myths and facts
woman holding stomach
Understand this common condition