When to See a Doctor for Stomach Pain

By Jennifer Nadel, MD
Medically reviewed checkmarkMedically reviewed
October 3, 2022

Most people experience stomach pain from time to time. But knowing when to speak with a medical provider about your stomach pain is essential to getting care when you need it most. 

It’s important to speak with a healthcare provider if your stomach pain is severe, comes on suddenly, or occurs after an accident or injury. You should also reach out to your provider if you experience stomach pain accompanied by any additional severe symptoms. 

When to See a Doctor for Stomach Pain

Stomach pain can disrupt your quality of life, making it difficult to carry out everyday tasks like performing at work, socializing, or running errands. Thankfully, many cases of stomach pain resolve on their own within a few days. But there are a few signs to watch out for that should warrant medical attention: 

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Types of Stomach Pain

Many people use the term “stomach pain” to refer to any pain experienced in the general abdominal area. But where you feel pain can help to identify where it’s coming from. Possible locations of stomach pain include:

  • Digestion-related: Pain in the upper or lower left quadrant of the abdomen, where the stomach, spleen, intestines, and colons are located.  
  • Appendix-related: Pain in the lower right quadrant of the abdomen may signal a problem with your appendix.
  • Pancreas, gallbladder, or liver-related: Pain in the upper right quadrant of your abdomen may signal a problem with your pancreas, gallbladder, or liver. 

The type of stomach pain you’re experiencing can also help your provider to determine the underlying cause. When speaking about your symptoms, try to clarify what type of pain you’re having, including:

  • Cramps
  • Bloating
  • Diarrhea or constipation
  • Sharp pain
  • Dull or gnawing pain

Common Causes

There are many possible causes of stomach pain, which can make it difficult to identify the underlying cause. Stomach pain can be brought on by troubles with digestion, menstruation, or infection. Some common causes of stomach pain include:

  • A viral or bacterial infection
  • Indigestion
  • Acid reflux
  • Gastroenteritis
  • Constipation
  • Food poisoning
  • Menstrual cramps
  • Urinary tract infections
  • Gallstones
  • Kidney stones
  • Appendicitis
  • Diverticulitis
  • Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD)
  • Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
  • Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)
  • Ovulation
  • Cysts or ulcers
  • Uterine fibroids
  • Endometriosis
  • Interstitial cystitis
  • Sexually transmitted infections (STIs)
  • Pelvic inflammatory disease
  • Pelvic adhesions
  • Pancreatitis

When to Seek Emergency Medical Care

In rare cases, stomach pain can be a symptom of a serious condition. It’s important to watch out for certain symptoms that warrant emergency medical care. If you experience any of the following, please seek immediate medical care:

  • Inability to pass stool
  • Vomiting blood
  • Chest, neck, or shoulder pain
  • Sudden, sharp abdominal pain
  • Pain in or in-between your shoulder blades with nausea
  • Tenderness in the belly, or a belly that is rigid and hard to the touch
  • Difficulty breathing

You should also seek emergency medical care if you’re experiencing severe abdominal pain while pregnant or undergoing cancer treatment.

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At-Home Relief for Mild Stomach Pain

There are several things you can do at home to soothe mild stomach pain, including:

  • Sip water or other clear fluids
  • Avoid solid food for the first couple of hours
  • If you’ve been vomiting or having diarrhea, try eating only small amounts of bland foods, like rice, applesauce, and toast
  • Sit upright after meals

How K Health Can Help

Did you know you can access online urgent care with K Health?

Check your symptoms, explore conditions and treatments, and if needed, text with a healthcare provider in minutes. 

K Health’s AI-powered app is based on 20 years of clinical data.

Frequently Asked Questions

How long should stomach pain last before seeing a doctor?
Most cases of mild stomach pain will get better within a few days. If the pain doesn’t improve or worsens within 48-72 hours, reach out to your healthcare provider for help.
How do I know if my stomach pain is serious?
If your stomach pain comes on suddenly and makes it difficult for you to do simple tasks, like sitting still, seek urgent or emergency medical care. Other signs that your stomach pain may be serious include a burning sensation while urinating, frequent urination, diarrhea for more than five days, fever, prolonged poor appetite, prolonged vaginal bleeding, or unexplained weight loss.
How do doctors check your stomach for pain?
A provider can check your stomach and body for pain in several ways, including running blood, urine, and imaging tests. If you’re experiencing severe symptoms, reach out to your provider for care.
When should you go to the hospital for stomach pain?
You should seek emergency care for stomach pain if you are unable to pass stool, are vomiting blood, have chest, neck, or shoulder pain or sudden, sharp, abdominal pain, are experiencing pain in or in-between your shoulder blades with nausea, have tenderness in the belly, or a belly that is rigid and hard to the touch, or are having difficulty breathing.
K Health articles are all written and reviewed by MDs, PhDs, NPs, or PharmDs and are for informational purposes only. This information does not constitute and should not be relied on for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment.

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Jennifer Nadel, MD

Dr. Jennifer Nadel is a board certified emergency medicine physician and received her medical degree from the George Washington University School of Medicine. She has worked in varied practice environments, including academic urban level-one trauma centers, community hospital emergency departments, skilled nursing facilities, telemedicine, EMS medical control, and flight medicine.