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What causes abdominal pain?

There are many different causes of abdominal pain. Some cause short-term pain, some cause long-term pain or pain that comes and goes (recurring pain) and others cause sudden and severe pain.

Short-term abdominal pain

Among the most common causes of stomach cramps are trapped wind and bloating, which can be embarrassing, but are easily dealt with. Your chemist can recommend a product, such as charcoal tablets, which can be bought over the counter to relieve the wind.

If your stomach cramps are accompanied by diarrhoea, the cause is probably gastroenteritis. This is 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 also usually gets better on its own without treatment.

Long-term or recurring abdominal pain

Common causes of long-term or recurrent abdominal pain in adults include:

  • irritable bowel syndrome – a condition where the muscle of the bowel wall tends to spasm (tighten); pain is often relieved when you go to the toilet
  • a urinary tract infection that keeps returning
  • a peptic ulcer – an open sore that develops on the inside lining of your stomach or duodenum (upper small intestine)
  • constipation
  • heartburn and reflux – stomach acid leaks from the stomach and up into the oesophagus (the tube that runs from the mouth to the stomach)
  • period pain – crampy abdominal pain occurring in a menstrual cycle.

Sudden and severe abdominal pain

There are a number of conditions that cause severe and sudden pain, including:

  • a perforated peptic ulcer – an open sore that develops on the inside lining of your stomach or duodenum (upper small intestine) that has broken through the lining
  • gallstones – small stones that form in the gallbladder
  • appendicitis – inflammation of the appendix. Appendicitis is a medical emergency, and your doctor will refer you to hospital immediately
  • gastroenteritis – an infection of the stomach and bowel
  • kidney stones – stones of calcium and other matter that form in the kidney
  • diverticulitis – inflammation of the small pouches that are part of the bowel
  • bleeding aneurysm – the aorta, which is the main artery from the heart, leaks.

If you have sudden, agonising pain in your belly, seek medical help immediately by either calling your doctor, going to your nearest emergency department or call an ambulance on triple zero (000). It may be a sign of a serious illness that requires urgent treatment.

See your doctor if

  • The pain quickly gets much worse
  • It won’t go away or keeps returning
  • You are losing weight unexpectedly
  • You have an unusual discharge from the vagina
  • You are bleeding from your bottom
  • There is a persistent change in your toilet habits

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: August 2017

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Parenting and Child Health - Health Topics - Abdominal pain (stomach ache)

Children often complain of stomach ache (pain in the tummy). It can be a sign of illness, but often a child will have pain, but not be unwell.

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

Abdominal pain is very common in children and there are many causes. Most abdominal pain is not due to a serious illness, and children usually get better on their own.

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Stomach pain: children and teenagers | Raising Children Network

Ive 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 childs stomach ache.

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Abdominal pain in adults - Better Health Channel

Serious causes of abdominal pain include appendicitis and pregnancy problems. However, most abdominal pain is harmless and goes away without surgery.

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Abdominal Pain | myVMC

Abdominal pain is a very common medical condition that can either be acute or chronic in nature. Basically it refers to pain that is felt within the abdomen which is the region of the body bounded by the ribs superiorly and the pelvis below.

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Pregnancy: Abdominal Pain | myVMC

Abdominal pain is a common symptom seen in pregnancy, and has many different causes. It may result from obstetric or gynaecologic disorders related to the pregnancy, or it may be due to other causes not related to the pregnancy.

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Abdominal pain in children - Better Health Channel

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

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Symptoms in Pregnancy | myVMC

Symptoms commonly experienced during pregnancy include abdominal pain, vaginal bleeding, nausea and vomiting and weight gain.

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Pancreatitis (Chronic) | myVMC

Chronic pancreatitis refers to hardening and inflammation of the pancreas. It is associated with excessive alcohol consumption and causes abdominal pain.

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Appendicitis | myVMC

Appendicitis is the sudden onset of inflammation of the appendix, which is a small, finger-shaped blind-ending sac that branches off the first part of the large intestine. Except for a hernia, acute appendicitis is the most common cause in the USA of an attack of severe, acute abdominal pain that requires abdominal operation. It is the most common cause of intra-abdominal infection in developed countries.

Read more on myVMC – Virtual Medical Centre website

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