Stomach cramps are a common health issue in men that can have a variety of causes depending on the severity and accompanying symptoms.
The stomach itself is just one important organ in your digestive system, which also includes your:
Sometimes, stomach cramps may not be in your stomach at all but come from somewhere else in your gastrointestinal tract.
Most cases of stomach cramps in men tend to be mild and resolve on their own within a few days or less.
Recurring, ongoing, or more severe stomach cramps could warrant medical attention or even require a trip to the emergency room.
Worried about mild to severe stomach cramps? Here’s a breakdown of the most common causes in men as well as some guidance on when you need to see a doctor.
Most cases of stomach cramps tend to be mild. These tend to be more temporary (acute), and the pain and discomfort aren’t as severe.
Mild causes of stomach cramps may include:
- Indigestion. Along with stomach cramps, you may experience heartburn and bloating after eating. Take antacids or eat slower to help with this pain.
- Eating too much. When you eat large meals or overeat, your digestive system has to work harder to process all the food you consume. This may be worse at night, especially if you eat a large meal before bedtime.
- Occasional bowel movement disruptions. These can include constipation and diarrhea. Drinking water, eating enough fiber, and exercising can help.
- Gas and bloating. Both symptoms can be signs of constipation and diarrhea, which can also cause stomach cramps. Eating slower may help.
- Stress or anxiety. Occasional or prolonged stress and anxiety can turn your stomach into knots, creating pain and discomfort. Relaxation techniques can help, but seek professional help if your mental health doesn’t improve.
- Exercising on a full stomach. Eating too much food (and too soon) before your workout can cause uncomfortable cramps. Smaller meals at least an hour before exercising can help.
- Muscle strains. Sometimes, a core workout can leave both your abdominal and back muscles feeling sore several hours later. Stay hydrated and stretch after your workout when muscles are warm.
Most mild causes of stomach cramps tend to resolve on their own at home without needing to see a doctor. Severe causes will likely require medical attention.
More severe causes of stomach cramps may include the following.
Appendicitis is a painful condition caused by an inflamed appendix, an organ located on the lower right side of the abdomen.
Other symptoms include:
An appendectomy (surgical removal) is required before the appendix ruptures and leads to potentially life threatening complications.
A bowel obstruction occurs when portions of your intestines become closed off. This can interfere with digestion and nutrient absorption.
This is a serious condition. Surgery is likely required to correct the obstructed bowels.
With gallstones, your cramps tend to form along the right side of your stomach.
The pain tends to be severe, can last for hours, and may radiate to your right shoulder and back.
Gallbladder removal surgery is the best way to treat this condition.
Kidney stones are also characterized by severe ongoing pain. The pain may also extend to your groin.
Viral and bacterial infections
Most cases improve after a day or two. If your condition gets worse, see your doctor.
Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)
IBD is a chronic condition characterized by flare-ups that cause damage to the gastrointestinal tract.
- abdominal pain
- chronic diarrhea
- bloody stools
Medications are required to decrease gastrointestinal damage.
Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
GERD is a severe form of acid reflux that can lead to damage to the esophagus when left untreated.
Along with heartburn, you may experience:
GERD is treated with at-home changes and medications that reduce acid production.
Also called peptic ulcers, symptoms of stomach ulcers include pain and burning sensations that can occur from your lower belly to your breastbone.
The pain can come and go, but may last for up to several hours at a time — especially at night.
Most causes of these ulcers are bacterial infections and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) overuse. Medications may be required to treat them.
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
IBS is characterized by mild to severe stomach cramps that are more chronic in nature.
IBS is most often managed by self-care measures. It doesn’t have the same underlying inflammation and gastrointestinal damage as IBD.
Functional dyspepsia is a severe form of indigestion that doesn’t have an apparent underlying cause.
Functional dyspepsia can also cause feelings of fullness, bloating, and belching.
Keep track of your symptoms and share them with a doctor so you can discuss next steps.
Mild, temporary cases of stomach cramps may be treated at home with a combination of over-the-counter (OTC) remedies and lifestyle changes.
Over-the-counter (OTC) remedies
Depending on the underlying cause, you may be able to use certain OTC remedies for stomach cramps. These include:
- antacids for heartburn
- fiber for constipation
- antidiarrheal medications
- gas-relieving remedies
- acetaminophen, for muscle strains
Ask your doctor before taking OTC medications for stomach cramps, especially if you have any underlying conditions.
Certain habits may help alleviate mild causes of stomach cramps.
- Eating more fiber can help treat constipation.
- Exercise and drinking more water may help promote healthier bowel movements while also alleviating bloating.
- Eating smaller meals (and more slowly) may reduce bloating and indigestion.
- Avoiding trigger foods may help reduce heartburn, indigestion, and IBS symptoms.
- Managing your mental health can also help decrease stress and anxiety. Relaxation methods along with therapy can help if these conditions are regularly contributing to your stomach cramps.
If you experience severe or chronic stomach cramps, see a doctor for further evaluation. As a rule of thumb, any symptom that seems unusual and persists for a long time should be addressed.
Make note of any other symptoms you’re experiencing, such as indigestion, bloating, and excessive fatigue. You should seek immediate medical treatment if you experience stomach cramps along with:
- pain that suddenly gets worse
- dark, bloody, or tar-like stools
- bloody urine
- vomiting blood
- shortness of breath
- abdominal pain sensitive to the touch
- unintentional weight loss
- pain in your arm, neck, and jaw (especially on the left side)
Recurring stomach cramps that last longer than a few days should be evaluated by a doctor.
More severe causes will likely be treated with either medication or surgery.
Medications for certain causes of stomach cramps may include:
- proton-pump inhibitors (PPIs) to reduce stomach acid secretion, which may be prescribed for functional dyspepsia, stomach ulcers, and GERD
- histamine receptor blockers for stomach ulcers and GERD
- antibiotics for ulcer-causing bacteria
- IBD medications, such as immunomodulators, corticosteroids, or biologics
- low-dose antidepressants for intestinal pain, which may be used for anxiety and functional dyspepsia
While often a last-resort treatment, surgery may be required to prevent certain conditions from causing more damage to your digestive tract.
Your doctor may recommend surgery for:
Stomach cramps are a common occurrence in men, and they can be caused by an underlying condition or an acute medical issue.
You should reach out to a doctor if your stomach cramps last for longer than a few days — even if they feel mild.