Pain in your abdomen (stomach or puku) is common. It can be hard to know what's causing it and many people never find out the exact cause. The important thing is knowing when and how you can take care of your symptoms at home and when you need to see a doctor.
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).
|See your family doctor or call HealthLine (0800 611 116) if:|
|Call 111 and ask for an ambulance if you:|
What are the causes of 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.
Causes of sudden, severe abdominal pain include:
- gastroenteritis (tummy bug) from an infection, virus or food poisoning
- gallbladder problems (eg gallstones)
- diverticular disease and diverticulitis
- acute pancreatitis or chronic pancreatitis
- a peptic ulcer in your stomach or duodenum
- heart or lung problems such as angina or heart attack
- urinary tract problems such as kidney stones or urinary tract infection (UTI)
- pelvic problems such as ectopic pregnancy, ovarian cysts
- trauma or injury such as a muscle strain.
Causes of long-term or recurring abdominal pain include:
- indigestion or wind (flatulence)
- irritable bowel syndrome
- Crohn's disease or ulcerative colitis
- lactose intolerance or coeliac disease
- period pain
- side effects from medications (aspirin, iron supplements, antibiotics, pain-relief medicines and more)
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?
The 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.
What self-care is there to relieve abdominal pain?
If your abdominal pain is mild, and there are no concerning symptoms, you can take care of yourself and reduce pain and discomfort by:
- drinking plenty of water
- putting a heat pack or hot water bottle where it hurts, or having a warm bath
- taking paracetamol to ease pain, but not aspirin or anti-inflammatory drugs, unless advised to do so by a doctor, as these can make abdominal pain worse
- avoiding alcohol, tea and coffee
- avoiding eating, and then starting again when you feel better on bland foods (such as rice, crackers, bananas or toast)
- lying down and resting
- asking your pharmacist about medicines to ease wind, spasms or to stop diarrhoea
- telling your doctor if your medication causes indigestion, constipation or diarrhoea.
If you know the cause of 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, seven 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.
- Abdominal pain Ministry of Health
- Abdominal pain and stomach ache NHS Choices, UK, accessed Nov 2016.
- 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.
- 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.