misc image

When to See a Doctor for Stomach Pain

misc image

When to See a Doctor for Stomach Pain

Sep 16, 2021

Everyone, at some point or another in their lives, will have a bout of stomach pain. The reason for the pain is often easily deduced, such as having gas after eating certain foods or suffering from a round of the stomach flu. However, many organs reside in the abdominal area, so if stomach pain is sharp or lasts for more than a day or two, it may be cause for concern. Read on to learn more about what causes stomach pain, how to treat it, and when you should see your gastroenterologist for a checkup. 

What Causes Stomach Pain?

Sometimes it can be exceedingly difficult to try to pinpoint the cause of stomach pain. There are many organs that reside within the abdomen, such as the liver, pancreas, gallbladder, large and small intestine, appendix (which is part of the large intestine, kidneys, spleen, and the stomach itself. There is also a chance that there is a parasitical, bacterial, or viral infection that may be affecting the stomach or surrounding areas. There is a long list of “maybes” when it comes to the causes of abdominal pain, however, the most common reasons for stomach pain include:

  • Infection. It’s not uncommon for an infection that is in your throat to extend to the digestive tract. You may also see changes in bowel habits from infection, such as sudden constipation or diarrhea.
  • Menstrual cramps. Cramps from your period can cause stomach pain. While it’s more common to feel pain in the pelvic region, it can certainly radiate to the stomach as well.
  • Stomach flu. Also known as gastroenteritis, the stomach flu can wreak havoc on your abdomen.
  • Gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD. Acid reflux happens when the contents of the stomach leak into the esophagus, causing heartburn and associated other symptoms, such as coughing or vomiting.
  • Vomiting. If you’re sick from food, the stomach flu, or other reason, vomiting can make the stomach muscles extremely sore. This usually passes in a day or two.
  • Stress. Stress takes a toll on every portion of your body but particularly your stomach.

Some gastrointestinal conditions can be the cause of stomach pain. Some of these include:

  • Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS). This is a condition that isn’t incredibly serious but can affect quality of life for many patients. IBS symptoms usually include stomach pain, cramping, and changes in bowel movements. 
  • Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis. Both of these conditions are more serious than IBS, as they can damage the colon and intestines if left untreated. These disorders affect different parts of the colon and are both considered inflammatory bowel disease, or IBD. 
  • Food allergies or intolerances. Many patients are lactose intolerant, which means their bodies lack the ability to digest lactose, which is the sugar found in milk products and milk itself. Gluten sensitivity and celiac disease can also cause stomach pain. 

Sometimes, you may experience more severe abdominal pain, and in this case, the location of the pain is significant as you describe the pain to your healthcare provider or gastroenterologist. It also matters what type of pain you’re feeling, whether it’s localized (to one area), colicky, or crampy. Some of the more severe conditions associated with abdominal pain can include:

  • Organ rupture (or the state of being close to rupturing), such as with your appendix
  • Kidney infections
  • Gallbladder stones 
  • Kidney stones

However, abdominal pain can also be associated with heart attack, cancer, traumatic injuries, ovarian cysts, and more, so location matters. Severe pain felt throughout the abdomen may be Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis, appendicitis, traumatic injury, influenza, or IBS. 

Lower abdominal pain is associated with:

  • Ectopic pregnancy
  • Appendicitis
  • Intestinal obstruction

Upper abdominal pain is associated with:

  • Gallstones
  • Heart attack
  • Pneumonia 
  • Liver inflammation or hepatitis

Lower right abdominal pain is very much associated with appendicitis. But, keep in mind, the most common causes of stomach pain are typically simple explanations, such as menstrual cramps, acid reflux, or stress.

How Do I Know When to See a Doctor for Stomach Pain?

You may be on the fence about whether you want to see a doctor or not for your abdominal pain. Stomach pain associated with the flu, menstrual cramps, or gas will pass within several hours to several days. The most important thing to ask yourself about stomach pain is, “is it severe?” If the pain is severe and your symptoms are not going away with time, it may be time to see your doctor. There are other symptoms associated with abdominal pain that should warrant an immediate trip to the doctor, such as:

  • Yellowing of the skin or eyes (jaundice, which notes a liver problem)
  • Swelling or tenderness of the stomach and abdomen
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Fevers higher than 101° Fahrenheit
  • Bloody stools
  • Consistent nausea or vomiting that does not go away
  • Constipation that isn’t relieved with over-the-counter medications 
  • Loss of appetite
  • Burning sensation when urinating 

Your doctor may run specialized tests, which could include blood work, MRI or CT scans, X-rays, or ultrasounds to determine what’s causing the pain. They may also order other tests, such as colonoscopy, endoscopy, or an upper GI X-ray, which uses contrast injected into the bloodstream. 

How Do I Relieve Abdominal Pain?

As most abdominal pain isn’t serious, you should be able to relieve it with over-the-counter medications or other remedies. You may want to try over-the-counter painkillers, such as ibuprofen or naproxen, both of which can alleviate pain caused by menstrual cramps. If you’re vomiting, you may need an OTC or prescription anti-nausea drug to help stop the vomiting. Using a hot water bottle or heating pad can also ease pain. If you’re having other intestinal upset, such as constipation, you want to stay hydrated and drink plenty of fluids (in conjunction with stool softeners and perhaps laxatives) to get your bowels moving again. If you’re experiencing heartburn or acid reflux, over-the-counter antacids typically can solve the problem. Treating GERD may require a prescription. Remember, if the pain doesn’t go away or isn’t treated with over-the-counter medicines or home remedies, it’s time for a doctor visit. 

Contact Carolina Digestive Health Associates In North Carolina or one of our many other locations

If you need more information about stomach pain or you’d like to be evaluated for the stomach pain you’re experiencing, contact us today. We provide a comprehensive, full spectrum of treatment when it comes to gastrointestinal disorders. We are conventialy located in several different locations all over North Carolina.