Abdominal pain

Pain in your abdomen (stomach or puku) is common. It's important to know what to do and when you need to see a doctor.

On this page, you can find the following information:

Your abdomen is the part of your body between the bottom of your ribs and the top of your hips. It often gets called your stomach, tummy or puku, but there's a number of other organs in that area too.

Most pain in this part of your body will pass quickly and can be treated at home by yourself or with medication from your pharmacist. This includes when you have:

  • a burning pain or discomfort after eating (indigestion)
  • feeling bloated (trapped wind)
  • constipation (can’t poo).

How can you manage your abdominal pain at home?

If your abdominal pain is mild, and there are no concerning symptoms, these tips may help:

  • drink plenty of water
  • try a heat pack or hot water bottle where it hurts, or have a warm bath
  • take paracetamol to ease pain
  • do NOT take aspirin or anti-inflammatory drugs (such as ibuprofen) unless advised to as these can make abdominal pain worse
  • avoid alcohol, tea and coffee
  • rest your gut by not eating for a few hours, then start again when you feel better on bland foods (such as rice, crackers, bananas or toast)
  • lie down and rest
  • if constipated, read more about what you can do
  • ask your pharmacist about medicines to ease wind, spasms or to stop diarrhoea
  • tell your doctor if your medication causes indigestion, constipation or diarrhoea.

Image credit: Canva


 Contact your family doctor or call Healthline (0800 611 116) if:
  • your pain is no better after 2 hours of home care
  • your abdomen is very painful, eg, if you can’t walk or need to walk bent over, or feel you need to hold your tummy all the time
  • your pain gets worse over time, or becomes sharper or stronger in one place
  • your abdomen feels bloated or sticks out more than usual
  • you have diabetes and are vomiting
  • you can’t stop vomiting
  • you haven’t had a bowel motion (poo) for 3 days
  • you have lost your appetite
  • there is blood in your vomit, urine (pee) or bowel motion, or vaginal bleeding that isn’t a period
  • you have other symptoms as well, such as fever or dizziness, especially if they get worse or new symptoms develop.
Call 111 and ask for an ambulance or go to your nearest hospital if you:
  • have sudden, severe stomach or abdominal pain
  • have pain when you touch your abdomen
  • are vomiting blood or a ground coffee-like substance
  • have bloody or black, sticky poo
  • collapse, or become pale and clammy
  • are finding it hard to breathe
  • can’t pee
  • have any tightness or heaviness in your chest
  • find the pain spreads up to your chest, neck or shoulder.

What causes abdominal pain?

It can be difficult to know what is causing pain in your abdomen, and often the pain settles without knowing what caused it or needing any treatment.

Some causes of sudden, severe abdominal pain include:

Some causes of long-term or recurring abdominal pain include:

If your child has a sore stomach or abdominal pain, see gastroenteritis in childrenconstipation in children and vomiting in children.

How is abdominal pain diagnosed?

As well as asking where the pain is, your doctor will ask you to describe your pain, so notice whether it's sharp, stabbing, cramping or a dull ache. Also, notice whether the pain is there all the time or if it comes and goes in waves.

Your doctor will also ask if the pain came on suddenly (acute), or whether you have had it for a while (chronic). They will also want to know if you have been sick (vomited) or had diarrhoea (watery, runny poo).

Depending on what they think is causing your abdominal pain, they may want to do further tests.

What is the treatment for abdominal pain?

Often abdominal pain will settle with simple self-care tips such as taking paracetamol, rest and treat any constipation. If not settling, review the sections above as more specific treatment will depend on the cause of the abdominal pain. Once you know the cause of your pain, you can find out more on the page for that condition.

Support

If you know the condition causing your abdominal pain, you can go to the Health Navigator page for that condition to find out what support is available to you.

Call Healthline phone 0800 611 116 for free advice from registered nurses 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, if you are unsure about what to do.

How can I prevent abdominal pain?

  • You can keep your gut healthy by eating lots of fruit and vegetables, as well as other foods high in fibre, such as whole grains and legumes. Find out more about healthy eating
  • You can reduce the chance of food poisoning and gut infections by following food safety practices and keeping your hands clean.
  • Find out about preventing specific conditions by linking on the related topics and links in the list of causes above.

Learn more

Abdominal pain Patient Info, UK, 2015
Abdominal pain in adults Better Health, Australia, 2012
Beat the bloat NHS Choices, UK, 2016
Flatulence NHS Choices, UK, 2015

References

  1. Abdominal pain Ministry of Health
  2. Abdominal pain and stomach ache NHS Choices, UK, accessed Nov 2016. 
  3. Hunt, R et al. Coping with common gastrointestinal symptoms in the community – a global perspective on heartburn, constipation, bloating, and abdominal pain/discomfort May 2013, WHIO Guideline. Journal of Clinical Gastroenterology, August 2014, 48, 7: 567–578. 
  4. Manterola C, Vial M, Moraga J, Astudillo P. Analgesia in patients with acute abdominal pain. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2011, Issue 1. Art. No. CD005660.

Information for healthcare providers

Urgent or easily missed causes of acute abdominal pain Patient Info, UK, 2015 
Colonoscopy should not be considered as a first line of investigation with isolated abdominal pain NZMA 2013
Managing pain in children aged under 12 years BPAC, NZ, 2014 
Abdominal pain in childhood Starship clinical guidelines, NZ

Also see Health Navigator Clinicians pages for dyspepsiaconstipationdiverticular disease and diverticulitisappendicitisirritable bowel syndromekidney stonesgallstonesurinary tract infection (UTI),pelvic inflammatory diseasedysmenorrhoeagastroenteritisCrohn's diseaseulcerative colitiscoeliac diseaselactose intolerancepeptic ulcer. 

Credits: Health Navigator Editorial Team. Reviewed By: Dr Ruth Large, Waikato DHB, May 2017. Latest review by Dr Janine Bycroft Last reviewed: 31 Aug 2022