Written by Ada’s Medical Knowledge Team
This article contains self-care information for the selected condition. If you have questions or need more comprehensive treatment advice, please consult a medical professional.
What is abdominal pain?
Abdominal pain – often called stomach ache – is a common condition that almost everyone experiences at some point in their life. That’s because there are many possible causes for abdominal pain. It can develop without a diagnosable underlying condition. However, it can also be caused by digestive problems, inflammations, or infections.
Abdominal pain can vary in intensity and people can experience it very differently. It is often linked to nausea, vomiting, or digestive problems. Virtually everyone can develop a stomach ache, but the condition is more common among young women.
A medical check-up can help to rule out other conditions as the cause of abdominal pain. However, in most cases it can be managed at home without outside intervention.
There are common home remedies for this condition like certain teas, massages, light exercise and a proper diet. If it is not caused by any other condition, abdominal pain usually subsides within a few hours.
If you have abdominal pain and want to learn more about possible causes, you can download the Ada App for a symptom assessment.
What are the causes of abdominal pain?
Abdominal pain without a specific cause
Most commonly, abdominal pain develops without a specific cause. In these cases, doctors cannot diagnose a specific condition. Often the stomach ache can be treated at home and subsides within a few hours.
Almost all people develop abdominal pain during their lifetime. This is not necessarily a sign of an underlying illness. However, if the pain is ongoing or frequently recurs, a doctor should be consulted to rule out other possible causes.
There’s a chance that abdominal pain can recur regularly over a period of more than 6 months without any identifiable cause. In that case, it’s possible that so-called functional abdominal pain has developed. 1
Conditions that can cause abdominal pain
Abdominal pain can be caused by various conditions, including:
- Gastrointestinal conditions, for example infections, inflammations or ulcers
- A variety of digestive problems
- Conditions affecting the liver, kidney, spleen, gallbladder, pancreas, appendix, bladder or the heart, lungs, or the spine
- Metabolic disorders
- Psychological or psychosomatic causes, for example anxiety or panic attacks
In case of doubt, a doctor should be consulted. 2
Abdominal pain after meals
Sometimes, abdominal pain develops immediately or several hours after a meal. In these cases there are often underlying digestive problems most frequently associated with fatty foods. This can lead to bloating in the intestines.
The following foods can cause digestive problems and abdominal pain:
- Raw vegetables
- Legumes like beans
- Broccoli or Brussels sprouts
- Large amounts of sweets
- Fatty meals like roasts.
Other causes for abdominal pain after meals are heartburn, gallstones, or food intolerances. These conditions need to be diagnosed by a medical expert.
What are symptoms of abdominal pain?
Abdominal pain is often accompanied by other symptoms, for example: 3
It is important to pay attention to where and when the pain occurs. This information can be helpful for doctors during an examination. 4
The answers to the following questions can be especially useful:
- Is the pain located in the upper or lower abdomen or around the navel?
- Is the pain moving or static?
- Does the pain feel sharp or pressing?
- Does the pain occur in the morning, evening, at night or only after meals?
Do these symptoms sound familiar? Try Ada to find out more.
How is abdominal pain diagnosed?
Like many kinds of pain, abdominal pain cannot be diagnosed through any kind of test. For most individuals, pain can vary greatly in its intensity. There are different methods to try and measure pain severity, for example through a scale from 0 (= no pain at all) to 10 (= worst pain imaginable). For abdominal pain it’s important to rule out other conditions as a cause.
How can abdominal pain be treated?
As a rule of thumb for abdominal pain self-care: If it feels good, it is good. Conversely, this implies: If it feels uncomfortable, it should be avoided.
Many people report, that some of these measures can help ease the pain: 5
- Calming teas, such as chamomile, aniseed, cumin or fennel
- Warmth, for example through a hot-water bottle or a cherry pit pillow
- Light exercise like a walk
- Plenty of rest
- Avoiding stress
- Plenty of fluids, especially if there is diarrhea
- Soft clockwise belly massages
- A relaxing atmosphere, for example through calming music
Proper diet with abdominal pain
Often, the right diet can help remedy abdominal pain. These healthy eating habits are recommended for people with stomach aches:
- Light, low-fat food
- Grated apples or bananas (no sour citrus fruits)
- Rusk, rice, and pasta
- Carrots, fennel, or pumpkin (steamed or cooked)
- As little dairy as possible
- Plenty of fluids (at least 1.5 liters per day for adults)
- No alcohol
Medication for abdominal pain
There are over-the-counter pain medications available at shops and pharmacies. These can often help ease abdominal pain. Pharmacists can also recommend additional herbal remedies. Mixes of various herbal extracts are very commonly used. 6 Probiotics can help develop a healthy gut flora. However, it is always important to read the patient information leaflet.
When should you go see a doctor?
Usually, abdominal pain is not a cause for concern. However, it might be a good idea to address your problems during the next visit to the doctor’s.
A doctor should be consulted if the abdominal pain: 3
- Becomes more severe
- Becomes unbearable
- Recurs frequently
- Remains longer than two days
Abdominal pain as an emergency
If the abdominal pain is accompanied by other severe problems like shortness of breath, disturbance of consciousness, or bleeding, you should make an emergency call.
How can abdominal pain be prevented?
There is no universal method to prevent abdominal pain. But there are different approaches based on an individual’s personal situation and underlying causes of the pain.
Many people suggest, that these methods can help prevent abdominal pain:
- A balanced diet
- Awareness of allergies and food intolerance
- Stress avoidance
- Fewer alcoholic drinks and tobacco products
- Regular exercise or long walks
- Consistent treatment of known conditions
Can abdominal pain be cured?
If abdominal pain is not caused by an underlying condition, it generally subsides after a few hours without additional treatment. Most conditions that cause abdominal pain are easy to treat. If the pain becomes intense or remains for a long time, a doctor should be consulted. Proper treatment can effectively ease the pain.