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The Many, Many Causes of “Stomach” Pain

Think about all the organs, muscles, blood vessels and tissue that are in the area we all commonly call our “stomach” (even though we know it’s a lot more than that): Your liver, spleen, diaphragm, bowels, sex organs, and more. Really, it’s at least a third of your body. An injury, infection or disease to any one of these areas can cause pain of varying degree. Most of those don’t require a trip to the emergency room. But here are a few that might:

  • Heart attack
  • Indigestion
  • Acid reflux
  • Constipation
  • Diarrhea
  • Food poisoning
  • Stomach virus
  • Ectopic pregnancy
  • Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
  • Inflammatory bowel disease
  • Ulcer
  • Hernia
  • Gallstones
  • Appendicitis
  • Pancreatitis
  • Lactose intolerance
  • Gluten intolerance
  • Diverticulitis
  • Muscle strain
  • Menstrual cramps
  • Endometriosis
  • Urinary tract infection
  • Thyroid problems
  • Stress
  • Hepatitis
  • Pelvic inflammatory disease
  • Ovarian cysts
  • Bowel obstruction
  • Abdominal aortic aneurysm
  • Ischemic bowel
  • Cancer

What Will the ER Team Want to Know About Your Stomach Pain?

Here are some questions you should be prepared to answer if you head to the ER with stomach pain:

  • How did the pain begin, what were you doing?
  • Is the pain steady/constant? Or does it come and go?
  • Have you had similar pain before?
  • Is the pain in one place or does it move?
  • What makes it worse (e.g., sneezing, coughing)?
  • What makes it better (e.g., lying still, changing position, vomiting, taking antacids)?
  • What is the frequency of nausea or diarrhea, if any?
  • Did you take any medications to relieve the symptoms? What medications did you take and at what time? What was the dose of the medication?
  • Did you take anything for these symptoms? If so, what amount?
  • Do you have blood in your urine or stool?
  • Are you pregnant?

What Tests May Be Used to Evaluate Abdominal Pain?

Diagnosing the causes of stomach pain starts with the typical battery of blood tests and physical exams (including a pregnancy test and pelvic exam for women). It all depends on your symptoms and what doctors find from their exams. Testing may also include:

  • X-ray
  • Ultrasound
  • CAT scan
  • MRI
  • Endoscopy