- Stomach pain can be caused by various factors, and knowing when to seek medical attention is crucial.
- Urgent care clinics can provide quick evaluation, diagnostic testing, and treatment for non-life-threatening stomach pain.
- Prevention tips include maintaining a healthy diet, staying hydrated, practicing good hygiene, avoiding triggers, and managing stress.
It can be challenging to determine when you should seek medical attention for stomach pain. In some cases, stomach pain can be a minor issue that resolves on its own, while in other cases, it can be a symptom of a severe medical condition.
Below you will find information about when to seek medical attention for stomach pain, and if urgent care is right for you. We will discuss the common causes of stomach pain, the symptoms that require immediate medical attention, and common treatment options that are available through urgent care.
First, it is important to define what urgent care is. Urgent care is a medical facility that staffs medical professionals like doctors, X-ray technicians, medical technicians, and others. Urgent care clinics are able to provide medical care for non-life-threatening illnesses and injuries—including stomach pain.
Common Causes of Stomach Pain
Your abdomen is home to several important organs and structures of your body, including your:
- Small and large intestines
- Kidneys, bladder, and ureters
- Uterus, fallopian tubes, and ovaries (in women)
So as you can imagine, there could be several reasons why you may be experiencing stomach pain. Before we list some common causes of stomach pain, it is helpful to understand some terminology.
Defining Medical Terminology as it Relates to Stomach Pain
It's important to understand some medical terminology when discussing stomach pain—knowing these terms can help you as you read on to determine when to seek medical attention, notes the Mayo Clinic.
- Abdomen: The area of the body between the chest and pelvis that contains the stomach, intestines, liver, and other vital organs.
- Peritonitis: Inflammation of the lining of the abdomen.
- Colitis: Inflammation of the colon (also known as the large intestine).
- Diverticulitis: Inflammation of small pouches that form in the lining of the colon.
Now that we understand these common terms associated with stomach pain, here are some of the most common causes of stomach pain, according to the Cleveland Clinic and Mayo Clinic:
Indigestion is also known as dyspepsia and is a common cause of stomach pain according to the Mayo Clinic. It occurs when your stomach acid comes into contact with the lining of your upper digestive system, causing irritation and discomfort. Indigestion can be caused by ulcers, eating too quickly, overeating, or consuming spicy or fatty foods. Symptoms of indigestion include a painful or burning sensation in your upper stomach.
Gastritis is the inflammation of the lining of the stomach. It can be caused by a bacterial infection, excessive alcohol consumption, smoking, or prolonged use of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), according to the Mayo Clinic. Symptoms of gastritis include nausea, vomiting, and stomach pain.
Gastroenteritis is also known as “the stomach bug”. It is a viral or bacterial infection that causes inflammation of the stomach and intestines. Symptoms of gastroenteritis include diarrhea, vomiting, and stomach pain.
Food poisoning is caused by consuming food or water that is contaminated with bacteria, viruses, or parasites. Symptoms of food poisoning include diarrhea, vomiting, and stomach pain.
Appendicitis is a condition in which the appendix becomes inflamed and infected, according to the Cleveland Clinic. Symptoms of appendicitis include fever, nausea, vomiting, and severe stomach pain around the naval or lower right side of the abdomen. If left untreated, appendicitis can lead to more severe and widespread infections like sepsis or an appendiceal abscess.
Gallstones are small, hard deposits that form in the gallbladder. They can cause severe abdominal pain, especially after eating fatty foods. Other symptoms of gallstones include nausea and vomiting, according to the Cleveland Clinic.
Ulcers are open sores that form in the lining of the stomach or small intestine. They can be caused by a bacterial infection or prolonged use of NSAIDs (such as Ibuprofen). Symptoms of ulcers include stomach pain, nausea, and vomiting.
Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
IBS is a chronic condition that affects the large intestine. It can cause abdominal pain, bloating, and changes in bowel movements. The exact cause of IBS is unknown, but stress and certain foods can trigger symptoms, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Symptoms of Stomach Pain
If you're experiencing stomach pain, it's important to pay attention to the other symptoms you're having. This can help you and your doctor determine the cause of your pain and whether or not you need urgent care. Here are some common symptoms, according to the Mayo Clinic, that often accompany stomach pain and may indicate the need for urgent care:
- Constipation (a condition in which you have difficulty passing stool)
- Fever (often a sign that your body is fighting an infection)
- Dehydration (this occurs when your body loses more fluids than it takes in and is often caused by vomiting or diarrhea)
When to go to Urgent Care for Stomach Pain
Stomach pain can be a sign of a serious health issue that requires immediate medical attention. Knowing when to seek urgent care for stomach pain can help you get the right treatment at the right time. Here are some situations in which you should seek urgent care for stomach pain, as outlined by the Mayo Clinic, Cleveland Clinic, and Johns Hopkins.
If you experience severe stomach pain that is sudden and intense, it could be a sign of a medical emergency. You should seek emergency care immediately for sudden and intense pain, and also for pain that is accompanied by any of the following symptoms:
- Chest pain
- Shortness of breath
- Dizziness or lightheadedness
Pain accompanied by vomiting or diarrhea
If you experience stomach pain along with vomiting or diarrhea, it could be a sign of a gastrointestinal infection or food poisoning. The Mayo Clinic recommends seeking urgent care if you experience any of the following symptoms along with your stomach pain:
- Blood in vomit or stool
- Severe pain
- Inability to keep fluids down
- High fever
Pain lasting more than a few hours
If you experience stomach pain that lasts more than a few hours, it could be a sign of a more serious health issue. Stomach pain with the following characteristics should be evaluated immediately according to the Mayo Clinic:
- Pain that is getting worse or time or worse during movement
- Pain that is spreading to other parts of your body
- Pain that is accompanied by other symptoms such as fever or nausea
Pain accompanied by fever or dehydration
If you experience stomach pain along with fever or dehydration, it could be a sign of a serious health issue such as appendicitis or a urinary tract infection. You should seek urgent care if you experience stomach pain with any of the following symptoms, according to the Cleveland Clinic:
- Fever (greater than 100.4F)
- Severe dehydration (dry mouth and fatigue)
- Inability to keep fluids down
- Confusion or disorientation
Pain after recent abdominal surgery
If you experience stomach pain after recent abdominal surgery, it could be a sign of a complication such as an infection or a hernia. The Cleveland Clinic notes the following symptoms along with stomach pain should be evaluated right away:
- Pain that is getting worse
- Redness or swelling around the surgical site
- Fever or chills
- Vomiting or diarrhea
Pain in pregnant women
Stomach pain while pregnant could be a sign of labor, a miscarriage, or an ectopic pregnancy. Seek urgent care if you experience any of the following symptoms:
- Pain or cramping
- Pain on one side of the abdomen
- Vaginal bleeding or spotting
- Dizziness or lightheadedness
Getting Stomach Pain Diagnosed and Treated At Urgent Care
If you are experiencing stomach pain that requires urgent medical attention, it may be helpful to know what to expect. Here is a breakdown of what you can anticipate and what possible treatment options you may be given.
After getting checked into urgent care, you will be asked about the details of your symptoms and your previous medical history. Women will also be asked about their last menstrual cycle and any pregnancy history.
A physical examination will usually follow and may include palpation of your abdomen to check for tenderness or swelling. Your vital signs, such as blood pressure and heart rate, will also be checked.
Depending on the severity of your symptoms and medical history, your healthcare provider may order diagnostic tests such as:
- Blood tests
- Stool tests
- Imaging studies (ultrasound, X-ray, or CT scan)
These tests can help identify the underlying cause of your stomach pain.
Treatment Options For Stomach Pain
Treatment options for stomach pain may include medication, IV fluids, or other interventions—such as drainage of an abscess or surgery. For gallstones and appendicitis, surgery is necessary to remove the inflamed organ, according to the Mayo Clinic. Your healthcare provider will determine the best course of action based on your symptoms and medical history.
Referral to a Specialist
In some cases, your healthcare provider may refer you to a specialist such as a gastroenterologist or surgeon for further evaluation and treatment.
Prevention of Stomach Pain
Stomach pain can be caused by a variety of factors, according to the Mayo Clinic. Some of these factors include:
- Poor diet
There are some things, however, that you can do to help prevent stomach pain before it starts.
Eating a healthy diet
An effective way to prevent stomach pain is to eat a healthy, balanced diet. A healthy diet includes fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean protein, according to the Mayo Clinic. The Mayo Clinic also includes avoiding processed foods, fried foods, and foods high in sugar and fat.
Drinking plenty of water
Dehydration can cause stomach pain, as well as other digestive issues. The Mayo Clinic recommends at least 8-10 glasses of water per day, and more if you are exercising or sweating heavily.
Washing hands frequently
Many cases of stomach pain are caused by viruses or bacteria that are spread through contact with contaminated surfaces or objects. Washing your hands frequently with soap and water can help prevent the spread of these germs and reduce your risk of getting sick, according to the CDC.
Avoiding food and drinks that may cause an upset stomach
Certain foods and drinks can irritate the lining of your stomach—thus causing pain and discomfort. Some common culprits include spicy foods, caffeine, alcohol, and carbonated beverages. If you notice that certain foods or drinks tend to trigger your stomach pain, try to avoid them or limit your intake.
Stress can have a negative impact on your digestive system, according to the Mayo Clinic. Finding ways to manage stress, such as through exercise, meditation, or therapy, can help reduce your risk of experiencing stomach pain.
Seeking prompt medical attention is important when you’re dealing with stomach pain.
Urgent care clinics are designed to help patients get faster and most cost-effective care for non-life-threatening conditions like stomach pain. Some benefits of using urgent care for stomach pain are:
- Quick evaluation
- Thorough questioning
- Diagnostic testing
- Treatment options
Ignoring stomach pain can lead to more serious health conditions, including organ damage, infections, and even death, warns the Mayo Clinic. So it is important to seek medical attention if you experience stomach pain that is severe, persistent, or accompanied by other symptoms such as fever, vomiting, or diarrhea. Going to urgent care can get you the proper diagnosis and appropriate treatment quickly..
Frequently asked questions
What is urgent care and can it help with stomach pain?Yes, urgent care can help with stomach pain. Urgent care is a medical facility that staffs medical professionals like doctors, X-ray technicians, medical technicians, and others. Urgent care clinics are able to provide medical care for non-life-threatening illnesses and injuries, including stomach pain.
What are some common causes of stomach pain?Some common causes of stomach pain include indigestion, gastritis, gastroenteritis, food poisoning, appendicitis, gallstones, ulcers, and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). These conditions can be caused by various factors such as eating too quickly, overeating, consuming spicy or fatty foods, bacterial infections, excessive alcohol consumption, smoking, prolonged use of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), and more.
What symptoms often accompany stomach pain and may indicate the need for urgent care?Symptoms that often accompany stomach pain and may indicate the need for urgent care include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, constipation, bloating, fever, and dehydration.
When should I seek urgent care for stomach pain?You should seek urgent care for stomach pain if you experience severe pain, pain accompanied by vomiting or diarrhea, pain lasting more than a few hours, pain accompanied by fever or dehydration, pain after recent abdominal surgery, or pain while pregnant. These situations could be signs of a serious health issue and require immediate medical attention.
What can I expect when getting stomach pain diagnosed and treated at urgent care?At urgent care, you can expect a physical examination, diagnostic testing, and treatment options based on your symptoms and medical history. In some cases, you may be referred to a specialist for further evaluation and treatment.
What are some ways to prevent stomach pain?Some ways to prevent stomach pain include eating a healthy diet, drinking plenty of water, washing hands frequently, avoiding food and drinks that may cause an upset stomach, and managing stress.
What are the benefits of using urgent care for stomach pain?The benefits of using urgent care for stomach pain include quick evaluation, thorough questioning, diagnostic testing, and treatment options. Urgent care clinics are designed to help patients get faster and most cost-effective care for non-life-threatening conditions like stomach pain.
What are the potential risks of ignoring stomach pain?Ignoring stomach pain can lead to more serious health conditions, including organ damage, infections, and even death. It is important to seek medical attention if you experience stomach pain that is severe, persistent, or accompanied by other symptoms such as fever, vomiting, or diarrhea.
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