What Causes Abdominal Pain and How to Treat it

Nov 12, 2019

What is Abdominal Pain

Abdominal pain, often referred to as stomachache, is an achy, sharp, and cramp-like pain occurring between the chest and pelvic region. Although abdominal pain is linked to various conditions, infection, inflammation, blockage, abdominal growth, and intestinal disorder are the main causes.

Abdominal pain can either be acute or chronic.

Acute pain is sudden and severe pain that often forces patients to seek emergency care. The pain can be caused by acute pancreatitis, appendicitis, gallstones, perforated gastric ulcers, etc.

Chronic pain, on the other hand, is less severe and long-lasting, but the pain comes and goes. It can be caused by constipation, diverticulitis, gastritis, GERD, and IBS.

Abdominal pain can either be generalized, localized, colicky, and cramp-like pain.

  • Generalized pain is caused by a stomach virus, indigestion, or gas.
  • Localized occurs in one part of the stomach and is mostly a sign of organ problems like gallbladder or appendix
  • Colicky pain comes in waves. Kidney stones and gallstones are common causes.
  • Cramp-like pain is mild and is caused by gas, bloating, menstrual pain, and fever.

Common causes

Multiple causes can trigger abdominal pain:

  • Gastroenteritis or stomach pain

Stomach pain is the inflammation of the intestines or stomach and is caused by a viral infection or bacterial toxins.

Gastroenteritis is accompanied by vomiting, loose stools, and nausea. These symptoms last for two days and subside on their own. However, if the symptoms last for more than two days, it could be a sign of infection or Irritable Bowel Disease.

Gastroenteritis is caused by eating contaminated food or water. Different viruses cause inflammation, but rotavirus and norovirus are the main types of viruses that cause gastroenteritis, although Salmonella and E. coli can also trigger stomach flu.

  • IBS

Irritable Bowel Syndrome is an intestinal disorder caused by muscle contraction, inflammation of the intestine, abnormalities of the nervous system, compromised gut microflora. Stress, food, and hormones can also trigger IBS.

The symptoms of IBS vary, but the most common are; excessive gas, abdominal pain, cramping and bloating, diarrhea, constipation, and mucus in stool.

  • Gas

Abdominal gas is caused by gut bacteria breaking down intolerant foods causing tightness and flatulence or belching. Certain foods like beans, wheat, broccoli, onions, garlic, and dairy products can cause gas.

  • Acid reflux

Acid reflux occurs when the Lower Esophageal Sphincter loosens, causing the contents in the stomach—acidic and non-acidic, flow back to the esophagus, causing a burning sensation. You can also experience abdominal pain, bloating, and cramps.

Frequent episodes of acid reflux can lead to GERD, which can make abdominal pain worse.

  • Gastritis

Gastritis is an umbrella term representing conditions like H. Pylori that irritate the stomach lining, causing inflammation.

Symptoms of gastritis include bloating, pain in the upper-center or upper-left part of the stomach, nausea, vomiting, shortness of breath, chest pain, and stomach pain.

  • Constipation

Constipation is infrequent bowel movement—three or less in a week

Chronic constipation is caused by blockages in the rectum, nerve damage, multiple sclerosis, stroke, or spinal cord injury.

  • Peptic Ulcers

H. Pylori or overuse of Non-Steroidal Inflammatory Medication are the main causes of stomach ulcers.

Peptic ulcers are painful sores or wounds of the stomach lining that cause persistent or severe abdominal pain. Other symptoms include bloating, weight loss, and indigestion.

  • Celiac disease

Celiac disease is caused by gluten allergy and is characterized by inflammation in the intestines.

Diarrhea, bloating, malnutrition, and exhaustion are common symptoms.

Other causes include

  • Crohn’s disease that causes inflammation of the digestive tract
  • Appendicitis
  • Kidney function
  • Food poisoning
  • Parasitic infections
  • Endometriosis or menstrual cramps
  • Hiatal hernia


The treatment option will depend on the cause, and they can range from anti-inflammatory, antibiotics, and pain relievers. The doctor may also recommend low-dose anti-depressants and a lifestyle change.

When to see the doctor

In most cases, abdominal pain symptom resolves with home remedies like hydration, rest, and change of diet.

However, make an appointment with our doctor when you experience any of the following symptoms;

  • Unexplained weight loss and exhaustion
  • Changes in your bowel movement
  • Blood in stool
  • Chronic pain that persists

Furthermore, visit the emergency room if you have shortness of breath, chest pain, sudden and severe pain accompanied by fever, uncontrollable vomiting, or you are unable to urinate.