How Do I Know If My Stomach Pain Is Serious?

Reviewed on 10/20/2020

What Are Symptoms of Stomach Pain?

Stomach pain that is severe and prolonged, or accompanied by fever and bloody stools, you should see a doctor.
Stomach pain that is severe and prolonged, or accompanied by fever and bloody stools, you should see a doctor.

Stomach pain, or abdominal pain, can range from bloating and indigestion to severe and sharp, stabbing pain. 

Symptoms of stomach pain depend on the cause.

Pain may be dull or sharp, intermittent or constant, mild or severe. Pain may occur in any part of the abdomen, and may also radiate to other areas such as the back, flank, or shoulder.

Symptoms that may accompany stomach pain may include: 

If you experience any of the following symptoms with stomach pain, see a doctor because these may be a sign of a more serious condition:

  • Pain is severe and lasts more than an hour or comes and goes for more than 24 hours
  • Pain starts suddenly
  • Bloody bowel movements
  • Black, tarry stool
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Inability to eat or drink for several hours
  • Fever greater than 102°f (39°c)
  • Weight loss without trying 
  • Loss of appetite
  • Feeling a lump in the abdomen

What Causes Stomach Pain?

There are numerous causes of stomach pain. It is often helpful to group the cause by the location of the abdomen in which the pain occurs. 

Causes of stomach pain in the upper right quadrant of the abdomen include: 

Causes of stomach pain in the upper left quadrant of the abdomen are often related to the spleen and include: 

  • Splenomegaly 
  • Splenic infarction 
  • Splenic abscess 
  • Splenic rupture 

Causes of stomach pain in the lower abdomen that are localized to one side include:

Causes of stomach pain in the lower abdomen that may not always be localized to one side include:

Causes of stomach pain that are considered diffuse, meaning they have nonspecific or variable patterns of pain include:

Causes of abdominal pain in women include: 

Causes of abdominal pain in postoperative patients include: 

  • Postoperative ileus 
  • Surgical site infections 
  • Hematoma/seroma formation and nerve injury 

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How Is Stomach Pain Diagnosed?

The diagnosis of the cause of stomach pain begins with a history and physical exam. Depending on the patient’s symptoms and the location of the abdominal pain, the physical exam may involve: 

  • Check of vital signs
  • Abdominal exam
  • Rectal exam
  • Pelvic exam

Blood tests to help diagnose the cause of stomach pain include:

  • Complete blood count (CBC) with differential
  • Electrolytes, blood urea nitrogen (BUN), creatinine, and glucose
  • Aminotransferases, alkaline phosphatase, and bilirubin
  • Lipase and/or amylase
  • Calcium
  • Aminotransferases, alkaline phosphatase, and bilirubin
  • Serum iron, total iron binding capacity, and ferritin
  • Anti-tissue transglutaminase
  • Pregnancy testing for women

Imaging tests to help diagnose the cause of stomach pain include:

Other tests to help diagnose the cause of stomach pain may include:

  • Urine tests
  • Stool tests
  • Electrocardiography (ECG or EKG)

What Is the Treatment for Stomach Pain?

Treatment for stomach pain varies widely and depends on the specific cause.

It may involve:

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Reviewed on 10/20/2020
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