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Sharp, stabbing stomach pain that comes and goes can be disorienting and even frightening. Deep, internal pain in your abdomen can indicate a health concern.

While severe stomach pain can sometimes be traced to indigestion, most cases of sharp pain in your abdomen require a healthcare professional’s diagnosis and prompt treatment.

It’s important to keep a record of other symptoms, such as nausea, vomiting, dizziness, or confusion.

This article will address some of the causes of sharp stomach pain and identify symptoms that might be causing the discomfort.

If stabbing pains in your stomach area begin suddenly and don’t stop within 2 hours, contact your healthcare professional or go directly to the emergency room.

There are many potential causes of sharp abdominal pain. Some causes are more serious than others.

Appendicitis

Appendicitis is inflammation of your appendix, a tubed organ. Appendicitis can be recognized by sharp pains in the lower right part of your abdomen. Nausea, vomiting, and bloating are other common symptoms.

Though appendicitis is most commonly felt in the right lower quadrant, it’s possible to experience it as a referred pain in another area of the body.

Surgical removal of your appendix is the usual treatment for appendicitis.

Gallstones

Gallstones are stone-like objects that can form in your gallbladder or bile ducts. Cholesterol or bilirubin comprise the stones.

When gallstones block a duct in your gallbladder, you’ll feel intense pain in your abdomen. The pain is from inflammation of the gallbladder, which is called cholecystitis.

Other symptoms of cholecystitis include:

  • sweating
  • vomiting
  • fever
  • a yellowish tint to the skin, eyes, or inside of the mouth (jaundice)

If gallstones cause symptoms, they may need to be treated with medication or laparoscopic surgery to dissolve or remove the stones. Sometimes the entire gallbladder needs to be removed.

Ovarian cysts

Ovarian cysts are fluid-filled sacs in the ovaries. They can form by themselves during ovulation.

If they become large enough, ovarian cysts can cause intense pain in the lower abdomen, usually on the side of the body where the cyst is. Bloating, swelling, and pressure in the area may also occur.

Ovarian cysts sometimes go away on their own, but sometimes they need to be surgically removed.

Irritable bowel syndrome

Irritable bowel diseases are digestive tract conditions that cause mild or severe pain before a bowel movement.

If you have irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), you’ll notice patterns in your abdominal pain because it consistently occurs after you eat specific foods or at certain times of the day.

Other symptoms include:

  • bloating
  • gassiness
  • mucus in your bowel movement
  • diarrhea

Treatment for IBS includes:

Urinary tract infection

A urinary tract infection (UTI) is most often an infection in your bladder. Other parts of your urinary tract can also become infected, including your urethra and kidneys.

In addition to abdominal pain, a UTI causes a burning sensation during urination and a frequent urge to urinate.

UTIs are usually treated with antibiotics.

Indigestion and gas

Indigestion is a common set of symptoms you may experience after eating. Eating too quickly, drinking alcohol and fatty foods, and eating while you feel anxious can all cause indigestion.

Gas, trapped air in your digestive tract, results from your body digesting food. Sometimes gas and indigestion can cause sharp pains in your upper abdomen or lower intestine. This pain usually resolves itself after you’ve had a bowel movement.

Indigestion and gas pain can be treated with over-the-counter (OTC) antacids.

You can shop for antacids online.

Gastroenteritis

Gastroenteritis is also called “the stomach flu” — even though it isn’t caused by a flu virus.

Gastroenteritis is an infection in your intestines that causes:

  • diarrhea
  • vomiting
  • sharp stomach pains

Stomach flu symptoms are uncomfortable but aren’t considered an emergency unless you become dehydrated.

Rest and staying hydrated are the first-line treatments for gastroenteritis.

Peptic ulcers

A peptic ulcer is a sore in the lining of your stomach. It can be caused by long-term use of ibuprofen or an infection of Helicobacter pylori bacteria.

Peptic ulcers cause a dull, burning abdominal pain. A peptic ulcer needs to be diagnosed and treated so that it can heal, but most of the time, it’s not a medical emergency.

Peptic ulcers are typically treated with proton pump inhibitors or antibiotics, depending on their cause.

Lactose intolerance and food allergies

Eating food you’re allergic or sensitive to can cause sharp pains in your abdomen as your body works to digest it. Sometimes gas and indigestion symptoms occur if you eat food your body “doesn’t agree with.”

Unless you have food allergies that put you at risk for anaphylaxis, abdominal pain from food allergies or sensitivities is not an emergency. You may also notice bloating or diarrhea after eating food your body can’t digest properly.

If you have a lactose allergy, speak with a healthcare professional about replacement enzyme pills, which may allow you to consume dairy without discomfort.

Ectopic pregnancy

Between 1% and 2% of pregnancies are ectopic pregnancies, according to a 2011 review published in the BMJ Sexual and Reproductive Health journal.

An egg that implants in the fallopian tube instead of the uterus cannot sustain a pregnancy to full term. If not addressed, this kind of pregnancy could be life threatening.

Strong pain in the lower abdomen and some vaginal bleeding could indicate an ectopic pregnancy. Fertility drugs and smoking increase the risk of this kind of pregnancy. Diarrhea and vomiting also sometimes occur.

Ectopic pregnancies need to be treated with medication and surgery to save the fallopian tubes and preserve fertility. The symptoms of this condition are similar to those of a typical pregnancy in its earliest phases.

Speak with a healthcare professional if you suspect this condition.

Ovulation pain

Around the time of ovulation, it’s not uncommon for people to experience stomach pain.

Before the egg is dropped, the ovary may feel “stretched” just before the egg is released, causing some pain in the lower abdomen. This pain can feel intense, but it shouldn’t last more than a few hours.

There’s currently no treatment for ovulation pain, but oral contraceptives may lessen its severity.

Food poisoning

Food poisoning happens when bacteria in the food you eat infect your digestive tract and causes diarrhea, nausea, and sharp stomach pain.

Food poisoning is acute, meaning it begins quickly and doesn’t usually last very long. If you become dehydrated, or if your food poisoning is caused by certain strains of dangerous bacteria, food poisoning can become an emergency.

There are some instances when a healthcare professional should address your abdominal right away.

Call 911 or your local emergency number or go to the emergency room if you experience any of the following:

  • abdominal pain during pregnancy
  • persistent, sharp abdominal pain that lasts for more than 6 hours
  • sudden abdominal pain that begins after eating
  • bloody stools
  • abdominal swelling
  • yellow skin, which may be harder to see on darker skin tones
  • other signs of jaundice, such as yellowing of the eyes, inside of the mouth or both

If you have strong abdominal pain and need medical attention, a healthcare professional will likely ask you questions about your symptoms and the nature of your pain. Your answers will help them figure out the next steps in testing and diagnosis.

Testing that may be performed to evaluate your abdominal pain includes:

The causes of sharp abdominal pain range in severity. Though a little discomfort after eating or occasional indigestion happens to all of us, deep inner pain shouldn’t be ignored.

Watch for other symptoms as you monitor your abdominal pain, and call a healthcare professional if you’re experiencing severe pain.