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Abdominal pain

Dr Roger Henderson
Reviewed by Roger HendersonReviewed on 29.04.2024 | 3 minutes read

Abdominal pain (also known as stomach ache) is very common and has many causes. The majority are not caused by anything worrying and improve on their own or with simple over-the-counter treatment. The most common causes are trapped wind, indigestion or stomach irritation, and then constipation or conditions that cause diarrhoea 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 wind. 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 wind 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 paracetamol, or an acid neutralising medication known as an antacid. 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 you have noticed blood or mucus in your stools. If you have a fever over 100 degrees with pain, severe pain that’s getting worse, diarrhoea that lasts more than 5 days or if you feel generally very poorly you should also contact your doctor urgently or call NHS 111.

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.

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 got worse. They will examine and have a feel of 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 Roger Henderson
Reviewed by Roger Henderson
Reviewed on 29.04.2024
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