Abdominal Pain, Short-term

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Just about everyone has had a "stomachache" at one time or another. But sudden severe abdominal pain, also called acute pain, shouldn't be ignored. It often indicates a serious problem. Follow this chart for more information about acute abdominal pain. Or find more information about abdominal pain that has lasted for more than 3 days.

SYMPTOMS DIAGNOSIS SELF-CARE
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1. Do you have abdominal pain that is severe, constant and dull, severe and knife-like, or severe cramping?


No

Go to Question 7.*

Yes

2. Are you pregnant, or do you believe you might be pregnant?


Yes

In pregnant women, lower abdominal or pelvic pain along with vaginal bleeding may be a sign of a serious condition such as ECTOPIC PREGNANCY or MISCARRIAGE.

CALL YOUR DOCTOR RIGHT AWAY OR GO TO THE HOSPITAL.

No

3. Do you have any of the following symptoms?

  • Is your stomach very tender to touch?
  • Do you have bloody diarrhea or stools that are black or tarry?
  • Are you vomiting blood ?
  • Do you have a fever?

Yes

These may be signs of a serious problem such as one of the following:

CALL YOUR DOCTOR RIGHT AWAY OR GO TO THE HOSPITAL.

No

4. Does the pain start in your upper middle or upper right abdomen and shift to your back, and does it occur or worsen when you eat fatty or greasy food?


Yes

You may have GALLSTONES or an INFECTION of the gallbladder.

See your doctor promptly.

No

5. Do you have a sudden sharp pain that starts in the back near the ribs and moves down toward the groin?


Yes

Your pain may be from a KIDNEY STONE or TUMOR. If you have a fever, you may have a KIDNEY or BLADDER INFECTION.

CALL YOUR DOCTOR RIGHT AWAY OR GO TO THE HOSPITAL.

No

6. Is your pain in the lower right abdomen, and do you have blood or mucus in your stools?


Yes

These may be signs of ULCERATIVE COLITIS or CROHN'S DISEASE, inflammatory diseases of the colon or large intestine.

See your doctor.

No

*7. Do you have a mild ache or burning pain in the upper abdomen, or cramping pain that comes and goes?


No

Go to Question 11.**

Yes

8. Do you have watery diarrhea, fever, muscle aches, chills, nausea or vomiting?


Yes

You may have GASTROENTERITIS, commonly called the stomach flu. Severe cases of gastroenteritis can lead to dehydration in infants and young children.

Use fever-reducing medicines. (Don't give children aspirin without consulting your doctor.) Call your doctor if vomiting and diarrhea persist for more than two days, or if you see any blood or mucus in the diarrhea. Call your doctor if your child shows signs of dehydration: lethargy, dry mouth, decreased urination.

No

9. Has it been a few days or longer since you have had a bowel movement and do you have to strain when you have a bowel movement?


Yes

CONSTIPATION may be the source of your discomfort. Occasionally a child will hold a bowel movement because of pain from a HEMORRHOID or an ANAL FISSURE.

Be sure to include lots of FIBER in your diet and drink enough fluids. Bulk-forming laxatives can also help. Many laxatives are available to treat constipation in children. Your doctor can recommend one that is appropriate for your child. See your doctor if the pain or constipation continues.

No

10. Do you have pain or a burning sensation in the upper abdomen that is either relieved or gets worse when you eat?


Yes

This may be from GASTRITIS, an irritation of the stomach, or from an ULCER.

Try taking an over-the-conter antacid on a regular basis. See your doctor if an antacid doesn't help or if the pain comes back quickly.

No

**11. Are you a woman who has a constant pain in the lower abdomen along with a vaginal discharge?


Yes

A dull, constant pain accompanied by a vaginal discharge may be a sign of PELVIC INFLAMATORY DISEASE (PID), an infection around your ovaries, uterus and fallopian tubes.

This condition requires an antibiotic. See your doctor.

No

12. Do you have a mild pain, discomfort or a feeling of pressure in the lower abdomen along with a burning sensation when you urinate?

CYSTITIS, an infection of the urinary tract, can be painful and cause abdominal discomfort.

See your doctor promptly.

No

If the pain doesn't stop within a few hours, call your doctor. For more information, please talk to your doctor. If you think your problem is serious, call right away.

This tool has been reviewed by doctors and is for general educational purposes only. It is not a substitute for medical advice. The information in this tool should not be relied upon to make decisions about your health. Always consult your family doctor with questions about your individual condition(s) and/or circumstances. Source: American Academy of Family Physicians. Family Health & Medical Guide. Dallas: Word Publishing; 1996.

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