Overview of Abdominal Pain

Abdominal pain, also called belly pain, or stomach ache, is common and can result from a number of conditions. The abdomen, or abdominal cavity, is located between the chest and the pelvis. It contains the lower part of the esophagus, the stomach, the small and large intestines (except the sigmoid colon and rectum), the liver, the gallbladder, the spleen, the pancreas, the kidneys and adrenal glands, the ureters, and the bladder. Abdominal pain can originate in any one of these organs, or can radiate to the abdomen from the chest or pelvis.

Abdominal pain can be serious, and it is important to determine the exact location of the pain and the underlying cause. In many cases, the severity of the pain does not indicate the seriousness of the condition. Mild conditions (e.g., virus, gas in the GI tract) often can cause severe abdominal pain and serious conditions, such as colorectal cancer, may not.

Indigestion, also called dyspepsia, is a common cause for abdominal pain. This condition results from the incomplete or abnormal digestion of food. Indigestion can be caused by many different GI disorders; as well as by eating too much, too fast, or in a stressful situation; by a high intake of fat, alcohol, or caffeine; by certain drugs; or by emotional problems (e.g., anxiety, depression). In addition to abdominal pain, digestion can cause other gastrointestinal symptoms, including nausea, vomiting, heartburn, acid regurgitation, gas, and belching.

Any abdominal pain that persists longer than one week, severe pain, or pain that is accompanied by other symptoms (e.g., fever, hardness of the abdomen, GI bleeding) should be reported to a physician as soon as possible.

Pain in the abdomen can result from a disorder in the digestive system (e.g., esophagus, stomach, small intestine, large intestine), the biliary system (e.g., liver, gallbladder), the urinary system (e.g., kidneys, bladder), the reproductive system (e.g., uterus, ovaries), or the cardiovascular system (e.g., aorta, veins, arteries).

In children, emotional issues, such as nervousness and anxiety, often cause stomach aches. Strep throat also can cause abdominal pain in children.

Publication Review By: Stanley J. Swierzewski, III, M.D.

Published: 28 Feb 2008

Last Modified: 26 Aug 2015