When to See a Healthcare Provider for Abdominal Pain

Abdominal pain is a relatively common symptom that often doesn't need treatment. But abdominal pain can be a symptom of a serious condition that could require medical attention and, in some cases, even emergency care.

Doctor examining patient’s abdomen
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Types and Sources of Abdominal Pain

The abdomen involves the digestive tract, which includes the esophagus, stomach, small intestine, and large intestine. Additionally, conditions involving the appendix, kidneys, liver, gallbladder, and pancreas can cause abdominal pain.

Most of the time, abdominal pain isn't severe and will usually resolve with little, if any, treatment.

For example:

  • An upset stomach can cause pain for an hour or two until your digestion normalizes.
  • Abdominal cramping may be related to bloating and gas.
  • Generalized pain that is uncomfortable but not particularly severe is most often due to indigestion.

Many of these conditions can easily be treated with over-the-counter antacids or other medications.

On the other hand, abdominal pain that is localized on a certain spot, sharp, persistent, or worsening may signal a more significant problem. It is usually a good idea to have it checked out.

Pain that radiates down from your chest and feels like heartburn may be a heart attack. This is especially true if you have shooting pains down an arm, shortness of breath, and/or lightheadedness. If this happens, seek medical attention immediately. Do not wait.

When to Call Your Healthcare Provider

As a rule of thumb, any abdominal symptom should be checked by a healthcare provider if you are experiencing one or more of the following symptoms:

  • Pain that is dull and lasts for more than a week
  • Pain that is significant and does not get better within 24 to 48 hours
  • Pain that worsens and either gets more severe or occurs frequently
  • Pain accompanied by bloating that lasts for more than two days
  • Pain accompanied by unexplained weight loss
  • Pain accompanied by diarrhea that lasts for more than five days
  • Pain accompanied by fever
  • Pain accompanied by a burning or painful sensation when urinating

When to Seek Emergency Care

More severe abdominal pain should never be ignored. Go to your nearest emergency room or call 911 if you have any of these symptoms:

  • Persistent nausea and vomiting
  • Pain accompanied by the inability to have a bowel movement (especially if you are vomiting)
  • Abdominal pain while vomiting blood
  • Profuse or continual bleeding from the bowels
  • Gastric pain accompanied by shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
  • Pain that is severe and sudden
  • Severe tenderness when you touch your abdomen
  • Skin that appears yellow
  • Swelling of the abdomen
  • Pain during pregnancy (or if you suspect you are pregnant)

A Word From Verywell

Abdominal pain is a common symptom that can be caused by something as simple as a stomach virus or as serious as a ruptured aortic aneurysm. Don't take any chances if something doesn't seem right or feels "different" than your usual tummy ache. Get it checked.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What causes lower abdominal pain?

    Lower abdominal pain can be caused by various conditions. Some of the most common ones are:

    • Irritable bowel syndrome, which causes pain in the lower abdomen but sometimes throughout the whole abdomen
    • Constipation, which usually causes pain in the lower left side of the abdomen but can also occur in the middle
    • Appendicitis, which initially causes pain around the belly button that then moves into the lower right abdomen
    • Diverticulitis, which causes pain in the lower left abdomen but may occur all over the abdomen
  • How do you relieve abdominal pain?

    The treatment for abdominal pain depends on the cause, but there are some general things you can do at home for mild abdominal pain. Sip water and clear liquids, and avoid solid foods for a few hours. If you vomit, wait at least six hours before eating a small, bland meal, and avoid dairy, citrus, greasy foods, tomatoes, caffeine, and alcohol.

  • What causes abdominal pain when coughing or sneezing?

    One of the main reasons someone feels pain when coughing, sneezing, bending, or lifting is a hernia. If pain suddenly gets worse or you see a bulge in the abdomen, seek medical care for a proper diagnosis.

5 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.
  1. Cartwright SL, Knudson MP. Evaluation of acute abdominal pain in adults. Am Fam Physician. 2008;77(7):971-8.

  2. Sakalihasan N, Limet R, Defawe OD. Abdominal aortic aneurysm. Lancet. 2005;365(9470):1577-89. doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(05)66459-8

  3. Cleveland Clinic. What's causing your lower abdominal pain?

  4. Mount Sinai. Abdominal pain.

  5. Beaumont. Hernia pain and potential complications.

Additional Reading

By Kristina Duda, RN
Kristina Duda, BSN, RN, CPN, has been working in healthcare since 2002. She specializes in pediatrics and disease and infection prevention.