Lower Abdominal Pain Explained

Medically Reviewed By Kelsey Trull, PA-C
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Some people refer to abdominal pain as cramps or aches in the belly. You can feel this pain anywhere between the pelvis and the ribs. Lower abdominal pain may occur between the pelvis and belly button. Most people find that their abdominal pain goes away on its own and does not last for long. Usually, the causes of abdominal pain are not serious. Common causes include trapped wind, period pain, and urinary tract infections (UTIs).

However, if the pain is severe or the symptoms persist, seek medical care as soon as possible.

Read on to learn more about the causes, associated symptoms, and treatment of lower abdominal pain.

What could cause lower abdominal pain?

a woman is gardening and noticing lower abdominal pain
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Some causes of lower abdominal pain may cause the pain to onset differently than others. Causes can include the following conditions and symptoms.

Sudden and severe lower abdominal pain

If you experience sudden, agonizing pain in your lower abdomen, you should contact a doctor immediately or go to the emergency room. It may get worse if you do not seek help quickly.

This sudden, severe pain may result from any of the following.

Appendicitis

According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), appendicitis can cause pain that begins near your belly button and moves gradually to the right side of your lower stomach.

The pain can come on suddenly. You may be more likely to notice this pain when you are moving around or breathing deeply, and it could wake you up. This type of pain can be severe, and it could get worse in just a few hours.

If you have appendicitis, this pain may be your only symptom. However, some people also report:

It is important to seek medical care as soon as possible for this type of abdominal pain.

Learn how doctors diagnose appendicitis here.

Kidney stones

According to the Urology Care Foundation, kidney stones can cause a sharp pain that starts in the back or side that often moves to the lower abdomen.

This pain may come and go as the body attempts to expel the kidney stone.

Other symptoms you may experience with kidney stones include:

  • an urgent need to urinate
  • a burning sensation during urination
  • blood in the urine
  • nausea and vomiting
  • pain at the tip of the penis

Get 10 facts about kidney stones here.

Diverticulitis

In people with diverticulitis, small pouches form and push through weaker spots in the colon wall. The NIDDK says that diverticulitis can cause severe pain that starts suddenly, but the pain may come and go over time.

The pain that diverticulitis can cause usually affects the lower left side of your abdomen.

Some other symptoms include:

  • constipation
  • diarrhea
  • fever
  • chills
  • nausea and vomiting

Learn about treatment options for diverticulitis here.

Gastroenteritis

Sometimes, severe pain in your lower abdomen can happen because of an infection in your stomach and bowel. This is called gastroenteritis.

Gastroenteritis is not usually serious, but be sure to drink plenty of fluids because you may risk becoming dehydrated.

Symptoms of viral gastroenteritis might include:

  • abdominal pain or cramps
  • watery diarrhea
  • nausea or vomiting
  • fever

Learn more about gastroenteritis here.

Ulcerative colitis

Abdominal pain is a common symptom of ulcerative colitis, which is a type of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), like Crohn’s disease. If you have ulcerative colitis, your immune system is attacking your colon.

Symptoms can vary among people, and some may have different levels of severity. They can also come and go over time.

Other than abdominal pain, some common symptoms of ulcerative colitis include:

Bloating with lower abdominal pain

If you notice that you are bloated as well as experiencing abdominal pain, it may be happening because of trapped wind. Trapped wind is very common and not serious.

If you experience abdominal pain with bloating, see a pharmacist. They can recommend over-the-counter (OTC) medications to ease the symptoms of trapped wind.

If the pain persists or becomes severe, contact your physician.

Learn more about flatulence here.

Long-term lower abdominal pain

If you are experiencing chronic lower abdominal pain that does not go away on its own or with OTC medications, you should seek the advice of a doctor.

Some common causes of long-term abdominal pain in adults include:

  • UTIs: You may also notice a burning sensation when you urinate with a UTI.
  • Constipation: Constipation happens when stool gets backed up in your bowel. It can cause lower abdominal pain.
  • Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS): This condition may cause stomach cramps, bloating, diarrhea, or constipation.
  • IBD: These chronic conditions cause the gut to inflame. IBD is an umbrella term for Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis.
  • Period pain: Menstrual cycles can cause painful cramps in the muscles of the lower abdomen.

In children

The following conditions can be common causes of lower abdominal pain in children:

During pregnancy

During pregnancy, lower abdominal pain can indicate ectopic pregnancy. This happens when an embryo grows and implants outside of the uterus. People with an ectopic pregnancy may experience severe abdominal pain in the lower abdomen or on one side.

Another cause of lower abdominal pain during pregnancy is preterm labor, which occurs when a person goes into labor at 37 weeks of pregnancy or sooner. People in preterm labor may experience contractions and cramping.

It is important to note that people who are pregnant may be more likely to experience the more common causes of lower abdominal pain, such as trapped wind and constipation. However, if you feel concerned about your symptoms, seek medical help.

Learn about nine symptoms never to ignore if you are pregnant here.

Medications

Sometimes, certain medications can cause abdominal pain as a side effect. These may include:

  • nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, such as ibuprofen
  • aspirin
  • drugs for dementia or Alzheimer’s disease
  • some antibiotics

When to contact a doctor

In some cases, lower abdominal pain may be a symptom of a life threatening condition that requires immediate evaluation in an emergency setting.

Seek immediate medical care by calling 911 if you, or someone you are with, have any of these life threatening symptoms:

  • bleeding while pregnant
  • changes to consciousness or alertness, such as passing out or becoming unresponsive
  • high fever, or fever higher than 101°F (38°C)
  • an inability to have bowel movements, especially if accompanied by vomiting
  • a rapid heart rate
  • rigidity of the abdomen
  • severe abdominal or pelvic pain
  • sharp abdominal pain that comes on suddenly
  • trauma to the abdomen
  • vomiting blood
  • rectal bleeding
  • bloody stools

Questions for diagnosing the cause of lower abdominal pain

To diagnose your condition, your doctor will ask you several questions related to your lower abdominal pain. Such questions may include:

  • When did you first notice pain in your lower abdomen?
  • Have you had pain like this before?
  • Do you have any other symptoms?
  • Does anything make your symptoms go away or make them worse?
  • What medications are you taking?
  • Have you sustained an injury?
  • Is there any possibility that you might be pregnant?

Treatment

Treatment for lower abdominal pain will depend on what has caused it. This is why it is important to contact your doctor if the pain is severe or persists or if you feel concerned in any way.

Your doctor may prescribe a pain relief medication to help control your lower abdominal pain. These drugs may not resolve the pain completely, but they can help improve it. Another type of medication that may help is antinausea medication.

Your doctor may also need to ensure that you are staying properly hydrated. This may involve giving you fluids through a vein.

For chronic conditions, such as IBD, you may need to discuss long-term treatment options with your doctor.

Managing lower abdominal pain at home

If your pain is not severe or long lasting and you have not contacted a doctor, there are several methods that you can try to help ease the pain. However, if you feel concerned because of lower abdominal pain, you should seek medical help.

Some at-home methods for easing lower abdominal pain include:

  • using a hot water bottle where it hurts
  • taking a warm bath
  • staying hydrated
  • avoiding coffee, tea, and alcohol
  • eating bland foods
  • resting
  • taking OTC medications, such as acetaminophen

Summary

Lower abdominal pain is common and often results from trapped wind, period pain, or a UTI. However, long lasting or severe lower abdominal pain may signify an underlying condition, such as IBD.

It is important that you seek medical help if you are concerned about your lower abdominal pain. A doctor will be able to diagnose the cause of the pain and recommend effective treatment options. Early treatment can be crucial in preventing potentially dangerous complications of certain conditions.

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Medical Reviewer: Kelsey Trull, PA-C
Last Review Date: 2022 Jan 27
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THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.