Most stomach pain should be handled by your primary physician. But if it’s severe, you may need to visit the ER.
No one likes to have stomach pain, but it’s probably one of the most common ailments people experience. Because it’s so common, people tend not to take it too seriously.
But sometimes those bubbling sensations, sharp twinges, and pains so strong they make you double over shouldn’t get brushed off. You need to know when pain is severe enough to warrant a trip to the hospital, what to expect when you get there, and what treatments you might expect to receive.
Going to the emergency room (ER) usually isn’t a first choice for most people. Between long wait times and potentially high medical bills, many people think twice before heading to the hospital. And in most cases, going to the ER should be reserved for only the most severe stomach pain situations.
However, in some specific situations, it makes sense to make the ER your first line of defense instead of the last one.
Recent abdominal surgeries
If you’ve recently undergone a surgery such as gastric bypass, colostomy, bowel resection, or any abdominal or gastrointestinal procedure, you should head to the hospital if you experience pain at any time postsurgery.
For more serious procedures like gastric bypass, this means that even if it’s been
Pregnancy naturally comes with a variety of unexpected aches, pains, and sensations. But stomach pain is rarely considered normal — especially if you didn’t have gastrointestinal issues before your pregnancy.
Serious stomach pain during pregnancy could be a sign of complications, including ectopic pregnancies, preeclampsia, and preterm labor. If you know you’re pregnant and are experiencing severe stomach pain, don’t delay going to the hospital to receive the best care for you and your baby.
Signs of appendicitus
Severe pain that starts as a cramp around your upper abdomen or belly button and quickly escalates could be a sign of appendicitis. This pain could be so severe that it wakes you from your sleep and gets worse when you move or cough.
This may be accompanied by a fever and should be treated as soon as possible.
Recent abdominal trauma and debilitating pain
If you recently were injured, such as in a car accident or during a sports activity, abdominal pain can be a sign that your injury is more serious than previously thought.
Similarly, if your stomach pain is so severe that you can’t stand up, this isn’t normal, and you should see a doctor immediately.
Finally, if your abdomen is severely bloated, bruised, or has changed shape, this is also a warning that something is wrong.
If you’ve ever watched medical dramas from the 1990s, they often gave the impression that a trip to the emergency room included frenzied action and patients that were quickly brought to an exam bed and seen within minutes of checking in at the ER front desk. That was just the magic of television and a 1-hour episodic plot line.
While ER staff do try to see patients in the order that they arrive, they also prioritize based on categorization (for example, children versus adults), symptom severity, and the available beds in the ER. More importantly, there’s a distinction between being in an ER bed and actually being admitted to the hospital.
In most cases, unless your abdominal pain is accompanied by more severe symptoms like vomiting blood, severe dehydration, or loss of consciousness, you may be in for a long wait. Likewise, it’s highly unlikely that you’ll be admitted to the hospital and transferred to a different floor.
You may want to check to see if there are any urgent care clinics near you or if your primary physician has any appointments available at urgent notice.
If your pain is severe but you aren’t experiencing life threatening symptoms, your wait time at the ER could be several hours. Here’s a few tips to help you stay as comfortable as possible during the wait:
- Try to bring a friend or family member. They can help you get anything you might need and communicate with ER staff.
- Dress for comfort. Make sure you have layers to add if you get cold and shoes that are easy to put on and take off. If you have a neck pillow for traveling, that might also help you stay comfortable.
- Consider headphones or earplugs. You may want to listen to music or a podcast while you wait, or try to take a nap. You could also bring a book.
- Pack a battery pack or charging cable for your phone.
- Make sure you have all your IDs and any insurance documents.
Once you’re actually seen by a doctor, the first step will be trying to determine the source of your stomach pain.
Along with taking your health history and performing a physical exam to locate precisely where the pain is occurring, your ER doctor may recommend running one or more of the below tests to further understand what’s happening:
You might receive pain medications to help control discomfort. If you’ve been vomiting frequently, you may also be given an antiemetic or fluids intravenously to prevent dehydration.
If any of the above tests show that you have a more serious condition, such as appendicitis, pancreatitis, or even intestinal blockage, you might be admitted to the hospital for further treatment.
Home remedies for stomach pain
If you’re experiencing severe abdominal pain, repeated vomiting, or other symptoms like dizziness, skip the home remedies and head straight to the hospital.
But if your pain is mild to moderate, then consider trying these home remedies to ease the pain:
- Drink more water to combat dehydration.
- Take ginger by mouth or as a ginger tea to control nausea and vomiting.
- Switch to a bland BRAT diet (bananas, rice, applesauce, toast) temporarily until your upset stomach subsides.
- Skip spicy, greasy, or fatty foods if indigestion is the main cause of stomach upset.
- Consider eating slower.
- Practice stress-relieving techniques.
- Determine whether food allergies are causing the pain.
- Try yoga or gentle stretching to relieve muscle cramps
- Avoid laying on your stomach for extended periods of time
Long wait times, expensive hospital bills, and being sent back home a few hours later can make even the most proactive person rethink a trip to the ER. But if you’re experiencing moderate to severe stomach pain that’s persistent, it might be worth the inconvenience.