Abdominal pain

Abdominal pain can be anything from a dull stomach ache to severe cramps in your stomach.

By Wallace Health I Medically reviewed by Adrian Roberts.
Page last reviewed: October 2018 I Next review due: October 2023


Stomach pain is usually short-lived and affects almost everyone from time to time. Although usually nothing to worry about, abdominal pain can be a sign of an underlying health problem. If you’ve any concerns about abdominal pain, make an appointment to see your GP.

In many cases, stomach ache is the result of indigestion, acid reflux and heartburn, bloating or trapped wind. This usually passes quite quickly without any need for treatment.

However, there are many other possible causes of abdominal pain, some of which can be more serious.

When to seek urgent medical advice

Seek medical attention urgently if you:

  • Have sudden, severe abdominal pain accompanied by chest pain that may travel down your left arm – this may be a heart attack
  • Severe pain in the right-hand side of your upper abdomen – this may be a sign of gallstones
  • Agonising, sudden pain in the lower right of your abdomen – this may be appendicitis
  • Have a stomach injury
  • A very tender and/or very bloated stomach
  • Blood in your vomit or stools
  • Difficulty urinating or passing stools
  • Shortness of breath and/or dizziness
  • Blood in urine

Causes of abdominal pain

Recurring burning pain in your upper abdomen is a common symptom of a stomach ulcer. Other stomach ulcer symptoms include heartburn, nausea, intolerance of fatty foods, unintentional weight loss and loss of appetite.

If you have regular bloating and stomach cramps accompanied by diarrhoea and/or constipation, you might have irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).

Lower abdominal pain or cramps can be a sign of constipation, which can also be accompanied by bloating and nausea.

Urine infections, which tend to affect women more than men, are often the cause of an aching lower abdomen pain. You may also feel nauseous, feverish and notice stinging when urinating.

Stomach cramps in the pelvic area can be period pain. Occasionally, period pain can be a symptom of an underlying condition, such as fibroids and endometriosis.

Other possible causes of stomach pain include:

  • Stomach infection (gastroenteritis) – if you also have nausea, vomiting and diarrhoea
  • Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) – an infection of the womb and/or fallopian tubes
  • Kidney stones – a severe pain which often starts in the back, travelling into the side of the abdomen and the groin
  • Inflammatory bowel diseases – Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis
  • Diverticulitis – inflammation and infection of the large bowel (colon), which can cause pain on the lower left side of the abdomen
  • Food intolerances, such as lactose intolerance
  • Some cancers, including bowel and stomach cancer
  • Autoimmune diseases such as coeliac disease

Talk to your doctor if you’re concerned about symptoms

You can book an appointment with a Spire private GP today.

Book an appointment today

Getting a diagnosis for abdominal pain

You should visit your GP if:

  • Your stomach pain continues for several days or suddenly intensifies
  • You regularly have stomach pain after eating
  • You’re losing weight without trying to
  • You’re urinating more or less than normal or urinating is painful
  • You’re bleeding from your bottom or vagina or have an abnormal vaginal discharge
  • You have a fever

Your GP may be able to diagnose the cause of your abdominal pain by examining your stomach and discussing how you feel. Your GP may refer you for tests, such as blood tests, a colonoscopy or a CT scan. They may also refer you to a consultant for further investigations, diagnosis and treatment.


Treatments for abdominal pain

You can treat most cases of stomach pain at home. Depending on your other symptoms, you could try:

  • Taking frequent sips of water
  • Avoiding solid food
  • Taking over-the-counter medications, such as pain relief and antacids

If your symptoms don’t improve, your GP may prescribe medication. If your abdominal pain is a symptom of an underlying condition, your GP or consultant will arrange the necessary treatment.