What Is Lower Abdominal Pain?

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Lower abdominal pain can happen for a lot of reasons. Most of the time, it’s something innocuous like trapped gas or indigestion. Sometimes, though, lower abdominal pain can be a symptom of a more serious issue. Accompanying symptoms can be a helpful tool for diagnosis.

Woman suffering from cystitis, touching abdomen and feeling pain

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Lower Abdominal Pain Symptoms

Lower abdominal pain can feel different depending on the underlying cause. Some types of pain are spread throughout the lower abdomen. Others may feel specific and pointed. 

Symptoms may differ depending on the reason for the pain. Lower abdominal pain is a symptom in and of itself. It’s not a condition.

Red Flag Digestive Symptoms

The following are symptoms that should prompt an immediate doctor's visit:


  • Fever with abdominal pain
  • Severe pain that doesn't go away
  • Vomiting blood
  • Signs of shock or low blood pressure that may signal internal bleeding
  • Bloody or dark tarry stools

Causes

Lower abdominal pain can be either acute or chronic. Both types of pain may result from something benign, like an upset stomach, or more serious, like appendicitis. 

Acute pain comes on suddenly. It may go away on its own. Chronic pain is typically defined as pain lasting longer than six months. Here are potential reasons you may be experiencing lower abdominal pain. 

Colitis

Colitis is an inflammatory condition that causes swelling in the large intestine and may cause lower abdominal pain. The pain can come and go or remain constant.

Other symptoms include:

  • Blood in the stool
  • Bloating
  • Frequent urge to have a bowel movement
  • Diarrhea
  • Dehydration 
  • Fever 

Colitis can happen due to:

Diverticulitis

Diverticular disease includes diverticulosis and diverticulitis. People with diverticulosis have bulging pouches that protrude from the large intestine or colon. Older adults are more likely to have this condition.

Some people have no symptoms at all. But the bulging can cause abdominal bloating, cramping, and constipation. 

When the pouches become irritated in some way, the condition is called diverticulitis. Left-sided abdominal pain is the most common symptom of this type of inflammation or infection. Other symptoms of diverticulitis include:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Constipation
  • Cramping

Appendicitis


Appendicitis
is a serious condition that requires emergency attention. When the appendix becomes inflamed, prompt treatment is necessary to prevent the organ from bursting. Most people with appendicitis experience right-sided pain in the abdomen. The pain is sudden and severe and continues to get worse.

Other possible symptoms include:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Abdominal swelling
  • Diarrhea or constipation
  • Mild fever
  • Loss of appetite
  • Being unable to pass gas 

People between the ages of 10 and 30 are more likely to get appendicitis. It can happen at any age, though.

If you think you have appendicitis, go to an emergency room. The condition almost always requires surgery. If an inflamed appendix is not removed promptly, it can cause serious complications and may even be fatal.

Kidney Infection

A kidney infection (pyelonephritis) is a serious infection that often starts with an infection of the bladder (also called infectious cystitis). When cystitis due to bacteria or fungi travels to the kidneys, it can cause a kidney infection.

While you're likely to feel some back pain, you may also feel pain under your ribs, around the abdomen, and around your groin. Kidney infection pain is typically very severe.

Symptoms may include:

  • Pain when urinating
  • Frequent urge to urinate
  • High fever with chills
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting

If you suspect you have a kidney infection, see a doctor right away.

Acute Urinary Retention

If you have acute urinary retention, you're suddenly unable to pass urine. Urinary retention can also be chronic. Chronic urinary retention may not cause symptoms. It's more likely to occur in males.

If you suddenly can't pass urine, you'll likely experience severe pain, which can radiate to your abdomen. However, the inability to urinate is the most obvious sign of this condition.

Acute urinary retention requires an emergency room visit.

Cystitis

Unlike acute urinary retention, females are more likely to develop cystitis than males.

Cystitis is inflammation of the bladder, typically caused by bacteria, but it can be due to other causes. In addition to a cramping-like pain in the lower, middle abdomen, cystitis also causes:

  • Pain in the back
  • Cloudy urine
  • Blood in the urine
  • Foul-smelling urine
  • Low-grade fever
  • Burning or painful urination
  • Frequent need to urinate, even after you've just urinated

Nephrolithiasis (Kidney Stones)

Kidney stones often cause extremely severe back pain, but the pain can also creep forward to the side of your abdomen.

Other symptoms of kidney stones include:

  • Blood in the urine
  • Fever
  • Vomiting
  • Foul-smelling urine
  • Burning pain when urinating

While small kidney stones may pass on their own, larger ones may require treatment.

Trapped Gas

Gas can end up in the digestive tract when you swallow air or eat certain foods that cause gas. Some foods that are likely to make you feel gassy include:

  • Foods that contain soluble fiber, like beans
  • Foods that contain insoluble fiber, like vegetables
  • Fructose-containing foods, like onions
  • Raffinose, found in cabbage and other brassicas (cruciferous vegetables)
  • Starchy foods, like potatoes and noodles
  • Lactose, found in dairy products

Some people are more likely to have gas in the digestive tract, including people who are lactose intolerant or have digestive disorders.

Symptoms of trapped gas may include:

  • Burping
  • Bloating
  • Abdominal pain
  • Flatulence

The abdominal pain from trapped gas depends on where it’s located. Left-side gas may feel like heart-related pain, while right-side gas may feel similar to appendicitis.

Menstrual Cramps

Cramping during menstruation happens due to uterine contractions. The pain can be mild or severe. Some people experience lower back pain in addition to pain in the lower abdomen. 

Other symptoms that may accompany menstrual cramps include:

  • Fatigue
  • Diarrhea
  • Nausea and vomiting 

Some people experience menstrual cramps due to another disorder or infection. This is called secondary dysmenorrhea. This abnormal cramping can happen for several reasons, including:

Constipation

Constipation is an uncomfortable condition in which it is difficult to make a bowel movement. People can become constipated if they lack fiber in their diets or suddenly change their eating habits. 

One of the most apparent symptoms of constipation is having dry, hard stools. In some cases, you may not even be able to pass a stool. Bloating may also occur. If there is trapped gas or a blockage, you may experience lower abdominal pain. 

Constipation can happen because of a change in dietary habits, but it can also be a symptom of an underlying condition.

Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)

Irritable bowel syndrome is a condition that causes various gastrointestinal symptoms, including:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Changes in bowel movements, including diarrhea, constipation, or a mix of both
  • Bloating
  • Mucus in stool
  • A sensation of an unfinished bowel movement

Causes of Pelvic Pain

Sometimes people mistake pelvic pain for lower abdominal pain. Conditions that can cause pain in this area include:


Diagnosis

If your abdominal pain doesn’t seem to be the result of indigestion and is getting worse or not going away, you should see a doctor. 

A doctor will likely perform a physical exam and ask about your symptoms in detail. They may also request tests to rule out causes for your abdominal pain.

Expect a doctor to ask you about the exact location of the pain and to describe the sensation you’re feeling. Your doctor may perform a gynecological or rectal exam if you are complaining of lower abdominal pain.

Testing may include blood tests such as a complete blood count, which can check for infection or blood loss. A pregnancy test may be done if you are capable of becoming pregnant to rule out pregnancy-related causes of lower abdominal pain.

Imaging tests for lower abdominal pain may include a computed tomography (CT) scan. If you are pregnant, an ultrasound is the preferred imaging method for evaluating unexplained abdominal pain.

Treatment

Treatment depends on the cause of the abdominal pain. 

For mild abdominal pain that's the result of trapped gas or indigestion, the following may help provide relief:

  • Over-the-counter (OTC) medications including calcium carbonate
  • Adjusting your diet by eliminating foods that cause indigestion or gas
  • Probiotics
  • Complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) such as acupuncture or massage

If you have a bacterial infection that's causing abdominal pain, you may need prescription medication. Those with severe indigestion may also require prescription drugs. A urinary tract infection is usually treated with antibiotics.

Some digestive disorders, such as colitis or irritable bowel syndrome, have no cure. Treatment involves a combination of lifestyle changes and prescription medications in order to manage symptoms.

Treatment may also depend on the severity of the condition. People with moderate to severe ulcerative colitis may need to take prescription drugs such as:

  • Corticosteroids
  • Aminosalicylates
  • Biologics
  • Immunomodulators
  • Janus kinase (JAK) inhibitors

Some causes of lower abdominal pain may require surgery. For example, people with severe ulcerative colitis may need surgery to avoid complications of the disease. The need for surgery is decided on a case-by-case basis.

Appendicitis is considered an emergency condition that almost always requires surgery as soon as possible. Without surgery, the appendix could burst and cause peritonitis, a life-threatening infection.

Summary

Lower abdominal pain can be acute or chronic. It can be a symptom of minor or major digestive system conditions such as gas, indigestion, constipation, colitis, diverticular disease, or appendicitis. Gynecologic conditions such as menstrual cramps or pregnancy may also be causes, as can urinary tract infections.

A Word From Verywell 

Most of the time, lower abdominal pain is nothing to worry about. Often, the pain may be the result of something you ate. If your symptoms are not going away or are getting worse, it’s time to see a doctor.

If you’re experiencing other potentially serious symptoms along with lower abdominal pain, such as blood in the stool, high fever, vomiting blood, lightheadedness, or severe pain that doesn't go away, you should also see a doctor.

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18 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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