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Abdominal pain usually refers to cramps or a dull ache in the belly.

Abdominal pain usually refers to cramps or a dull ache in the belly.
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Abdominal pain

Abdominal pain, often known as stomach, belly or tummy ache, usually refers to cramps or a dull ache in the belly (abdomen). It's usually short-lived and caused by a minor upset or stomach bug.

What is abdominal pain?

Stomach cramps are often due to bloating and trapped wind. This is an extremely common problem that can be embarrassing but is easily dealt with; your pharmacist can recommend an over the counter product to relieve the wind.

If your stomach cramps have started recently and you also have diarrhoea, the cause is probably gastroenteritis. This means you have a viral or bacterial infection of the stomach and bowel which your immune system will usually fight off after a few days.

Severe stomach cramps and diarrhoea that make you feel very ill (for example, causing chills or a fever) could be due to a more serious infection, such as food poisoning. This will usually get better on its own without treatment.

You should consider seeing your doctor if:

  • the pain is severe and getting worse
  • you are losing weight
  • you are bleeding from the bowel
  • you have difficulty swallowing
  • you are vomiting persistently
  • you have a fever
  • your skin looks yellow
  • it hurts when you touch your abdomen
  • your stomach is swollen
  • you have difficulty swallowing.

If you have sudden, agonising pain in a particular area of your belly, seek medical help immediately. It may be a sign of a serious illness, such as appendicitis, that will rapidly get worse without treatment.

If you feel pain higher up, in the area above your ribs, read more in the chest pain section.

Some medicines, such as aspirin and anti-inflammatory and anti-dementia drugs, can cause stomach pain as a side effect. If you suspect this is the case, then consult a pharmacist or your doctor for a review of your medicines.

Abdominal pain in children

Abdominal pain can be caused by a number of things and can range from mild discomfort to severe pain. Common causes of abdominal pain in children include:

  • gastroenteritis
  • an injury or pulled muscle caused by a direct blow or sporting injury
  • menstrual (period) pain in girls who have started their 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 clear up without treatment in a few days. Severe or persistent pain, especially when your child has other symptoms, such as a fever, requires close monitoring and may need further medical assessment.

Not sure what to do next?

If you are still concerned about your abdominal pain, why not use healthdirect's online Symptom Checker to get advice on when to seek medical attention.

The Symptom Checker guides you to the next appropriate healthcare steps, whether it’s self-care, talking to a health professional, going to a hospital or calling triple zero (000).

Last reviewed: July 2017

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