Abdominal pain has many causes, some more serious than others. What feels like a stomachache may be coming from another organ in your abdomen, or from outside of your digestive system. Always seek medical care if your abdominal pain is unexplained, persistent or severe.
Abdominal pain is discomfort anywhere in your belly region — between your ribs and your pelvis. We often think of abdominal pain as “stomach pain” or a “stomachache,” but pain in your abdomen could be coming from other organs besides your stomach, too.
Your abdomen is home to your:
These are all organs in your digestive system. But pain can also be in your abdominal wall, the skin and muscles that make up the outer shell of your abdomen. And sometimes, the pain that you feel in your belly may be coming from somewhere else, like your chest, pelvis or back.
Abdominal pain can take many forms and can mean many things.
It may feel:
Ultimately, abdominal pain is a subjective symptom that only you can describe. Since your healthcare provider can’t measure it, it's what you say it is. Your healthcare provider will always take your abdominal pain seriously.
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Just about everybody will experience abdominal pain at some point. Most of the time, it’s not serious and resolves by itself. However, it can be a sign of serious illness or even an emergency. Abdominal pain causes 5% of emergency room visits.
Since your abdomen it is home to many organs, your healthcare provider may want to narrow down the kind of pain you’re having by narrowing down the region you’re feeling it in. Healthcare providers often divide the abdomen into quadrants, or four parts. They may ask if your pain is in the:
Location is an important clue to your abdominal pain, though it’s not the only factor. It may indicate which organs are involved. For example, pain in the upper right quadrant may indicate a problem with your liver or gallbladder.
However, your healthcare provider will also want to know more about what your pain feels like, how often you feel it, and how severe it is. This will give them additional clues about what kind of condition you may have.
There are numerous reasons for abdominal pain. It may be related to digestion, injury, infection or disease. It may come from an organ inside, or from the muscles or skin in your abdominal wall. Or it may have spread from somewhere else nearby.
Your healthcare provider will ask you detailed questions about your pain to determine the cause. How bad it feels doesn’t necessarily indicate how serious it is. Some common, transient conditions can be intense, and some life-threatening conditions may feel mild.
Most causes of abdominal pain are temporary and not serious. They may have to do with digestion, menstruation or a temporary infection. For example:
Abdominal pain after eating may be due to:
Irritation or infection in your organs can cause temporary inflammation, such as:
If you have a uterus, you might experience occasional pain from:
Sometimes abdominal pain indicates a serious medical condition that will require treatment. Pain in different regions may indicate different organs are involved. For example:
Your upper right abdomen is home to your liver, gallbladder and bile ducts. Your right kidney is in the back. The first sections of your small and large intestines also pass through.
It could also be a localized problem in your duodenum, ascending colon or right kidney, such as a:
Upper left abdominal pain could mean:
If the pain is referred from your chest, it could be from:
Your lower abdomen has most of your small intestine and large intestine. Lower abdominal pain is most likely to be related to gastrointestinal diseases. It could also be related to your ureters, ovaries or uterus.
Abdominal causes include:
Pain referred from the pelvic organs could be due to:
Pain that is specifically in your lower left abdomen is most often related to diverticulosis and diverticulitis of the colon. Diverticula (small outpouchings in the bowel wall) can occur throughout your colon, but they usually develop in the lower left part.
Other, general causes of stomach pain include:
Your healthcare provider will ask you detailed questions about your abdominal pain. They’ll want to know:
From your answers, your healthcare provider will try to determine if you need emergency treatment. Sometimes your healthcare provider will be able to tell right away that your abdominal pain is temporary and not serious. Sometimes they may suspect a more serious condition and may want to run some tests. And sometimes they won’t be able to solve the mystery on the first visit. Your pain may subside, or you may have to return for further investigation.
Abdominal pain has a wide variety of causes and treatments. Some conditions, such as gallstones or appendicitis, may require surgery. Others, such as ulcers or infections, may be relieved with medicine. And sometimes you may just have to get through a bout of stomach flu or a kidney stone until it passes.
If you don’t know what’s causing your abdominal pain, it’s important to find out, especially if it doesn’t go away on its own. Remember that even mild cases can be serious. However, if you have a pretty good idea that your stomachache is related to digestion, you can begin by treating yourself with:
Always see your doctor if your pain is unexplained, persistent or severe, or if you have been injured or are pregnant.
Also, see your doctor if your abdominal pain is accompanied by any of these symptoms:
A note from Cleveland Clinic
So many things can cause abdominal pain that it’s inevitable we’ll all experience it from time to time. Common causes, such as gas and indigestion, menstrual cramps, or even food poisoning and the flu may be instantly recognizable. Other causes may be more mysterious. And sometimes abdominal pain is a sign of an unsuspected or serious condition.
Your healthcare provider will always be interested in your abdominal pain, especially if it’s unexplained. Common causes are often easy to treat, and having your condition diagnosed can help you find relief. Even if your stomach pain is mild, make sure you see your healthcare provider if it doesn’t go away, keeps coming back or gets worse.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 04/18/2022.
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