Causes, Treatment, Seeing a Doctor

Jennifer E. Engen

Everyone experiences stomach or abdominal discomfort or pain at some point. It can be as harmless as the need to pass gas. It can also be a symptom of an illness. And sometimes it’s difficult to know whether the pain is coming from your stomach or somewhere else in the abdomen.

Stomach pain is often temporary, such as the pain you might feel after you overeat. But constant, severe, or increasing pain may signal a medical emergency.

In this article, we’ll focus on stomach pain that presents in intervals, some of the potential causes, and signs that you should seek medical help.


Gas gets in your digestive tract when you swallow air and when you’re digesting carbohydrates. Belching or flatulence often relieves it. Otherwise, you start to feel bloated and can end up with abdominal pain.

Daily belching and flatulence are healthy functions of the human body. Frequent abdominal pain from gas is not. If you often have abdominal pain from gas, it could be a sign of an underlying gastrointestinal disorder.


Constipation is when you have fewer than three bowel movements a week (unless that’s always been your norm). In addition to abdominal pain, other symptoms can include:

  • hard, dry stools
  • pain and difficulty passing stool
  • not being able to pass all your stool

Recurrent bouts of constipation may be a sign of an underlying condition.

Stomach ulcer

A stomach ulcer, also known as a peptic ulcer, is a sore on the lining of your stomach. It causes a dull or burning pain in your stomach. The pain can last minutes to hours, coming and going over days, weeks, or months.

Without treatment, stomach ulcers can lead to serious complications.

Ovarian cyst

An ovarian cyst is a fluid-filled sac in the ovary. They’re usually harmless and often cause no symptoms. But they can lead to abdominal pain, bloating, and swelling, especially during ovulation.

If you have an ovarian cyst and experience sudden severe pain and vomiting, seek immediate medical attention. These are signs the cyst may have ruptured.


Dysmenorrhea is severe abdominal cramping and pain during your menstrual period. Other symptoms can include diarrhea, nausea, and headache.

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)

IBS is a functional gastrointestinal disorder. It affects about 12 percent of the U.S. population. IBS includes a group of symptoms that occur together, including recurrent abdominal pain and changes in bowel movements.

Braxton-Hicks or labor contractions

If you’re pregnant and have irregular contractions that are not occurring closer together, you’re probably having Braxton-Hicks contractions.

In labor, the contractions last from 30 to 70 seconds and come in regular intervals, getting stronger and closer together with time. Labor can also cause pain in the lower back.

Muscle strain

An abdominal muscle strain, or pulled muscle, occurs when you suddenly twist or strain your abdominal muscles. The pain usually intensifies when you laugh, sneeze, or cough. You might also feel increased pain when you get up after sitting for a long time or when exercising.

Gallbladder problems

The gallbladder is located under the liver, so the pain may feel like it’s coming from your stomach. Certain gallbladder problems, such as gallstones, can cause severe pain that may increase after you eat fatty foods.

Biliary colic describes episodes of pain that can last a few minutes to 5 hours. Episodes of pain can be separated by weeks or months.


Norovirus is a contagious foodborne illness that causes stomach pain, diarrhea, and vomiting. These symptoms should subside in 1 to 3 days.

Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)

Research suggests that about 80 percent of people with IBD have abdominal pain from inflammation or obstruction, which resolves with treatment. About 30 to 50 percent of people with IBD have abdominal pain consistently for 3 months or intermittently for 6 months.

People with IBD may have symptoms that include:

  • abdominal pain
  • diarrhea
  • rectal bleeding
  • weight loss

Stomach cancer

Stomach cancer can cause pain similar to that of a peptic ulcer. The pain may increase after eating. But the pain is likely to become more severe and persistent over time. Other symptoms may include weight loss, heartburn, and nausea.

Just about everyone experiences stomach and abdominal pain on occasion. Abdominal or stomach pain in intervals may be a simple case of excess gas or a bout of constipation that will soon resolve.

Abdominal or stomach pain can also be a sign of something serious, especially if it’s worsening or accompanied by other symptoms.

If you have stomach pain in intervals, consult with a doctor to find out what’s happening. Once they determine the cause, they can suggest remedies or treat the underlying condition.

Seek emergency care if you have severe abdominal pain, difficulty breathing, or other troubling symptoms.

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