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When to Worry About Abdominal Pain

Stomachache, tummy ache, bellyache…no matter how you describe it, we all experience abdominal pain from time to time. But with symptoms ranging from mild to severe, where is the line between waiting it out and calling your doctor?

We talked with Akeek Bhatt, MD, an OhioHealth gastroenterologist, to better understand the worrisome signs of abdominal pain and what your next steps should be.

Keep in mind that the following information should not replace the advice of your doctor. Seek immediate medical help if abdominal pain is accompanied by:

  • Severe pain, especially if sudden onset
  • Fever
  • Bloody stools
  • Persistent nausea/vomiting
  • Weight loss
  • Yellow skin
  • Severe abdomen tenderness
  • Abdomen swelling
  • Trauma, such as an accident or injury
  • Pressure or pain in your chest

Types of abdominal pain

There are many causes of abdominal pain; the most common being gas, indigestion or a pulled muscle. While uncomfortable, these causes usually are not worrisome.

Abdominal pain can present itself in an acute, chronic or progressive manner, so it’s crucial to monitor the location and pattern of your pain. This will help your physician determine the underlying cause.

Common; less serious

While bothersome, common abdominal pain causes are usually not serious. A few examples of common abdominal pain causes include:

  • Constipation
  • Food intolerance
  • Gas
  • Indigestion/heart burn/acid reflux
  • Pulled muscle
  • Stomach flu


Acute abdominal pain ranges from a few hours to a few days, but often resolves within that time frame. This can suggest a range of minor to severe conditions, so it’s important to discuss your symptoms with your doctor. A few examples of acute abdominal pain causes include, but not limited to are:

  • Appendicitis
  • Diabetic ketoacidosis
  • Pancreatitis
  • Shingles
  • Urinary tract infection
  • Diverticulitis
  • Peptic ulcer
  • Cholecystitis
  • Abdominal aortic aneurysm
  • Bowel obstruction

For a complete list, as well as more information on each cause, click here.


Chronic abdominal pain may come and go, and can be present for weeks, months, or even years. Similar to acute pain, it can suggest a range of minor to severe conditions. However, chronic pain tends to be more difficult to determine the root cause. A few examples of chronic abdominal pain causes include, but not limited to are:

  • Acid reflux
  • Celiac disease
  • Constipation
  • Endometriosis
  • Gallstones
  • Hernias
  • Irritable bowel syndrome
  • Ovarian cysts

For a complete list, as well as more information on each cause, click here.


Progressive abdominal pain steadily gets worse over time, with other symptoms developing as well. This type of abdominal pain is considered serious and should be brought up to your physician.

Types of abdominal pain tests

At your doctor visit, your physician may decides you need testing done in order to determine the cause of your symptoms. Examples of tests they may order include:

  • Barium enema
  • Blood, urine and stool tests
  • CT scan
  • Colonoscopy or sigmoidoscopy
  • ECG
  • Ultrasound
  • Upper endoscopy
  • Upper gastrointestinal and small bowel series
  • X-rays

Easing mild abdominal pain at home

  • Try to avoid over-the-counter pain medications, such as ibuprofen, as they can cause stomach irritation and thus worsen abdominal pain.
  • If the pain occurs after meals, avoid citrus, high-fat foods, fried or greasy foods, tomato products, caffeine, alcohol and carbonated beverages. Antacids may also help.
  • Sip water or other clear liquids.
  • Avoid solid food for the first few hours.
  • If you have been vomiting, wait 6 hours before eating. Start with small portions and avoid dairy.