Almost everybody experiences a stomach ache at some point in life. In most cases, abdominal discomfort is not serious and develops as the result of overeating, gas, or indigestion.
When diagnosing the cause of stomach pain, a doctor will ask what the pain feels like, its location, and how much it hurts. The answers, along with the physical examination and some medical tests, help doctors determine the cause of and treatment for the stomach pain.
There are many different types of stomach pain, often described by what the pain feels like and its location. Stomach pain may be the result of any number of medical conditions, which can range from completely harmless to quite serious.
1. Uncomfortable bloating
Possible cause: excess gas
Your body breaks down food through a series of chemical reactions that take place in different parts of your digestive tract. Some of the chemical reactions in your digestive tract can result in the release of gas – this is especially true when digesting some foods, such as beans, carbonated beverages and leafy green vegetables. Eating too many of these foods can cause excessive gas and uncomfortable bloating in your digestive tract.
While uncomfortable, bloating is not usually serious and goes away on its own or with the help of over-the-counter drugs. Those prone to uncomfortable bloating may prevent it by limiting their intake of food and beverages are known to trigger gas.
2. Sharp pain in the lower right side of your abdomen
Possible cause: appendicitis
Doctors once thought that the appendix is a vestigial organ, which is an organ that has lost its function through evolution. Now many medical professionals think the appendix plays a role in maintaining a healthy balance of microorganisms living in the human gut. Infection or blockage of the hollow chamber within the appendix can cause inflammation. Bacteria can build up inside the appendix; if the appendix bursts, it can release the bacteria into the abdominal cavity and cause a number of serious complications.
Treatment is essential due to the dangers associated with a ruptured appendix. Antibiotics can be an effective treatment in some cases, but surgical removal of the appendix is usually necessary.
3. Sharp stabbing pain in your upper right abdomen
Possible cause: gallstones
Your gallbladder is a small, pear-shaped organ in your upper right abdomen, just beneath your liver. Its main job is to store some of the bile your body uses to digest food. Your gallbladder squirts bile through a thin tube known as the biliary duct into your small intestine just as food leaves your stomach. Your liver can excrete excess cholesterol, which can collect inside your gallbladder and harden into gallstones. You may feel sharp, jabbing pain in your upper right abdomen when your gallbladder tries to pass the gallstones through your biliary duct.
Some people who have gallstones never experience any symptoms. When pain begins, however, the condition requires prompt treatment. Depending on the severity of pain and other factors, treatment options range from oral medications that dissolve gallstones to surgery to remove the gallbladder.
4. Pain or burning in your upper middle abdominal
Possible cause: peptic ulcer
A layer of thick mucus acts as a barrier between the lining of your stomach and the caustic juices used in digestion. Infection, heavy drinking, aspirin, smoking or other digestive problems can compromise the mucus barrier to allow the digestive juices to eat away at your stomach lining. Damage done by the stomach acid can allow sores, known as peptic ulcers, to develop on the stomach lining. These ulcers can cause stomach pain and even bleeding.
Treatment focuses on neutralizing or reducing stomach acid to give sores time to heal. If a peptic ulcer develops as the result of an infection, your doctor may prescribe antibiotics.
5. General abdominal pain with diarrhea
Possible cause: gastroenteritis
Gastroenteritis is inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract, usually affecting the stomach or small intestine. Also known as infectious diarrhea, gastroenteritis is typically caused by rotavirus, norovirus, adenovirus, or other viruses. The infection triggers inflammation, which then causes abdominal pain, diarrhea, and sometimes vomiting.
Treatment typically focuses on managing diarrhea and other symptoms. Fluids are helpful in counteracting dehydration resulting from diarrhea and vomiting.
6. General abdominal pain with bloating
Possible cause: irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
IBS is an umbrella term for a group of conditions that cause common symptoms, such as abdominal pain, bloating, and changes in bowel habits, including constipation or diarrhea.
There is currently no cure for IBS. Treatment focuses on managing symptoms and may include dietary changes and medications to treat diarrhea and constipation.
7. Pain with bloody diarrhea
Possible cause: Inflammatory bowel disease
Ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease are both types of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), which means they involve inflammation of different parts of the digestive tract. This inflammation can cause intestinal bleeding and abdominal pain.
There is no cure for IBD, so treatment focuses on managing symptoms. Medication can reduce inflammation and ease symptoms. Surgery to remove part or all of the colon may be required in severe cases.
If you are experiencing severe stomach pain, bleeding, or excessive vomiting or diarrhea, seek medical care immediately. Consult with your gastroenterologist if you have mild to moderate stomach pain without bleeding, or if your stomach pain persists.