What Does Your Stomach Pain Mean?

Most of us have experienced a garden variety stomachache — either from overeating, gas, or a meal that just didn’t sit quite right. This type of belly pain usually passes with time, rest, or the help of an over-the-counter digestive aid.

But what if your stomach pain continues or becomes unusually intense? If you experience any of these stomach pain red flags, head to your nearest Summit Health urgent care for an immediate evaluation and treatment.


Causes of abdominal pain 

While we commonly call it “stomach pain” it is more accurately referred to as abdominal pain, since causes of pain in the belly can come from the stomach or other organs in the abdomen.  Some of the most common reasons for abdominal pain include irritable bowel syndrome, viral gastroenteritis (also known as a stomach bug), stomach ulcers, appendicitis, gallbladder disease/gallstones, and food allergies. There are many clues that help lead physicians to the right diagnosis. The more specific you can be in describing your pain, the easier it is to get to the root of the problem.

Abdominal pain can vary in location, onset, duration, frequency, and quality. For example, you may only feel discomfort on one side of your abdomen, the pain may come and go throughout the day, and you might describe it as stabbing, achy, or dull.


Types of stomach pain

Knowing the time of onset, location, and how long you have had abdominal pain are important features to help determine its possible causes and method of treatment.

  • Acute pain develops suddenly and lasts only for a few hours or days. It could mean anything from food poisoning to appendicitis.
  • Chronic pain typically lasts for more than three months and can be either constant or reoccurring. This is often a sign of a chronic condition like irritable bowel syndrome or inflammatory bowel disease.
  • Progressive pain steadily worsens over time and is usually accompanied by other symptoms such as bloody stools or weight loss. It generally points to a more serious problem like a bleeding stomach ulcer or underlying illness.


When should you visit a gastroenterologist?

If you have chronic symptoms, including pain that is waking you up at night, bowel changes such as constipation or diarrhea, repeated episodes of nausea and vomiting, or unintentional weight loss, talk to a doctor.

A through history and physical examination are needed to help formulate a diagnosis. Your doctor may also recommend bloodwork, imaging studies, and endoscopy/colonoscopy. Each individual situation is different. Your provider will determine what tests can help evaluate your symptoms and what course of treatment is right for you.


Red flags for stomach pain: seek immediate care at a CityMD near you

Seek immediate medical attention if you experience any of the following:

  • Severe abdominal pain
  • Recurrent episodes of vomiting
  • Abdominal distension including bloating or swelling of the belly that is painful or won’t go down.
  • Signs of gastrointestinal bleeding including blood in your vomit or stool, and black-tarry stools
  • Signs of shock including elevated heart rate, low blood pressure, and confusion