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All you need to know about stomach ache

All you need to know about stomach ache

Pain in the abdomen could be due to indigestion or be indicative of serious conditions such as appendicitis or cancer. Here’s what to look out for

Pain in the abdomen could be due to indigestion or be indicative of serious conditions such as appendicitis or cancer

Most cases of pain in the abdomen subside on their own with minimal medical intervention. However, stomach ache could also be indicative of a serious ailment. For instance, a pain in the upper left side of the abdomen, radiating from the chest, could be a symptom of a heart attack, and timely diagnosis and intervention is paramount.

From intermittent to intense and sudden (acute) pain, to a dull ache which refuses to subside (chronic), tummy pain varies in severity and location depending on the ailment.

“People with stomach pain may describe it as a burning, twisting, sharp or dull pain,” says Dr Sivagnanam, a general physician based in Chennai. “If the pain is generalised, it’s usually not a serious problem, unless it’s acute and getting worse. The most common cause for stomach pain is gastritis, where the pain is just above the navel, while if the pain is localised to the lower part of the abdomen (pelvic region), it could be problem with the bladder or uterus such as endometriosis or ovarian cysts.”

Causes for abdominal pain

  • Indigestion/bloating and gastric issues: Overeating, not eating on time and consuming oversaturated, high-fat and spicy foods can lead to indigestion and gas formation in the abdomen. Acid reflux can also lead to pain. 
  • Gastrointestinal (GI) disorders: Diverticulitis, an inflammation of small pouches that form in the lining of the digestive tract (mostly in the colon), and ulcerative colitis, another GI tract disorder. 
  • Stomach flu (gastroenteritis): Severe pain, nausea and diarrhoea are symptoms of infection of the intestines by a virus or bacteria. 
  • Menstrual cramps: Severe pain in the pelvic region during menstruation. 
  • Peptic/gastric ulcers: Sores on the lining of the stomach and upper portion of the small intestine due to excessive production of acid in the digestive tract. 
  • Irritable Bowel Syndrome: IBS is a chronic condition of the GI tract that is usually triggered by certain food or stress. 
  • Food poisoning/allergies: Acute abdominal pain as adverse reaction to certain food. 
  • Appendicitis: Inflammation and infection of the appendix, a vestigial organ attached to the colon, which leads to severe pain and pus formation. 
  • Kidney stones/gallstones: Kidney stones are formed when certain impurities in the blood get crystallised. Mostly they get passed out with urine but can cause pain. Gallstones are solidified deposits of bile in the gallbladder. 
  • Hernia: When abdominal muscles get weakened, certain tissues and organs may push through the affected muscles causing a hernia. 
  • Endometriosis and ovarian cysts: Endometriosis occur when the tissue that forms the lining of the uterus (endometrial tissue) grows outside the uterine cavity. Ovarian cysts are fluid-filled sacs within or on the surface of an ovary. Most cysts are harmless but large ones can lead to complications. 
  • Inflamed pancreas: It can lead to acute and severe abdominal pain, vomiting and fever. 
  • Hepatitis: This is a group of infections that causes inflammation of the liver. 
  • Abdominal injury: Trauma to the abdominal area including injury to internal organs during an accident or a fall. 
  • Stress: When the pain is generalised and is not because of indigestion, it may be due to stress. 
  • Heart problems: Pain in the chest that radiates towards the abdomen is a symptom of heart attack. 
  • Cancer of the colon/pancreas/gallbladder/liver/uterus: Malignancy or tumour in the GI tract or organs in the digestive and pelvic region can cause chronic or sudden abdominal pain.

Diagnosis and treatment for stomach ache

A thorough physical examination, with blood test and imaging if needed, will help the doctor make the right diagnosis.

“If the pain is localised to a particular area in the stomach, it could indicate an underlying condition that needs emergency diagnosis and treatment,” says Dr Sivagnanam. “First, we do a physical examination to find out which part of the abdomen is paining as each area signifies a different pathology. If the patient is able to localise the pain, then doctors will check where it’s coming from, how long it has lasted, how severe is the pain and if the intensity is increasing. It’s important to note if the abdominal pain is accompanied by symptoms such as fever and nausea, and whether the patient has other comorbidities such as diabetes or high blood pressure.”

If the stomach pain is due to indigestion or gastric issues, antacids, rest and diet restrictions may be enough. For infections, the doctor may prescribe medications. Conditions such as appendicitis, severe pancreatitis and advanced cancers may need surgery. 

Managing abdominal pain

  • Rest and give your bowel time to recover.
  • Minimise food intake and consume easily digestible food.
  • Keep taking fluids to stay hydrated.
  • In cases such as menstrual cramps, keeping a hot water bag in the pelvic region helps.
  • If the pain worsens or does not resolve in one or two days, consult your doctor. 

Tips to reduce stomach ache

  1. Eat meals on time, avoid overeating. Drink at least four to five litres of water daily.
  2. Consume a fibre-rich diet with seasonal fruits and vegetables. Include food which promote good gut bacteria (curd, etc).
  3. Stay active and exercise regularly.
  4. Minimise intake of tea/coffee and alcohol.
  5. Avoid overuse of medications, especially painkillers.
  6. Avoid foods that can trigger an allergy or IBS. Be careful of food choices while travelling.
  7. Minimise stress and employ relaxation techniques. 


  • Severe and lingering abdominal pain could be an indicator of underlying health conditions.
  • Causes of abdominal pain include indigestion, gastrointestinal disorders, gastroenteritis, menstrual cramps and serious ailments like cancer.

A thorough physical examination, blood test and even imaging can be employed to diagnose the underlying cause of abdominal pain.

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