It can strike at any time of the day or night. It can strike in the early morning hours, just prior to going to bed, or during the weekend. Belly aches are a common pain concern for many Americans. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) approximately 11 million people visited emergency rooms in 2011 with complaints of stomach and abdominal pain, cramps and spasms.
Ranging from the less severe to serious and life threatening, conditions that cause abdominal pain are often a mystery for emergency physicians. But, the good news is that a large majority of these causes are not serious (but can still be painful!). However, severe or recurrent abdominal pain can be a symptom of something more serious and requires diligent medical attention.
WHEN SHOULD I COME TO THE ER?
If you can’t figure out what is going on yourself or you’ve taken steps to treat your pain at home but can’t improve your symptoms, you should seek medical care. This becomes doubly important if the abdominal pain is new and different, intense, constant or accompanied by the following symptoms:
- Nausea, vomiting, diarrhea
- Fainting, fatigue or weakness
- Bloody stools
- Shortness of breath
WHAT ARE THE CAUSES OF ABDOMINAL PAIN?
Less serious but painful conditions include:
- Food allergies or lactose intolerance
- Food poisoning
- Heartburn, indigestion, or gastroesophageal reflux (GERD)
- Stomach flu
Serious conditions that need to be emergently diagnosed include:
- Bowel obstruction
- Cancer of the stomach or colon
- Cholecystitis (inflammation of the gallbladder)
- Diverticulitis (inflammation and infection of the colon)
- Gall stones
- Inflammatory bowel disease (Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis)
- Kidney stones
- Pancreatitis (swelling or infection of the pancreas)
Immediately life-threatening disorders which require rapid diagnosis and treatment include:
- Abdominal aortic aneurysm
- Ruptured ectopic pregnancy
- Ischemic bowel (low blood flow or blockage to the intestine)
- Perforated stomach or intestine