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Abdominal pain

Dr Karen Martin
Reviewed by Dr Karen MartinReviewed on 19.10.2023 | 4 minutes read

Abdominal pain (also known as stomach ache) is very common and has many causes. The majority of causes are not anything worrisome and improve on their own or with simple over-the-counter treatment. The most common causes are trapped gas, indigestion or stomach irritation, and then constipation or conditions that cause diarrhea such as food poisoning or even irritable bowel syndrome. Abdominal pain can also be a normal part of many women’s menstruation symptoms.

There are a number of ways you can feel abdominal pain. It may be generalized, where you feel it in more than half of your tummy, and this is the sort of abdominal pain often felt with a stomach virus, indigestion or gas. It may also be localized to one part of your abdomen such as your appendix or stomach, or may feel like cramps.

Crampy pain isn’t usually serious but is often due to gas and bloating. You can also get pain that feels like colic – waves of sharp pain that can stop and start suddenly and common causes of this abdominal pain are kidney stones and gallstones.

Doctor’s advice

Healthwords pharmacists' top tips

You can speak to your pharmacist about your abdominal pain, and they can advise you on what over-the-counter medications may help. These may include simple pain relief such as acetaminophen or some acid-neutralizing medication.

  • Antacids, such as calcium carbonate or magnesium hydroxide, are suitable for neutralizing stomach acid and alleviating indigestion or heartburn. 

  • Proton pump inhibitors (PPIs), including omeprazole or esomeprazole, are recommended for conditions like gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) due to their ability to inhibit stomach acid secretion.

  • Simethicone is a helpful option for individuals experiencing gas-related abdominal pain or bloating, as it aids in breaking down gas bubbles for easier elimination. 

  • Peppermint oil, known for its muscle relaxant effect on the gastrointestinal tract, may be considered for alleviating symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). 

It is crucial to adhere to recommended dosages and consult with a healthcare professional if the abdominal pain persists, worsens, or is accompanied by additional concerning symptoms. Additionally, individuals with pre-existing medical conditions or those taking other medications should seek guidance before using OTC treatments.

You can try these for a short period, such as one to two weeks, but if you find no improvement or your symptoms get worse, then you should see your doctor.

When should I see my doctor?

You should book a routine appointment with your doctor if the pain continues for more than one to two weeks without improvement or keeps coming back. Other reasons to speak to your doctor would be if you have lost weight unintentionally or if you have noticed mucus or blood in your stools.

If you have pain when passing urine, you should speak to your doctor on the day or the next day, as you may need a urine test and to start antibiotics for a urinary tract infection.

Reasons to seek medical attention via an urgent visit with your doctor or calling 911 would be if you have severe pain, you have a fever with your abdominal pain or you feel particularly unwell.

What will my doctor do?

Your doctor will ask you about your symptoms, your medical history, any relevant family medical history, and what medications you are currently taking. They will ask you detailed questions about the pain, such as what type of pain it is, how it started, and if it has moved anywhere or gotten worse. They will examine and feel your abdomen and may take your temperature, blood pressure, and pulse. Depending on what the doctor feels is the cause, they may do further tests such as blood tests or refer you for a scan of your abdomen.

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Dr Karen Martin
Reviewed by Dr Karen Martin
Reviewed on 19.10.2023
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