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What causes abdominal pain? 175 possible conditions

What Is Abdominal Pain?

Abdominal pain is pain that occurs between the chest and pelvic regions. Abdominal pain can be crampy, achy, dull, intermittent or sharp. It’s also called a stomachache.

Inflammation or diseases that affect the organs in the abdomen can cause abdominal pain. Major organs located in the abdomen include:

  • Intestines (small and large)
  • kidneys
  • appendix (a part of the large intestine)
  • spleen
  • stomach
  • gallbladder
  • liver
  • pancreas

Viral, bacterial, or parasitic infections that affect the stomach and intestines may also cause significant abdominal pain.

What Causes Abdominal Pain?

Abdominal pain can be caused by many conditions. However, the main causes are infection, abnormal growths, inflammation, obstruction (blockage), and intestinal disorders.

Infections in the throat, intestines, and blood can cause bacteria to enter your digestive tract, resulting in abdominal pain. These infections may also cause changes in digestion, such as diarrhea or constipation.

Cramps associated with menstruation are also a potential source of lower abdominal pain, but more commonly these are known to cause pelvic pain.

Other common causes of abdominal pain include:

  • constipation
  • diarrhea
  • gastroenteritis (stomach flu)
  • acid reflux (when stomach contents leak backward into the esophagus, causing heartburn and other symptoms)
  • vomiting
  • kidney infection
  • stress

Diseases that affect the digestive system can also cause chronic abdominal pain. The most common are:

  • gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
  • gastroenteritis
  • irritable bowel syndrome or spastic colon (a disorder that causes abdominal pain, cramping, and changes in bowel movements)
  • Crohn’s disease (an inflammatory bowel disease)
  • lactose intolerance (the inability to digest lactose, the sugar found in milk and milk products)

Causes of severe abdominal pain include:

  • organ rupture or near-rupture (such as a burst appendix, or appendicitis)
  • gallbladder stones (known as gallstones)
  • kidney stones
  • kidney infection

Types of Abdominal Pain

Abdominal pain can be described as localized, cramp-like, or colicky.

Localized pain is limited to one area of the abdomen. This type of pain is often caused by problems in a particular organ. The most common cause of localized pain is stomach ulcers (open sores on the inner lining of the stomach).

Cramp-like pain may be associated with diarrhea, constipation, bloating, or flatulence. In women, it can be associated with menstruation, miscarriage, or complications in the female reproductive organs. This pain comes and goes, and may completely subside on its own without treatment.

Colicky pain is a symptom of more severe conditions, such as gallstones or kidney stones. This pain occurs suddenly and may feel like a severe muscle spasm.

Location of Pain Within the Abdomen

The location of the pain within the abdomen may be a clue as to its cause.

Pain that is generalized throughout the abdomen (not in one specific area) may indicate:

  • appendicitis (inflammation of the appendix)
  • Crohn’s disease
  • traumatic injury
  • irritable bowel syndrome
  • urinary tract infection
  • the flu

Pain that is focused in the lower abdomen may indicate:

  • appendicitis
  • intestinal obstruction
  • ectopic pregnancy (a pregnancy that occurs outside the womb)

In women, pain in the reproductive organs of the lower abdomen can be caused by:

  • severe menstrual pain (called dysmenorrhea)
  • ovarian cysts
  • miscarriage
  • fibroids
  • endometriosis
  • pelvic inflammatory disease
  • ectopic pregnancy

Upper abdominal pain may be caused by:

  • gallstones
  • heart attack
  • hepatitis (liver inflammation)
  • pneumonia

Pain in the center of the abdomen might be from:

  • appendicitis
  • gastroenteritis
  • injury
  • uremia (buildup of waste products in your blood)

Lower left abdominal pain may be caused by:

  • Crohn’s disease
  • cancer
  • kidney infection
  • ovarian cysts
  • appendicitis

Upper left abdominal pain is sometimes caused by:

  • enlarged spleen
  • fecal impaction (hardened stool that can’t be eliminated)
  • injury
  • kidney infection
  • heart attack
  • cancer

Causes of lower right abdominal pain include:

  • appendicitis
  • hernia (when an organ protrudes through a weak spot in the abdominal muscles)
  • kidney infection
  • cancer
  • flu

Upper right abdominal pain may be from:

  • hepatitis
  • injury
  • pneumonia
  • appendicitis

When to See the Doctor

Mild abdominal pain may go away without treatment. However, in some cases, abdominal pain may warrant a trip to the doctor.

Call 911 if your abdominal pain is severe and associated with trauma (from an accident or injury) or pressure or pain in your chest.

You should seek immediate medical care if the pain is so severe that you can’t sit still or need to curl into a ball to get comfortable, or if you have any of the following:

  • bloody stools
  • high fever (greater than 101°F)
  • vomiting up blood (called hematemesis)
  • persistent nausea or vomiting
  • yellowing of the skin or eyes
  • swelling or severe tenderness of the abdomen
  • difficulty breathing

Make an appointment with your doctor if you experience any of the following symptoms:

  • abdominal pain that lasts longer than 24 hours
  • prolonged constipation
  • vomiting
  • a burning sensation when you urinate
  • fever
  • loss of appetite
  • unexplained weight loss

Call your doctor if you’re pregnant or breastfeeding and you experience abdominal pain.

How Is the Cause of Abdominal Pain Diagnosed?

The cause of abdominal pain can be diagnosed through a series of tests. Before ordering tests, your doctor will do a physical examination. This includes gently pressing down on various areas of your abdomen to check for tenderness and swelling. This information, combined with the severity of the pain and its location within the abdomen, will help your doctor determine which tests to order.

Imaging tests, such as MRI scans, ultrasounds, and X-rays, are used to view organs, tissues, and other structures in the abdomen in detail. These tests can help diagnose tumors, fractures, ruptures, and inflammation.

Other tests include:

  • colonoscopy (to look inside the colon and intestines)
  • endoscopy (to detect inflammation and abnormalities in the esophagus and stomach)
  • upper GI (a special X-ray test that uses contrast dye to check for the presence of growths, ulcers, inflammation, blockages, and other abnormalities in the stomach)

Blood, urine, and stool samples may also be collected to look for evidence of bacterial, viral, and parasitic infections.

How Can I Prevent Abdominal Pain?

Not all forms of abdominal pain are preventable. However, you can minimize the risk of developing abdominal pain by doing the following:

  • Eat a healthy diet.
  • Drink water frequently.
  • Exercise regularly.
  • Eat smaller meals.

If you have an intestinal disorder, such as Crohn’s disease, follow the diet your doctor has given you to minimize discomfort. If you have GERD, don’t eat within two hours of bedtime.

Lying down too soon after eating may cause heartburn and abdominal pain. Try waiting at least two hours after eating before lying down.

Article Sources:

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See a list of possible causes in order from the most common to the least.


Food Poisoning

This condition is considered a medical emergency. Urgent care may be required.

Food poisoning occurs when you consume foods contaminated with bacteria, viruses, or parasites. Symptoms are usually uncomfortable but not severe.

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Viral Gastroenteritis

Viral gastroenteritis, also known as the stomach flu, is caused by a number of different viruses. Its symptoms usually last for two to three days.

Read more »


Irritable Bowel Syndrome

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a chronic condition that affects the large intestine and causes many uncomfortable symptoms, such as bloating, gas, cramping, diarrhea, constipation, and pain.

Read more »


Painful Menstrual Periods

Menstruation is a monthly occurrence for women in which the body sheds the uterine lining, which is later passed through the vagina. Pain, cramping, and discomfort during menstruation is normal. Excessive pain is not.

Read more »


Urinary Tract Infection

UTIs are usually caused by bacteria and can occur in any part of the urinary tract. Symptoms of upper UTIs include pain in the upper back, chills, fever, and nausea.

Read more »


Types of Acid Reflux

Acid reflux symptoms are caused when stomach contents flow up from the stomach back into the esophagus, causing symptoms like heartburn, stomach pain, and burping.

Read more »



This condition is considered a medical emergency. Urgent care may be required.

Appendicitis is inflammation of the appendix, which can be fatal if left untreated. The telltale sign is pain that usually starts as mild cramping, especially on the right side, and becomes more severe over time.

Read more »



Indigestion (also known as dyspepsia) happens to almost everyone from time to time. Eating habits or a chronic digestive problem can trigger indigestion.

Read more »


Food Allergy Basics

Food allergies are overblown responses by the immune system to foods that aren't typically harmful - like eggs and peanuts. Continue reading and learn more about food allergies, and how to prevent or treat sever...

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PMS (Premenstrual Syndrome)

PMS symptoms start five to 11 days before menstruation and typically go away once menstruation begins. The cause of PMS is unknown.

Read more »



Gallstones are hard deposits in the gallbladder that can eventually block the exiting bile ducts. Abdominal pain, fever, itchy skin, and jaundice are symptoms.

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Endometriosis is a disorder in which the tissue that forms the lining of your uterus grows outside of your uterine cavity. The lining is called the endometrium.

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Fibroids are abnormal growths that develop in or on a woman's uterus. Heavy bleeding, pain in the pelvis or lower back, cramping, and bloating could indicate fibroids.

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Lactose Intolerance

Lactose intolerence occurs when a person's small intestine can't break down lactose, an enzyme found in dairy foods. The condition can cause many gastrointestinal symptoms.

Read more »



Miscarriage (spontaneous abortion) is an event that results in the loss of a fetus during early pregnancy. There are many types and causes. Symptoms include heavy spotting, vaginal bleeding, abdominal pain, and more.

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Peptic Ulcer

Peptic ulcers are painful sores in the lining of the stomach, esophagus, or small intestine. Peptic ulcers are a fairly common health problem.

Read more »



Hepatitis refers to an inflammatory condition of the liver. It's commonly caused by a viral infection, but there are other possible causes of hepatitis.

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Giardiasis is an infection in your small intestine. It's caused by a microscopic parasite. Giardiasis spreads through contact with infected people.

Read more »


The Many Sides of Bacterial Gastroenteritis

Bacterial infections are common causes of gastrointestinal infections. This type of infection is also called "food poisoning" and is often caused by poor hygiene or ingesting foods contaminated with bacteria.

Read more »


Colic and Crying

Your baby has colic if they cry for more than three hours a day, three or more times a week, for at least three weeks. This could be due to hunger, acid reflux, gas, or overfeeding.

Read more »

This feature is for informational purposes only and should not be used to diagnose.
Please consult a healthcare professional if you have health concerns.