Abdominal or belly pain can have many causes. It may be due to food poisoning, an intestinal or gall bladder obstruction, an infection or inflammation. It could also be appendicitis, a kidney stone or peptic ulcer disease. In women abdominal pain can result from an ectopic pregnancy, an ovarian cyst, pelvic inflammatory disease or other female organ disorder. In addition, some people with pneumonia, a bladder infection or a heart attack experience abdominal pain. Acute abdominal pain can also be caused by chronic medical conditions, such as pancreatitis; colitis, an inflammation of the large intestine (colon); or diverticulitis, an inflammation of small out-pouchings along the colon wall.
For mild abdominal pain, call your doctor first. If the pain is sudden, severe or does not ease within 30 minutes, seek emergency medical care.
Sudden abdominal pain is often an indicator of serious intra-abdominal disease, such as a perforated ulcer or a ruptured abdominal aneurysm, although it could also result from a benign disease, such as gallstones.
Continuous, severe abdominal pain or abdominal pain accompanied by continuous vomiting may indicate a serious or life-threatening condition, such as one of the types described below.
- Symptoms of appendicitis may include severe pain (usually in the lower right abdomen, but may start anywhere in the abdomen), loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting or fever. Treatment generally requires urgent surgical removal of the appendix. Long delays in treatment can cause serious complications resulting from perforation (rupture) of the appendix, which can lead to a life-threatening infection.
- Symptoms of an ectopic pregnancy include severe abdominal pain and vaginal bleeding. In an ectopic pregnancy, a fertilized egg has implanted outside of the normal site in the "womb" or uterus, such as in the fallopian tubes.
- Symptoms of acute pancreatitis usually include pain in the middle upper abdomen that may last for a few days. The pain may become severe and constant, or it may be sudden and intense. It may also begin as mild pain that gets worse when food is eaten. Other symptoms include nausea, a swollen and tender abdomen, fever and a rapid pulse.