Sharp, stabbing stomach pain that comes and goes can be disorienting and even frightening. This kind of deep, internal pain in your abdomen can indicate that your health is at risk. While in some cases severe stomach pain can be traced to indigestion, most cases of sharp pain in your abdomen require a doctor’s diagnosis and prompt treatment.

Keep a record of other symptoms, such as nausea, vomiting, dizziness, or confusion. This article will cover some of the causes of sharp stomach pain and list other symptoms that may give you an indication of what is causing it. If stabbing pains in your stomach area start suddenly and don’t stop within two hours, contact your doctor 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 an inflammation of your appendix organ. Appendicitis can be recognized by the sharp pains it causes in the lower right part of your abdomen. Nausea, vomiting, and bloating are other common symptoms.

Appendicitis is usually treated by surgical removal of your appendix.

Gallstones

Gallstones are stone-like objects that can form in your gallbladder or bile ducts. These stones are made up of cholesterol or bilirubin. When gallstones block a duct in your gallbladder, it causes an intense pain in your abdomen. Other symptoms of gallstones include sweating, vomiting, fever, and a yellowish tint to the skin or eyes.

Gallstones sometimes need to be treated with medication or laparoscopic surgery to dissolve the stones.

Ovarian cysts

Ovarian cysts are fluid-filled sacs found in the ovaries. They can form by themselves during ovulation. Ovarian cysts can cause an intense pain in the lower abdomen, concentrated 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 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 as it consistently appears after you eat certain things, or at certain times of day. Other symptoms include bloating, gassiness, mucus in your bowel movement, and diarrhea.

Treatment for IBS includes lifestyle and dietary changes, antispasmodic drugs, and nerve pain medication.

Urinary tract infection

A urinary tract infection (UTI) is most often an infection in your bladder. But any part of your urinary tract can become infected, including your urethra and kidneys. In addition to abdominal pain, a UTI also causes a burning sensation when you urinate and a frequent desire to urinate.

UTIs are usually treated with antibiotics.

Indigestion and gas

Indigestion is a common set of symptoms that you may experience after eating. Eating too quickly, indulging in alcohol and fatty foods, and eating while you feel anxiety can all cause indigestion. Gas, which is air trapped in your digestive tract, is the result of 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 antacids.

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, and sharp stomach pains. Stomach flu symptoms are uncomfortable but are not considered an emergency unless you become extremely 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 by 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 it’s not a medical emergency.

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

Lactose intolerance and food allergies

Eating something you’re allergic or sensitive to can cause sharp pains in your abdomen as your body struggles to digest. Sometimes gas and indigestion symptoms will arise if you eat food that you “don’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 because of eating food your body can’t digest properly.

If you have a lactose allergy, speak to your doctor about replacement enzyme pills that may allow you to consume dairy without discomfort.

Ectopic pregnancy

Between 1 and 2 percent of pregnancies are ectopic pregnancies. 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, as well as some vaginal bleeding, could indicate an ectopic pregnancy. Fertility drugs and smoking increase the risk for this kind of pregnancy. Diarrhea and vomiting also sometimes occur.

Ectopic pregnancies need to be addressed with medication and surgery to save the fallopian tubes, ensure a safe delivery, and preserve fertility. The symptoms of this condition are similar to those of a normal pregnancy in its earliest phases.

Speak to your doctor if you have any reason to suspect this condition.

Ovulation pain

It’s not uncommon for women to have stomach pain around the time of ovulation. Before the egg is dropped, the ovary may feel “stretched” just before it is released, causing some pain in the lower abdomen. This kind of pain can feel intense, but it shouldn’t last for more than a few hours.

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

Food poisoning

It’s estimated that 48 million people in the United States get sick from a foodborne illness every year. Food poisoning happens when bacteria in the food you eat infects 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 abdominal pain should be addressed right away by a doctor. 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 six hours
  • sudden abdominal pain that begins after eating
  • bloody stools
  • abdominal swelling
  • yellow skin

If you’re having strong abdominal pain and need to be seen by a doctor, you will be asked several questions about your symptoms and the nature of your pain. Your doctor will need to collect the answers to these questions to figure out the next step in testing and diagnosis.

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

The causes of sharp abdominal pain range in severity. While a little discomfort after eating or occasional indigestion happens to all of us, deep inner pain should not be ignored. Watch for other symptoms as you track your abdominal pain, and call your doctor if you’re experiencing severe pain.