Stomach ache and abdominal pain
A stomach ache is cramps or a dull ache in the tummy (abdomen). It usually does not last long and is often not serious. Severe abdominal pain is a greater cause for concern.
Complete our self-help guide to check your symptoms and find out what to do next.
Stomach cramps with bloating
Stomach cramps with bloating are often caused by trapped wind.
Your pharmacist can recommend treatments to help, such as:
Sudden stomach cramps with diarrhoea
If your stomach cramps have started recently and you also have diarrhoea, the cause may be a tummy bug (gastroenteritis). This means you have a viral or bacterial infection of the stomach and bowel. It should get better without treatment after a few days.
Gastroenteritis may be caused by:
- coming into close contact with someone who's infected
- eating contaminated food (food poisoning)
If you have repeated bouts of stomach cramps and diarrhoea, you may have a long-term condition, such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
Sudden severe abdominal pain
Sudden agonising pain in a particular area of your abdomen may be a sign of a serious problem. It could rapidly get worse without treatment.
If there is any possibility that you could be pregnant, take a pregnancy test.
Immediate action required: Go to A&E or phone 999 for an ambulance if:
- you're less than 16 weeks pregnant and have severe abdominal pain
- a stomach ache came on very suddenly or is severe
- it hurts when you touch your stomach
- you're vomiting blood or your vomit looks like ground coffee
- your poo is bloody or black and sticky and extremely smelly
- you cannot pee
- you cannot poo or fart
- you cannot breathe
- you have chest pain
- you have diabetes and you're vomiting
- someone has collapsed
Non-urgent advice: Speak to your GP if:
- a stomach ache gets much worse quickly
- stomach pain or bloating will not go away or keeps coming back
- you have stomach pain and problems with swallowing food
- you're losing weight without trying to
- you suddenly pee more often or less often
- peeing is suddenly painful
- you bleed from your bottom or vagina, or have abnormal discharge from your vagina
- you have diarrhoea that does not go away after a few days
If your GP is closed, phone 111.
Serious causes of sudden severe abdominal pain include:
- appendicitis – the swelling of the appendix means your appendix will need to be removed
- a bleeding or perforated stomach ulcer
- acute cholecystitis – inflammation of the gallbladder, which may need to be removed
- kidney stones – small stones may be passed out in your urine, but larger stones may block the kidney tubes, and you'll need to go to hospital to have them broken up
- diverticulitis – inflammation of the small pouches in the bowel that sometimes requires treatment with antibiotics in hospital
- ectopic pregnancy – when a fertilised egg develops outside the womb – ectopic pregnancy can be very serious if it isn't treated
If your GP suspects you have one of these conditions, they may refer you to hospital immediately.
Sudden and severe pain in your abdomen can also sometimes be caused by an infection of the stomach and bowel (gastroenteritis). It may also be caused by a pulled muscle in your abdomen or by an injury.
Long-term or recurring abdominal pain
See your GP if you or your child have persistent or repeated abdominal pain. The cause is often not serious and can be managed.
Possible causes in adults include:
- irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) – the pain is often relieved when you go to the toilet
- inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) – for example Crohn's disease, ulcerative colitis and endometriosis
- a urinary tract infection (UTI) that keeps returning – you'll usually also have a burning sensation when you urinate
- period pain – painful muscle cramps in women that are linked to the menstrual cycle
- stomach ulcer
- heartburn and acid reflux
- gastritis (inflammation of the stomach lining)
Possible causes in children include:
- a UTI that keeps returning
- heartburn and acid reflux
- abdominal migraines – recurrent episodes of abdominal pain with no identifiable cause
29 May 2023
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