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Stomach Pain: When Should You See a Doctor?

Stomach Pain

Whether you call it a tummy ache, stomachache, or abdominal pain, everybody will experience discomfort in their belly region at some point. Despite the name stomachache, it could be lower abdominal pain, upper abdominal pain, or generalized pain.

Stomach pain could be caused by:

  • Digestive issues – like gas or constipation
  • Abdominal issues – like appendicitis or hernia
  • Pelvic problems – like urinary tract infection or endometriosis
  • Chest issues – like a heart attack or blood clots in the lungs

It can range from mild to severe, can come and go, can be long-term, and may or may not appear with other symptoms.

Because stomach pain can vary so much, it may not always be clear how to treat it. Home remedies and over-the-counter medications are popular for heartburn or indigestion, but how do you know if your pain is something more serious? How do you know when to call a doctor?

When To Call a Doctor

Most of the time, the cause of your stomach pain isn’t serious, and it will improve on its own. Or you may recognize the reason and treat it at home, like the pain of an upset stomach or heartburn.

But some types of pain point to the possibility of a more serious condition that requires medical treatment.

If you’re experiencing symptoms like the following with your pain, you should visit a healthcare provider.

Schedule an appointment with a physician if your stomach pain:

  • Occurs with a fever
  • Is significant and doesn’t improve in 24-28 hours
  • Worsens and occurs frequently
  • Occurs with bloating that lasts longer than two days
  • Occurs with diarrhea for more than five days
  • Happens with burning or pain while urinating
  • Occurs when you also have unexplained weight loss
  • Feels dull and is persistent stomach pain over one week

When to Seek Immediate Medical Attention

Severe abdominal pain may be an emergency. If your pain is sudden and severe, or if it occurs with any of the following, you should seek immediate medical attention:

  • Persistent vomiting and nausea
  • Constipation (especially with vomiting)
  • Vomiting blood
  • Bleeding from the bowels
  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
  • Severe tenderness when touching your abdomen
  • Yellowish skin and eyes
  • Abdominal swelling
  • Lasts for several days
  • If you are pregnant or think you might be

How To Describe Your Pain

Sometimes it can be challenging to describe the location and characteristics of the pain. However, describing your pain in detail can help your doctor narrow down possible causes. Although pain is subjective, there are common ways to describe different types of pain.

The National Institutes of Health recommends giving the following information to your healthcare provider. Consider keeping a pain journal so you remember:

  • How long your pain has lasted
  • Its location – left side, right side, upper, lower, or middle
  • If it stays in one place or radiates out
  • How it feels and how severe
  • If it’s constant or comes and goes
  • What makes it worse or better
  • How often it happens and for how long
  • How it limits or affects your life
  • Anything that seems to trigger it

Some common ways to describe how it feels are:

  • Aching
  • Burning
  • Cramping
  • Dull
  • Gnawing
  • Heavy
  • Hot or burning
  • Radiating
  • Sharp
  • Shooting
  • Splitting
  • Stabbing
  • Tender
  • Throbbing
  • Tiring or exhausting

Most everyone has experienced abdominal pain at some point and wondered if they should see a doctor or wait it out. In general, pain that is severe, doesn’t go away, or happens with other symptoms is pain you should get checked out. If you’re not sure, be cautious and call your doctor for advice.

Don’t just hope your stomach pain goes away on its own – schedule an appointment today!

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