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Belly pains? When to call a doctor

A stomachache can be traced to something as simple as indigestion or, less often, a serious medical problem.

Nearly everyone knows what it's like to have a stomachache. Though sometimes it's a simple case of overeating, some types of pain can point to medical problems. The American College of Gastroenterology recommends calling your doctor if:

  • The pain is steady, severe or recurs regularly.
  • The pain interferes with routine activities or work.
  • You've lost weight or have no appetite.
  • You're nauseated or vomiting.
  • You have a fever.
  • Your bowel habits have changed.
  • It's hard for you to swallow.
  • The pain wakes you at night.
  • You have a history of ulcers, acid reflux, gallstones, inflammatory bowel disease or intestinal surgery.
  • You're taking medicines that can cause ulcers, such as aspirin or other medicines commonly used to relieve arthritis or headaches.

Be prepared to answer the following questions, which can help your doctor find the cause of your pain:

  • What does the pain feel like? Pain may be cramping, which occurs in repeating cycles or waves, or constant. It may be burning, aching, gnawing or sharp.
  • When did it start and how long does it last? Pain may come in brief spells or last for hours or days.
  • When does it happen? Pain may come at night or before or after meals or bowel movements, for example.
  • Where is the pain? Is it above or below the navel? In the center or off to one side? Does it radiate beyond the abdomen?
  • What triggers it? Some pain is clearly linked to certain foods or to the temperature at which foods are served.
  • What relieves it? Passing gas, eating, antacids, drinking water, sitting still, moving, lying down or leaning forward are all ways that people may find relief from abdominal pain.

Reviewed 11/30/2020

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