Abdominal Pain (Belly ache)

What is abdominal pain?

Abdominal (belly) pain can occur anywhere between the chest and groin. It may be continuous or come and go. Abdominal pain can be short-lived (acute) or occur over weeks, months, or years (chronic). We will focus on the basics of acute abdominal pain in this article.

How bad is my acute abdominal pain?

Your clinic team will use this scale (see figure on right) to measure how bad your pain is.

Visual analogue scale for pain assessment
Scale used to measure pain

Mild: Pain score of 3 or less on the VAS scale. This pain should not stop you from doing activities of daily life (like grocery shopping, laundry, cooking).

Moderate: Pain score of 4 to 6. This pain stops you from doing instrumental activities of daily life (preparing meals, managing money, shopping, doing housework, and using a telephone).

Severe: Pain score of 7 or higher. This pain is bad enough to stop you from even the most basic (self-care) activities of daily life like eating, dressing, getting into or out of a bed or chair, taking a bath or shower, and using the toilet.

How to manage mild abdominal pain?
  • Keep track of your pain levels using Ankr (myAnkr web portal or the Ankr app). It will help you describe the pain to your doctor or nurse.
  • Sip water or other clear fluids in small amounts. Diabetic people must check their blood sugar often and adjust their medicines as needed.
  • Avoid solid food for the first few hours.
  • Eat small amounts of foods (rice, applesauce, or crackers) if you have been vomiting.
  • Avoid dairy products.
  • Antacid may curb the pain that occurs after meal and is high up in the abdomen.
  • Avoid citrus, high-fat, fried, spicy, sour or greasy foods, caffeine, alcohol, and carbonated beverages.
  • Do not take any medicine without consulting your health care team.
How to manage moderate and severe abdominal pain?

Call your health care provider if pain is moderate and getting worse in a short period of time, or if lasts more than a day without any explanation. Get medical help if you:

  • Have sudden and sharp abdominal pain
  • Have chest, neck or shoulder pain
  • Are vomiting blood or have blood in your stool
  • Have stiff, hard and tender abdomen
  • Can’t move your bowels for more than 3 days
What causes abdominal pain?
Non-abdominal causes:
  • Pneumonia (lung infection)
  • Myocardial infarction (heart attack)
  • Pleurisy (irritation of the lining around the lungs)
  • Pulmonary embolism (blood clots to the lungs)
chest wall :
  • Shingles (herpes zoster infection)
  • Costochondritis (inflammation of the rib cartilages)
  • Injury (blunt trauma, muscle pulls)
  • Nerve irritation (neuropathy)
  • Hernias (protrusions of structures through the abdominal wall)
  • Scars
Inflammatory conditions of the upper abdomen:
  • Ulcer disease (duodenal ulcer, gastric ulcer)
  • Esophagitis (gastroesophageal reflux disease)
  • Gastritis (irritation of the lining of the stomach)
  • Pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas)
  • Cholecystitis (inflammation of the gall bladder)
  • Choledocholithiasis (passage of gall stones through the bile duct)
  • Hepatitis (infection or inflammation of the liver)
  • Colitis (infection or inflammation of the colon)
Functional problems of the abdomen:
  • Non-ulcer dyspepsia
  • Sphincter of Oddi dysfunction (problems with the bile duct valve)
  • Functional (pain without clear cause)
  • Irritable bowel syndrome (pain associated with bowel movements)
Cancers of the upper abdomen:
  • Hepatoma (liver cancer)
  • Cholangiocarcinoma (bile duct or gall bladder cancer)
  • Pancreatic cancer
  • Stomach cancer
  • Lymphoma (cancer of the immune cells)
Vascular problems:
  • Mesenteric vascular insufficiency (blocked arteries or veins)
  • Abdominal aortic aneurysm (swelling of the main artery in the belly)
Inflammatory conditions in the mid- and lower abdomen:
  • Enteritis (infections of the small bowel, Crohn’s disease)
  • Colitis (infection or inflammation of the colon)
  • Diverticulitis (inflammation of pouches that form in the colon)
  • Appendicitis
Bowel obstruction:
  • Adhesions (scars in the belly that form after surgery or inflammation)
  • Tumor
  • Inflammation
  • Colorectal cancer
Urinary tract problems:
  • Kidney stones
  • Urinary tract infections (kidneys, bladder)
  • Tumors of the kidneys or bladder
Pelvic problems in women:
  • Ovarian cancer or cysts
  • Infection of the tubes (salpingitis)
  • Ectopic pregnancy
  • Fibroid tumors of the uterus (womb)
  • Malignant tumors of the uterus or cervix
  • Endometriosis
  • Adhesions (scars)

Did you like this content?

Tell us how we can improve this post?