Abdominal Pain

Abdominal pain is common. Episodes often stem from overeating or eating too much of a certain type of food. Sometimes a viral or bacterial infection (gastroenteritis) is responsible. In other cases, the pain may be an early warning sign of something more serious. But, you can't always judge the severity of its cause by how much pain you feel. Cramping from a viral infection or simple gas can cause severe pain, while potentially life-threatening problems, such as colon cancer or appendicitis, may cause little or no pain initially.

Where does it hurt?
The number of organs in your abdomen and the complex signals they send can make it tough to pinpoint the cause of abdominal pain. Sometimes, the location of your pain can help narrow the list. But, it's very difficult to know the cause of the abdominal pain solely by its location, even for an experienced doctor.

Navel area
Pain near your bellybutton can be related to a small intestine disorder or an inflammation of your appendix (appendicitis).

The appendix is a small, finger-shaped pouch that projects out from your colon on the lower right side of your abdomen. If it gets obstructed, it may become inflamed and filled with pus. Without treatment, an infected appendix can burst and cause a serious infection (peritonitis). In addition to abdominal pain, appendicitis may cause nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite, fever, and the urge to pass gas or have a bowel movement.

Upper middle abdomen
The epigastric area — directly above the navel in the upper middle section of the abdomen — is where you might feel pain associated with stomach disorders. Persistent pain in this area may also signal a problem with your pancreas or gallbladder.

Upper left abdomen
It's uncommon to experience pain here. When you do, it may suggest a stomach, colon, spleen or pancreas problem.

Upper right abdomen
Intense pain in the upper right abdomen is often related to inflammation of the gallbladder. The pain may extend to the center of your abdomen and penetrate to your back. Occasionally, an inflamed pancreas, colon or duodenum can cause pain in this area as well.

Lower middle abdomen
Pain below the navel that spreads to either side may signify a colon disorder. Pain in this area may also be a symptom of kidney stones or a urinary tract infection. For women, pain in this area may also indicate pelvic inflammatory disease.

Lower left abdomen
Pain here often suggests a problem in the lower colon, where food waste is expelled. Possible causes include inflammatory bowel disease or an infection in the colon known as diverticulitis.

Migrating pain
Abdominal pain has the unusual ability to travel along deep nerve pathways and emerge at sites away from the source of the problem. Pain related to gallbladder inflammation, for example, can spread to your chest and your right shoulder. Pain from a pancreas disorder may radiate up between your shoulder blades. This is often called "referred pain."

Alternatively, abdominal pain may be referred pain from another condition, such as a heart attack or pneumonia.

Managing the pain
For mild abdominal pain caused by something you ate, it may help to sip water or suck on ice chips. When you feel better, try small amounts of bland foods, such as toast, applesauce or bananas. If stomach acid is an issue, an antacid may help.