Abdominal pain

Your abdomen (or tummy) contains many organs – like the stomach, intestines, liver and bladder.

If you or a family member has abdominal pain, it might be caused by a simple upset tummy – or it could be something more complicated. 

Causes of minor abdominal pain

Tummy pain can be caused by the movement of food through your stomach and intestines, having gas (wind) trapped there, or eating too much. 

Some other causes of minor abdominal pain (or cramp) are:

  • mild food poisoning (you may also have diarrhoea)
  • stress and anxiety
  • inflammation of your stomach lining
  • menstruation (period pain)
  • changing hormone levels during pregnancy and breastfeeding.

As well as the tummy pain, you might also have rumbling and gurgling noises, belching (burping), wind (passing gas), nausea or vomiting, diarrhoea or constipation, urinary problems, and/or loss of appetite.

Causes of more serious abdominal pain

Some abdominal pain might have a more serious cause – and the pain will often be worse.

These causes can include:

  • blood clots or other blockages
  • an ulcer (in your stomach or intestine)
  • disease in your liver, gallbladder, pancreas or spleen, or even your heart or lungs
  • appendicitis
  • a urinary tract infection
  • an ectopic pregnancy
  • an ovarian cyst.

See your doctor as soon as possible if:

  • your pain is no better after 2 hours of home care
  • your abdomen is very painful (for example, if you can’t walk or have to walk bent over, or feel you need to hold your tummy all the time)
  • your pain gets worse over time, or becomes sharper or stronger in one particular place
  • your abdomen feels bloated or sticks out more than usual
  • you can’t stop vomiting
  • you haven’t had a bowel motion or passed wind for 3 days
  • you’ve lost your appetite
  • there is blood in your vomit, urine or bowel motion, or vaginal bleeding that isn’t a period.

You also need to see your doctor if you have other symptoms along with the pain – such as fever or dizziness – especially if those symptoms get worse over time or new symptoms develop.

Call Healthline 0800 611 116 if you are unsure what you should do.

Self care

A minor abdominal problem will usually get better in about 2 hours.

Try these ideas – and if they don’t help, see your doctor. 

For more severe pain or if you have any of the other symptoms listed above, see your doctor straight away.
  • Lie down and rest until you feel better.
  • Sip on clear fluids. Don’t eat solids until the pain goes.
  • A hot water bottle or wheat pack on your tummy may help – or a warm bath.
  • You can take paracetamol for the pain – but no other types of painkillers, because they can irritate your stomach and make the pain worse.

If you have indigestion or heartburn, try an over-the-counter antacid such as Mylanta or Gaviscon.

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