When you shouldn't ignore a stomach ache

If your tummy is constantly bugging you, it probably isn't something to ignore.

It’s one of the most common health complaints – just about everyone suffers from stomach aches and for some people, they’re a regular occurrence.
Abdominal pain can be mild and have obvious origins, such as overeating or constipation. Indigestion, menstrual cramps, food poisoning, food allergies and intolerances, and irritable bowel syndrome are also common causes.
In many cases, a stomach ache will resolve itself without treatment and not cause any further issues. But an ongoing chronic ache or acute short-term pain that suddenly becomes severe can be a sign of a problem that needs attention and could become serious if not treated.

Acute stomach pain can have a vast number of causes, including:

• Appendicitis
• Inflammation of the gallbladder or bile duct
• Kidney stones
• Pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas)
• UTIs (urinary tract infections)
• Peritonitis (infection of the abdominal lining)

Chronic abdominal pain that comes and goes could be put down to:

• Coeliac disease
• Endometriosis
• Gallbladder disease
• GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease)
• Hiatal hernias
• Ovarian cysts
• Peptic ulcers
• Ulcerative colitis and other inflammatory bowel diseases

Stomach pain that worsens over time needs to be investigated. That’s because it could be due to a serious health condition, such as:

• Cancer of the gallbladder, kidney, liver, pancreas or stomach
• Hepatitis
• Crohn’s disease
• Abscesses of the ovary or fallopian tube

Seek immediate medical attention if you or someone you know experiences any of the following:

• Extreme pain
• Fever
• Blood in stools
• Ongoing nausea and vomiting
• Weight loss
• Yellow-tinged skin
• Painful urination
• Difficulty breathing
• A swollen abdomen that’s painful to touch

If you’ve been experiencing stomach pain for a while and think it’s time to get it checked out, jot down some details about your symptoms to help your doctor diagnose the problem. Aim to include:

• A description of the pain – is it a dull ache or more of a sharp, stabbing pain?
• Is the pain confined to your abdomen or are other parts of your body also affected?
• When does it occur? After eating? Does it happen in the morning rather than at night?
• Does anything trigger the pain, such as eating certain foods or exercising?
• How long have you been experiencing the pain for?
• Do you have any other symptoms, like diarrhoea?
Treatment for stomach pain depends on the cause. All it may require is something fairly simple, like antibiotics or lifestyle changes, such as avoiding spicy foods. But if your pain is due to a hernia or appendicitis, surgery may be required.

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