Abdominal Pain: When Should You Worry?

Posted on: 12 May 2015


The majority of your body's organs reside between your legs and your chest, so it makes sense that there can be a wide margin for causes in abdominal pain-- usually related to digestion. Although it is always great to check with your doctor if you're suffering, sometimes, you might wonder if you're just being paranoid or if you're healthy enough to stay at home and rest instead of taking a trip to the health clinic. Usually, worrisome digestive pain comes with other symptoms.

Here are a few ways you can tell if your abdominal pain needs extra attention from a health professional. 

1. Your pain has gotten worse over time.

Many people simply write off abdominal pain as gas or stress, especially if they already have an existing condition, like irritable bowel syndrome. However, you should pay close attention to the level of pain you experience. If you're used to stomach pains, an increase in intensity could mean that something else is wrong, like tissue becoming increasingly inflamed, or that a current condition has progressed. 

2. Your pain is sudden and has a locus.

General digestive pain could be gas or cramps from exercise, but if pain occurs very suddenly, and seems to originate from a particular part of the abdomen, it's time to see a health professional. This doesn't yet warrant a trip to the emergency room, but it does mean you should go to a walk-in medical clinic as soon as possible.

For example, if you have sudden pain in the upper right side of your abdomen, it could mean you are having trouble with your gallbladder, which will only get worse if your diet is not changed and the proper medication is not taken. Gallstones or excessive bile could mean you will eventually need surgery.

3. You have other symptoms that accompany abdominal pain.

A general pain in your abdomen could come from a pinched nerve or from a high-stress situation, but other symptoms with your pain could mean you are suffering from something more serious. For example, if you experience:

  • blood in your vomit or stool, you should be concerned. Blood in the vomit or stool could indicate internal swelling or bleeding, or a stomach ulcer that has progressed to a serious stage.
  • headaches, changes in skin condition, rashes, or weight loss, this could indicate a food intolerance or allergy. Your doctor will need to test you for common food problems, like Celiac's disease or lactose intolerance.
  • trouble eating or staying full, along with consistent cramps and pain in the lower abdomen, this could indicate trouble with the ovaries. 

It is a good idea to begin tracking your symptoms if they last longer than a few hours or days. This way, your doctor will help you get to the bottom of the trouble more quickly.

4. You aren't taking any medication with intestinal side effects.

Many medications can cause gastrointestinal distress. For example, pregnant woman may find that taking iron supplements or prenatal vitamins cause pain from gas or constipation. Prescription pain killers, like those that combine oxycodone and acetaminophen, can also cause gas and upper abdominal pain, as well as make it more difficult for patients to urinate, leading to more discomfort. If your symptoms happen independent of your medications, you should talk to your doctor about probable causes.  

If side effects from your medications are severe, you should also talk to your doctor about alternatives. There are usually different drugs or dosages that will help to ease the discomfort of bad side effects.

Abdominal pain can be a mystery for many patients, but your should not hesitate to see a doctor if you experience severe or persistent pain, as it could be more serious than just gas or occasional indigestion.