Healthdirect Free Australian health advice you can count on.

Medical problem? Call 1800 022 222. If you need urgent medical help, call triple zero immediately

healthdirect Australia is a free service where you can talk to a nurse or doctor who can help you know what to do.

Young woman resting on couch holding stomach due to abdominal pain.

Young woman resting on couch holding stomach due to abdominal pain.
beginning of content

Abdominal pain

9-minute read

If you have a sudden, severe, debilitating pain in your abdomen, go immediately to your nearest emergency department or call triple zero (000) and ask for an ambulance.

Key facts

  • Abdominal pain is pain felt anywhere between the bottom of the ribs and the pelvis.
  • It can be a dull ache or a crampy, sharp, burning or twisting feeling.
  • Abdominal pain usually goes away in a few days; it can also signal a more serious illness.
  • If you have abdominal pain, eat foods such as rice, dry toast or bananas.

What is abdominal pain?

Abdominal pain refers to cramps, a dull ache, or a sharp, burning or twisting pain in the belly (abdomen). Abdominal pain is also called stomach, belly, gut or tummy ache.

The abdomen holds major organs such as the stomach, large and small bowel, appendix, gall bladder, spleen, kidneys and pancreas. The body’s largest artery and largest vein also sit in the abdomen.

Abdominal pain can be very serious, but most abdominal pain is caused by a minor upset or stomach ‘bug’ and doesn’t last long. Minor abdominal pain is very common and people may experience stomach aches or cramps every few months or so. You can usually treat abdominal pain yourself and it will go away in a few days.

What are the characteristics of abdominal pain?

Abdominal pain may include any of the following, or a combination of these characteristics:

  • cramping
  • dull ache or sharp pain
  • burning pain
  • twisting pain
  • constant pain or intermittent pain
  • sudden onset or slow onset of pain
  • short lasting or long lasting pain
  • pain felt in the centre of the stomach
  • spreading to other areas of the stomach
  • spreading to the back, neck, shoulder or into the pelvis

CHECK YOUR SYMPTOMS — Use our abdominal pain Symptom Checker and find out if you need to seek medical help.

What causes abdominal pain?

Abdominal pain can be caused by any inflammation or disease that affects any of the organs or blood vessels in the abdomen.

The causes of abdominal pain can include:

  • gastroenteritis
  • food poisoning
  • constipation
  • acid reflux
  • ulcers
  • heartburn
  • trapped wind
  • gall stones
  • appendicitis
  • bowel obstruction
  • causes of heart pain

If you are experiencing abdominal pain, the exact location of the pain and any other symptoms you might have may suggest the cause.

If you feel pain right across your stomach area or low down, it’s probably coming from your bowel. You may also have bloating and wind. If your stomach cramps have started recently and you also have diarrhoea, the cause is probably gastroenteritis. If you are very ill — for example, with chills or a fever — you may have a more serious infection such as food poisoning.

If the pain is coming from higher up in your stomach, it could be caused by acid reflux or an ulcer. You might also have heartburn and belching, and the pain might be made worse, or relieved, by food.

If the pain is in the middle of your stomach and extends to your back, it could be a sign of gallstones. Pain in the lower right part of the stomach, along with fever, nausea and vomiting, could be appendicitis.

If the pain is made worse by exercise it could be heart pain. Read more in the chest pain section. If you are experiencing this type of pain, call triple (000) and ask for an ambulance.

Some medicines, such as aspirin and anti-inflammatory and anti-dementia drugs, can cause stomach pain as a side effect.

You can find more information about the underlying causes of abdominal pain here.

What causes abdominal pain in children?

Common causes of abdominal pain in children include:

  • gastroenteritis
  • constipation
  • appendicitis
  • an injury or pulled muscle caused by a direct blow or sporting injury
  • period (menstrual) pain in girls who have started having periods
  • nerves, excitement or worry
  • trapped wind
  • lower urinary tract problems, such as cystitis (as suggested by lower abdominal pain)

Most abdominal pain is mild and will go away without treatment after a few days. However, your child should see a doctor if the pain is severe or doesn’t go away, especially when they also have other symptoms, such as a fever. In this case, you should ensure they are monitored closely and they may need further medical assessment.

When should I see my doctor?

Sometimes, abdominal pain can signal something serious. You should see your doctor (GP) immediately or go to your nearest hospital emergency department if you:

  • have pain that is severe and is getting worse
  • have pain that spreads to your chest, neck or shoulders
  • have pain that lasts for several hours or longer
  • have pain and vaginal bleeding and you are pregnant
  • have pain in the scrotum
  • have pain and vomiting or shortness of breath
  • have pain and vomiting blood
  • have blood in bowel motions or urine
  • can’t pee (pass urine), do a poo (bowel motion) or fart (pass gas)
  • are experiencing vomiting that won’t go away

If you have a sudden, severe, debilitating pain in your abdomen, go to your nearest hospital emergency department or call triple zero (000) immediately and ask for an ambulance. It may be a sign of a serious illness that requires urgent treatment.

ASK YOUR DOCTOR — Preparing for an appointment? Use our Question Builder for general tips on what to ask your GP or specialist.

When should my child see a doctor?

Many children recover from abdominal pain quickly and don’t need to see a doctor.

Take your child to a doctor (GP) immediately or go to your nearest hospital emergency department if they:

  • are in pain that goes on for longer than 24 hours or if you’re worried about them
  • have pain that is severe or debilitating even though they have taken pain medicine
  • are hard to wake and are unwell
  • vomit for more than 24 hours, or they are unable to keep any fluids down, refusing to drink any fluids and their vomit is green
  • have blood in their poo or vomit
  • are having trouble doing a wee
  • have pain and lumps in the groin
  • were recently injured — for example, falling onto the handlebars of a bike

If your child is still a baby and they have fewer than 4 wet nappies per day, as well as their abdominal pain, you should take them to a doctor (GP) immediately or go to your nearest hospital emergency department.

FIND A HEALTH SERVICE — Our Service Finder can help you find doctors, pharmacies, hospitals and other health services.

How is the cause of abdominal pain diagnosed?

If you are experiencing abdominal pain, you will need a physical examination and possibly some tests to help your doctor diagnose the cause of the pain. The examination or tests you have will depend on what sort of pain you are experiencing, how long you have had it, and your gender. If you are female, the physical examination may include a pelvic exam and pregnancy test. If you are a male, the examination may include checking your penis and scrotum.

The most common tests include:

  • blood tests
  • urine tests
  • stool (poo) sample
  • x-rays or CT scans
  • ultrasound, in which a probe-like microphone is moved over your abdomen
  • endoscopy or colonoscopy, in which a long tube is put either down your mouth or into your back passage (anus), while you are under anaesthetic, so a doctor can see what your stomach and bowel look like

How can I treat abdominal pain?

If you have abdominal pain, keeping warm and placing a heat pack or hot water bottle on your stomach may help.

If your abdominal pain does not require you to stop eating and drinking, stay well hydrated by drinking plenty of clear, non-alcoholic fluids. If you have a medical condition that restricts your fluid intake, check with your doctor about how much fluid you can have.

Eat small meals and - foods such as rice, dry toast or bananas. Avoid spicy foods, alcohol and caffeine until 48 hours after the pain has gone away.

Several medicines can help if you have non-acute abdominal pain, including:

  • paracetamol to ease the pain (you should get medical advice before using other painkillers for abdominal pain)
  • charcoal tablets or similar for wind pain
  • medicines to ease spasms
  • medicines to stop diarrhoea

Avoid aspirin or anti-inflammatory medicines, such as ibuprofen and naproxen since these can irritate your stomach. A pharmacist can advise you about the most appropriate medicine for your abdominal pain.

In more serious cases, the treatment recommended will depend on the cause and severity of the abdominal pain, and how long you have had it. Treatment may include following a particular diet in the long term; getting more exercise; taking medicines; or having surgery.

Other questions you might have

When should you go to the hospital if you have abdominal pain?

If you have sudden, severe, debilitating pain in your abdomen, go to your nearest hospital emergency department or call triple zero (000) immediately and ask for an ambulance.

Why is my stomach tender when I push on it?

Your stomach could be tender for a number of reasons, including gastroenteritis, food poisoning, acid reflux, ulcers, heartburn, trapped wind, gallstones, appendicitis or heart pain.

What do upper and lower abdominal pain signify?

If the pain is coming from higher up in your stomach, it could be caused by acid reflux or an ulcer. You might also have heartburn and belching and the pain may either be made worse or relieved by food.

If you feel pain right across your stomach area or low down, it’s probably coming from your bowel. You may also have bloating and wind. If your stomach cramps have started recently and you also have diarrhoea, the cause is probably gastroenteritis. If you are very ill — for example, with chills or a fever — you may have a more serious condition, such as food poisoning.

Resources and support

If you need to know more about abdominal pain, or to get advice on what to do next, call Healthdirect on 1800 022 222 to speak with a registered nurse, 24 hours, 7 days a week.

Other languages

Health Translations - Abdominal pain

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: July 2019


Back To Top

Need more information?

These trusted information partners have more on this topic.

Top results

Abdominal Pain (Stomach Ache) | Sydney Children's Hospitals Network

What is it? Abdominal pain is very common in children and there are many causes

Read more on Sydney Children's Hospitals Network website

Abdominal pain in children - Better Health Channel

Children may feel stomach pain for a range of reasons and may need treatment

Read more on Better Health Channel website

Abdominal pain in adults - Better Health Channel

The type of pain felt in the abdomen can vary greatly.

Read more on Better Health Channel website

Familial Mediterranean fever: kids & teens | Raising Children Network

Familial Mediterranean fever is a rare autoinflammatory disorder. Symptoms include recurrent fever, abdominal pain, chest pain, joint pain and rash.

Read more on raisingchildren.net.au website

Amylase - Lab Tests Online AU

Why and when to get tested for amylase

Read more on Lab Tests Online AU website

Stomach pain: children and teenagers | Raising Children Network

‘I’ve got a sore tummy.’ Children often get stomach pain and it can have many different causes. Find out when to see a GP about your child’s stomach ache.

Read more on raisingchildren.net.au website

Lactose intolerance - Better Health Channel

Symptoms of lactose intolerance include bloating, gas, abdominal pain and diarrhoea.

Read more on Better Health Channel website

Diarrhoea - Lab Tests Online AU

Diarrhoea is gastrointestinal disturbance with frequent watery stools. Symptoms include abdominal pain, feeling sick and fatigue.

Read more on Lab Tests Online AU website

Irritable bowel syndrome: causes, symptoms and treatment - myDr.com.au

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a common disorder that causes symptoms such as abdominal pain, bloating and diarrhoea and/or constipation.

Read more on myDr website

Familial Mediterranean fever (children) — Arthritis Australia

Familial Mediterranean fever (FMF) is a disease that results in episodes of fever, abdominal pain, chest pain, joint pain and rashes

Read more on Arthritis Australia website

Healthdirect 24hr 7 days a week hotline

24 hour health advice you can count on

1800 022 222

Government Accredited with over 140 information partners

We are a government-funded service, providing quality, approved health information and advice

Australian Government, health department logo ACT Government logo New South Wales government, health department logo Northen Territory Government logo Government of South Australia, health department logo Tasmanian government logo Government of Western Australia, health department logo