Severe stomach pain: life-threatening or just annoying?

We’ve all had a tummy ache. Or maybe you call it a bellyache or stomach ache. Whatever you call it, that pain in your gut is sometimes bad enough to make you wonder whether it’s time to go to the emergency room. You’re not alone; abdominal pain is a common issue for many people – especially in women ages 18-64. In fact, it’s one of the top reason people go the ER.

Abdominal pain can be linked to many, many causes, so it can be frustrating to figure out what’s causing that cramping, rumbling, grumbling or worse. Was it simply something you ate? Did you catch a stomach bug? Or, could that pain be a sign of a more serious problem?

Whether its appendicitis, diverticulitis, cramps, heartburn or last night’s dinner, there are many triggers that cause abdominal pain. Some symptoms mean you can safely tough it out at home or see your doctor soon. Others likely indicate that it’s best to see an ER physician fast.

When in doubt

So, we all know what a typical stomach ache feels like and we wonder, “What’s going on in there?” But when the pain is uncommonly severe or persistent, and other symptoms are present, call your doctor’s office and schedule an appointment. When in doubt, have it checked out!

According to specialists at EIRMC, if you answer yes to any of the following questions, consider seeing a doctor about your abdominal pain:

  • Is the pain significant? Is it lasting for more than two days, more frequent or getting worse?
  • Or is the pain dull and lasting longer than a week?
  • Am I losing weight unexpectedly, or have I had no appetite for a long time?
  • Do I have a low fever, chills or sweats?
  • Are there unexplained symptoms, such as blurred vision, oral ulcers, rashes or easy bruising?
  • Is the color or shape of my stool suddenly different, or have I had diarrhea longer than three days
  • Is there bloating that lasts for more than two days (and not related to your menstrual cycle)
  • Is there blood in my stool (dark or black) or urine?

During your doctor’s appointment, make sure to talk about your symptoms in detail; how often they occur and if they’ve changed over time, as well as when they happen and where they are located. With more information, your physician will be better able to provide the care you need to ease your pain.

Listen to your gut

However, if the pain and symptoms you’re experiencing are severe, different from anything you’ve felt before or just worrisome to you, don’t second-guess yourself. ER doctors at EIRMC say, “Listen to your gut.” They recommend a trip to the ER whenever it feels like you need help right away.

Here are some guidelines that will help you decide whether or not you need emergency care for abdominal pain. These symptoms could be related to a serious, life-threatening condition – especially if they happen at the same time as the pain. That means you should get to an ER right away.

  • Sudden, severe pain, especially if it’s worsening
  • Uncontrolled vomiting; unable to keep down fluids especially
  • Acute dehydration symptoms or skin appears yellow
  • Fever greater than 101 F in adults, or an extreme headache
  • Inability to pass stool, gas or urine; or blood in diarrhea or vomit
  • Swollen or rigid abdomen that is tender to the touch
  • Pain during pregnancy or possible pregnancy
  • Trouble breathing or pain that spreads to your chest, shoulder or neck (heart attack symptoms)

The next time you or a loved one experiences serious abdominal pain, the professionals in EIRMC’s Emergency Room are standing by to help. To find out the average ER wait time, text “ER” to 32222.

If you need help finding a primary care doctor or GI specialist, click here.