It’s likely that you will experience abdominal pain at some point in your life. Abdominal pain can occur anywhere from the chest to the pelvis and present in many different ways: a dull ache, a cramp, a throbbing or a sharp pain.
“There can be many different reasons for experiencing abdominal pain, most of which are not serious,” explains Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi gastroenterologist, Sara El Ouali, MD. She adds: “Minor digestive problems, like indigestion or excessive gas, are frequent causes of discomfort or pain in the abdominal region. Overeating or eating certain types of foods, particularly those that are very spicy, fatty or acidic, being triggers for such an episode.”
Food, however, is not the only cause of abdominal pain. Dr. El Ouali says there are many different reasons you may experience pain in the abdomen, only a few of which are linked to what you have eaten. She lists the following as among the most common causes of abdominal pain:
- Irritable bowel syndrome
- “Stomach flu” (gastroenteritis)
- H. pylori infection
- Food allergies or intolerances
- Ulcers or inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract
- Gynecologic or menstruation issues
- Urinary tract infections
- Acid reflux
When to seek medical attention
“Pain is discomfiting and sometimes upsetting, but in most cases abdominal pain isn’t a cause for concern and will ease off naturally,” says Dr. El Ouali.
She does, however, caution that if the pain persists for several days, if it is severe, or you experience any of the following symptoms you should make an appointment with your doctor:
- Bloody stools or rectal bleeding
- Nausea, vomiting or fever that lasts for over 24 hours
- Difficulty swallowing
- A sudden worsening in the pain
- Difficulty breathing
- An inability to hold food over several days
- Problems with urinating or changes in urine
What to tell your doctor
When you visit your doctor, it’s important to share with them any symptoms you have, and to be clear about the location and type of pain you are experiencing. “It’s common for people to think only of the stomach, or the intestines when they experience abdominal pain, but the liver, kidneys, pancreas, spleen, gallbladder and appendix are also situated within the abdominal cavity, and could be a source of the pain,” says Dr. El Ouali.
As part of the initial evaluation, a physical exam will be conducted and your doctor will question you about what may have triggered the pain, as well as asking you to describe the nature, duration and location of the pain. Dr. El Ouali reiterates the importance of being open and detailed with your responses: “Providing your doctor with accurate information enables them to identify any tests you may require and to develop an appropriate treatment plan.”
Visit the abdominal pain section of our Health Library to find out more about its causes, symptoms and treatment.