What Your Stomach Pain Could be Telling You

“It must have been something I ate”, is usually the first reaction we have when our stomachs hurt.

While a recent meal may indeed be the culprit, the cause of abdominal discomfort can be as simple as a digestive problem caused by overeating, eating too late at night, having too much fat in one’s diet, an allergy or intolerance to lactose, fructose and/or gluten. Whether it’s mild abdominal discomfort, cramping or severe abdominal pain there can be many causes.

We spoke with Dr. Judith Genova, Nurse Practitioner with Shore Physicians Group who has been treating patients with gastrointestinal problems for 15 years. As Dr. Genova explained, most causes of abdominal discomfort lasting 12-24 hours are not worrisome and are often associated with stomach virus, indigestion, constipation, food allergies/intolerance or gas.

However, it becomes important to seek medical advice from a health care provider when any of the following conditions occur:

  • Severe abdominal pain lasting more than a few hours and associated with fever
  • Inability to keep food or liquids down for 2 days
  • Inability to urinate or have a bowel movement

There are many causes of abdominal pain including irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), gallstones, kidney stones, appendicitis, diverticulitis, gastroesophageal reflux, Crohn’s disease, or in the case of women, endometriosis. When being evaluated for abdominal pain a health care provider will ask questions and perform a thorough physical examination. Patients may be asked to describe their pain (dull/stabbing/cramping/burning). Other questions relating to abdominal pain may include: is pain associated with eating, is it more noticeable in morning or evening, what eases the pain, and how long has pain been occurring? Based upon patient response to questions and physical examination, testing might be recommended. Diagnostic tests that aid in determining the cause of abdominal pain include: blood, urinalysis, stool samples, x-ray, ultrasound or CT scan.

Based upon testing, symptoms and physical examination, your health care provider may refer you to a gastroenterologist for further evaluation with colonoscopy and/or endoscopy.

Symptoms such as uncontrollable vomiting, vomiting blood, black/tarry/bloody bowel movements and/or skin yellow cannot be ignored. Any of these symptoms could signal a serious health problem that would require immediate evaluation and treatment by an emergency room physician.