Everyone experiences stomach or abdominal discomfort or pain at some point. It can be as harmless as the need to pass gas. It can also be a symptom of an illness. And sometimes it’s difficult to know whether the pain is coming from your stomach or somewhere else in the abdomen.
Stomach pain is often temporary, such as the pain you might feel after you overeat. But constant, severe, or increasing pain may signal a medical emergency.
In this article, we’ll focus on stomach pain that presents in intervals, some of the potential causes, and signs that you should seek medical help.
Gas gets in your digestive tract when you swallow air and when you’re digesting carbohydrates. Belching or flatulence often relieves it. Otherwise, you start to feel bloated and can end up with abdominal pain.
Daily belching and flatulence are healthy functions of the human body. Frequent abdominal pain from gas is not. If you often have abdominal pain from gas, it could be a sign of an underlying gastrointestinal disorder.
Constipation is when you have fewer than three bowel movements a week (unless that’s always been your norm). In addition to abdominal pain, other symptoms can include:
- hard, dry stools
- pain and difficulty passing stool
- not being able to pass all your stool
Recurrent bouts of constipation may be a sign of an underlying condition.
A stomach ulcer, also known as a peptic ulcer, is a sore on the lining of your stomach. It causes a dull or burning pain in your stomach. The pain can last
Without treatment, stomach ulcers can lead to serious complications.
An ovarian cyst is a fluid-filled sac in the ovary. They’re usually harmless and often cause no symptoms. But they can lead to abdominal pain, bloating, and swelling, especially during ovulation.
If you have an ovarian cyst and experience sudden severe pain and vomiting, seek immediate medical attention. These are signs the cyst may have ruptured.
Dysmenorrhea is severe abdominal cramping and pain during your menstrual period. Other symptoms can include diarrhea, nausea, and headache.
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
IBS is a functional gastrointestinal disorder. It affects about
Braxton-Hicks or labor contractions
If you’re pregnant and have irregular contractions that are not occurring closer together, you’re probably having Braxton-Hicks contractions.
In labor, the contractions last from 30 to 70 seconds and come in regular intervals, getting stronger and closer together with time. Labor can also cause pain in the lower back.
An abdominal muscle strain, or pulled muscle, occurs when you suddenly twist or strain your abdominal muscles. The pain usually intensifies when you laugh, sneeze, or cough. You might also feel increased pain when you get up after sitting for a long time or when exercising.
The gallbladder is located under the liver, so the pain may feel like it’s coming from your stomach. Certain gallbladder problems, such as gallstones, can cause severe pain that may increase after you eat fatty foods.
Biliary colic describes episodes of pain that can last a few minutes to 5 hours. Episodes of pain can be separated by weeks or months.
Norovirus is a contagious foodborne illness that causes stomach pain, diarrhea, and vomiting. These symptoms should subside in
Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)
Research suggests that about 80 percent of people with IBD have abdominal pain from inflammation or obstruction, which resolves with treatment. About 30 to 50 percent of people with IBD have abdominal pain consistently for 3 months or intermittently for 6 months.
People with IBD may have symptoms that include:
- abdominal pain
- rectal bleeding
- weight loss
Stomach cancer can cause pain similar to that of a peptic ulcer. The pain may increase after eating. But the pain is likely to become more severe and persistent over time. Other symptoms may include weight loss, heartburn, and nausea.
A doctor will likely start by taking your medical history and asking about all other symptoms. Treatment depends on the cause and severity of symptoms:
- Gas. May resolve with dietary changes and changes in medications or supplements. Over-the-counter (OTC) gas relievers may help.
- Constipation. May improve with dietary changes, increased exercise, or stopping certain medications or supplements. OTC medications can be used occasionally.
- Ulcers. Treatment may involve a variety of medications or procedures, such as an upper gastrointestinal endoscopy, depending on their cause.
- Ovarian cyst. Treatment may not be needed but may include pain medications, hormonal birth control, or surgery.
- Dysmenorrhea. OTC nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can offer pain relief.
- IBS. May improve with dietary changes and medications for constipation, diarrhea, and pain.
- Uterine contractions. A doctor can determine whether you’re having Braxton-Hicks or labor contractions and advise on the next steps.
- Muscle strain. A doctor may prescribe pain relievers, muscle relaxants, or antispasmodics.
- Gallbladder problems. Active monitoring may be all that’s needed for now. Treatment may consist of pain relievers or surgery.
- Norovirus. There’s no particular treatment other than rest and hydration. It’s important to drink plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration and to watch for signs of dehydration.
- IBD. Medications may include aminosalicylates, corticosteroids, immunomodulators, or biologics. Surgery is sometimes necessary.
- Stomach cancer. Depending on the type and stage, treatment may consist of surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and symptom management.
If you have stomach pain that comes in intervals and lasts more than 1 week, it’s worth a discussion with a doctor. Reach out to a doctor as soon as possible if you have stomach pain and:
- are currently pregnant
- have nausea, vomiting, or fever
- notice blood in your stool
- have severe constipation
- have severe diarrhea
- are experiencing unexplained weight loss
- are currently receiving cancer treatment
Seek emergency medical attention if you have stomach pain and any of these symptoms:
- severe or increasing pain
- abdominal tenderness
- chest, neck, or shoulder pain
- difficulty breathing
- vomiting blood
- have had a recent injury to the abdomen
A doctor will likely start with a physical examination. This, plus getting your medical history and assessing all your symptoms, will guide their next steps.
Diagnostic testing a doctor may order includes:
- imaging tests, such as X-ray, ultrasound, MRI, or CT scan
- blood, urine, or stool tests
Just about everyone experiences stomach and abdominal pain on occasion. Abdominal or stomach pain in intervals may be a simple case of excess gas or a bout of constipation that will soon resolve.
Abdominal or stomach pain can also be a sign of something serious, especially if it’s worsening or accompanied by other symptoms.
If you have stomach pain in intervals, consult with a doctor to find out what’s happening. Once they determine the cause, they can suggest remedies or treat the underlying condition.
Seek emergency care if you have severe abdominal pain, difficulty breathing, or other troubling symptoms.