Go with your gut—never ignore stomach pain

Almost everyone experiences stomach pain at some point. In most cases, the cause of the pain is something relatively simple such as constipation or excess gas. However, some stomach pain could indicate a more serious condition. It may be hard to tell the difference between stomach pain that will resolve on its own, and something more serious.

Serious causes of stomach pain

Stomach pain may come on suddenly or happen gradually. Severe causes of stomach pain will not resolve without medical treatment and should not be ignored. In some cases, stomach pain can indicate a life-threatening condition.

Serious causes of stomach pain include:

Appendicitis (middle and lower right belly pain)

Inflammation of your appendix can happen for no known reason. It will likely cause sudden, severe pain in the middle and lower right of your abdomen. Other symptoms of appendicitis include chills, fever and pain that get rapidly worse. If you have appendicitis, your appendix needs to be surgically removed before it bursts.

Ectopic pregnancy

An ectopic pregnancy happens when the fertilized egg attaches itself in the fallopian tube or another place other than inside the uterus. An ectopic pregnancy requires surgery because the growing tissue may cause life-threatening bleeding.


Gallstones formed in your gallbladder can cause swelling and even block the bile duct into the small intestine, causing severe pain. If you have gallstones, you need to eliminate fatty, greasy foods, which typically cause pain and discomfort. You may also need surgery to remove your gallbladder.


An abdominal hernia happens when an organ pushes through an opening in the muscle or tissue of the abdominal wall. This may cause pain when you cough, bend over or lift a heavy object. Hernias need to be surgically repaired because there is a risk that part of your intestine could become trapped within the hernia and cause a life-threatening situation.

Intestinal obstruction

Intestinal obstruction happens when something blocks food or liquid from passing through your intestines. If left untreated intestinal obstruction can cause infection or tissue death within your intestines. Some intestinal blockages can be treated with IV fluids and resting the intestines (not eating). More severe cases require surgery.


Pancreatitis or inflammation of the pancreas is caused by drinking too much alcohol or gallbladder problems. If you have pancreatitis, you may have burning pain in your middle or upper abdomen, nausea and vomiting. If pancreatitis causes severe pain, and you cannot eat, you may be treated with IV fluids.

When to call the doctor

Stomach pain should never be ignored. If you are experiencing mild to moderate stomach pain, keep a food diary and record any symptoms. This will help your doctor with the diagnosis.

Call the doctor right away if your stomach pain is so severe that you can’t move or if you have any of the following symptoms:

  • Blood in stools
  • Chills
  • Fever
  • Problems urinating

These may be signs of a condition that needs urgent treatment.