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Stomach pain: Not always just an ache that will go away

Most people won’t go to the emergency room for a stomachache. For those patients who see their general practitioners, medications might be prescribed to treat reflux or other common conditions. Unfortunately, sometimes stomach pain can be referred and may be a symptom of a greater issue.

Stomach pain, which may actually be abdominal pain in some cases, can be a sign of several serious health issues. Getting an appropriate diagnosis is essential to staying healthy and being able to go about life comfortably.

Why “stomach” pains need to be investigated

To start with, remember that stomach pain may actually be referred pain from many organs. Since the abdomen is a cramped space, organs such as the intestines, spleen, liver or pancreas may be causing a stomachache or pain in an area that makes it seem as though the stomach is injured or upset.

On top of that, the pain from an infection or illness may cause stomach upset as a side effect, so damage to the appendix, gallbladder, liver or other organs should be considered as part of a doctor’s differential diagnoses.

Common causes of abdominal pain

The common causes of abdominal pain include:

  • Gastroenteritis
  • Acid reflux
  • Vomiting
  • Stress
  • Crohn’s disease
  • Lactose intolerance
  • Irritable bowel syndrome
  • Appendicitis
  • Kidney stones
  • Gallstones

There are many other causes as well. It’s important for a medical provider to perform tests when it is unclear exactly where the pain is or why the stomach is upset. For example, if the patient has pain when the stomach is palpated, identifying the location of that pain and running an ultrasound or other imaging test may be helpful in getting the correct diagnosis as quickly as possible.

What should patients do to make sure they get a diagnosis?

To make it easier to get a diagnosis, patients should try to be clear about the pain or symptoms they’re having, when they started and when they worsened. If the medical provider prescribes a treatment, follow it, but schedule a follow-up appointment to make sure you review if you’re getting better or not. If the symptoms continue to worsen, don’t be afraid to get a second opinion or go to the emergency room for support.