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Abdominal pain


Alternative Names:

Stomach pain; Pain - abdomen; Belly ache; Abdominal cramps; Bellyache; Stomachache

Home Care:

If you have mild abdominal pain, the following tips might be helpful:

  • Sip water or other clear fluids.
  • Avoid solid food for the first few hours.
  • If you have been vomiting, wait 6 hours, and then eat small amounts of mild foods such as rice, applesauce, or crackers. Avoid dairy products.
  • If the pain is high up in your abdomen and occurs after meals, antacids may help, especially if you feel heartburn or indigestion. Avoid citrus, high-fat foods, fried or greasy foods, tomato products, caffeine, alcohol, and carbonated beverages.
  • Avoid aspirin, ibuprofen or other anti-inflammatory medications, and narcotic pain medications unless your health care provider prescribes them. If you know that your pain is not related to your liver, you can try acetaminophen (Tylenol).
Call your health care provider if:

Seek immediate medical help or call your local emergency number (such as 911) if you:

  • Are currently being treated for cancer
  • Are unable to pass stool, especially if you are also vomiting
  • Are vomiting blood or have blood in your stool (especially if maroon or dark, tarry black)
  • Have chest, neck, or shoulder pain
  • Have sudden, sharp abdominal pain
  • Have pain in, or between, your shoulder blades with nausea
  • Have tenderness in your belly, or your belly is rigid and hard to the touch
  • Are pregnant or could be pregnant
  • Had a recent injury to your abdomen
  • Have difficulty breathing

Call your doctor if you have:

  • Abdominal discomfort that lasts 1 week or longer
  • Abdominal pain that does not improve in 24 - 48 hours, or becomes more severe and frequent and occurs with nausea and vomiting
  • Bloating that persists for more than 2 days
  • Burning sensation when you urinate or frequent urination
  • Diarrhea for more than 5 days
  • Fever (over 100°F for adults or 100.4°F for children) with your pain
  • Prolonged poor appetite
  • Prolonged vaginal bleeding
  • Unexplained weight loss
What to expect at your health care provider's office:

Your health care provider will perform a physical exam and ask questions about your symptoms and medical history. Your specific symptoms, the location of pain and when it occurs will help your health care provider diagnosis the cause.

You may be asked the following questions:

  • Where do you feel the pain?
  • Is the pain all over or in a specific location?
  • Does the pain move into your back, groin, or down your legs?
  • Is the pain severe, sharp, or cramping?
  • Do you have it all the time or does it come and go?
  • Does the pain wake you up at night?
  • Have you had similar pain in the past? How long has each episode lasted?
  • When does the pain occur? For example, after meals or during menstruation?
  • What makes the pain worse? For example, eating, stress, or lying down?
  • What makes the pain better? For example, drinking milk, having a bowel movement, or taking an antacid?
  • What medications are you taking?
  • Have you had a recent injury?
  • Are you pregnant?
  • What other symptoms do you have?

Tests that may be done include:

Prevention:

The following steps may help prevent some types of abdominal pain:

  • Avoid fatty or greasy foods.
  • Drink plenty of water each day.
  • Eat small meals more frequently.
  • Exercise regularly.
  • Limit foods that produce gas.
  • Make sure that your meals are well-balanced and high in fiber. Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables.
References:

Ebell MH. Diagnosis of appendicitis: part 1. History and physical examination. Am Fam Physician. 2008;77:828-830.

Bundy DG, Byerley JS, Liles EA, Perrin EM, Katznelson J, Rice HE. Does this child have appendicitis? JAMA. 2007;25:438-451.

Millham FH. Acute abdominal pain. In: Feldman M, Friedman LS, Brandt LJ, eds. Sleisenger & Fordtran’s Gastrointestinal and Liver Disease. 9th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2010:chap 10.

Postier RG, Squires RA. Acute abdomen. In: Townsend CM Jr., Beauchamp RD, Evers BM, Mattox KL, eds. Sabiston Textbook of Surgery. 18th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2007:chap 45.

Rimon, N, Bengiamin RN, Budhram GR, King KE, Wightman JM. Abdominal pain. In: Marx JA, ed. Rosen's Emergency Medicine: Concepts and Clinical Practice. 7th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Mosby Elsevier; 2009:chap 21.


Review Date: 7/16/2011
Reviewed By: Jacob L. Heller, MD, MHA, Emergency Medicine, Virginia Mason Medical Center, Seattle, Washington. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.

The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed physician should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. Copyright 2002 A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.

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