Woman on the couch feeling severe stomach pain symptoms

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? Dennis Han, MD, a gastroenterologist at Summit Health explains what everyone should know about the many causes of belly woes and when your pain may be a sign of a more serious concern. If you experience any of these stomach pain red flags walk right into your neighborhood CityMD 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 like Dr. Han 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,” explains Dr. Han.

  • 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. You can walk into a neighborhood CityMD for an evaluation anytime or make an appointment with a gastroenterologist.

A thorough 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

“Don’t wait if you have severe symptoms,” says Dr. Han. 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


Summit Health gastroenterologists can help. If you are experiencing abdominal distress or other digestive issues, make an appointment for an evaluation. And if you need immediate care walk into your neighborhood CityMD urgent care for evaluation and treatment.

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