How to Know If Your Stomach Pain Is an Emergency (2023)

You can't know for sure if your stomach pain is due to something serious or not without an evaluation, but there are some signs that indicate you need urgent medical attention. For example, if your abdomen is sensitive to touch or your pain is accompanied by high fever, persistent vomiting, or chest pain, you need to go to the hospital.

Certain individuals, such as pregnant people and those who have had recent abdominal surgery, should also consider their stomach pain potentially serious.

This article walks you through how to know if your stomach pain is likely serious or not, and how quickly you should seek medical care. It also provides some suggestions for how to ease stomach pain when the cause is not serious.

How to Know If Your Stomach Pain Is an Emergency (1)

When Stomach Pain Is an Emergency

Your stomach pain may be serious and indicate a medical emergency if it is accompanied by:

  • Extremely hard abdomen
  • Abdominal tenderness when touched
  • Coughing up or vomiting blood
  • Vomiting that won't stop
  • Bloody diarrhea
  • Chest pain or pressure
  • Trouble breathing
  • Dizziness
  • Fainting
  • Inability to have a bowel movement, along with vomiting
  • Pain in the neck, shoulder, or between shoulder blades
  • Vision changes
  • Pain that starts in the belly button and moves to the right side (a warning sign of appendicitis)
  • Fever

Sometimes stomach pain is mild at first but gets worse after a few hours. These symptoms may not develop until that time.

If you have these symptoms, call for an ambulance or have someone drive you to the ER. You should not "wait and see" or take medicine for the pain. Get help right away.

When stomach pain is associated with these other symptoms, it may be caused by a life-threatening condition. Some examples of these conditions include:

  • Appendicitis (inflammation of the appendix)
  • Bowel obstruction (when food or waste blocks the intestine)
  • Bowel perforation (a hole in the intestine that leaks food material)

These emergencies usually cause pain that feels extreme.

Other circumstances in which you should discuss stomach pain with a healthcare provider include when:

  • You're pregnant
  • Your pain started within a week of abdominal surgery
  • Your pain started after a procedure in your stomach area, like an endoscopy
  • You have ever had surgery on your digestive tract, like a gastric bypass, colostomy, or bowel resection
  • Your pain started shortly after an abdominal trauma
  • Your abdomen is bruised or rapidly expanding
  • Excessive vaginal bleeding, or blood clots and bleeding longer than usual
  • You have rectal bleeding, or tarry-looking or bloody stool

Does Appendicitis Change Poop Color?

When to See a Healthcare Provider

Some kinds of stomach pain need immediate attention. With others, you can call or visit your healthcare provider. It can be hard to know what you should do. Listen to your body and trust your instincts if you're not sure.

  • Burning with urination
  • Urgent need to urinate
  • Blood in the urine
  • Pain, discomfort, or nausea when you eat
  • Diarrhea that lasts more than five days
  • Fever above 100 degrees
  • Fever for three days or longer
  • Loss of appetite
  • Pain that gets worse or doesn't get better within one or two days

You should also call your healthcare provider if you have stomach pain while being treated for cancer.

Stomach Pain in Children

Stomach pains are common in children. Causes include indigestion, stress, constipation, food allergies, or more serious cases like appendicitis. Stomach pain of three hours or less is usually not severe. Call your healthcare provider immediately if a child has a fever of 100.4F or other symptoms such as diarrhea that could lead to dehydration.

How to Manage Stomach Pain

If your stomach pain is not severe or long-lasting, and if you're not having symptoms like those mentioned above, the pain may go away on its own.

(Video) Stomach Pain: When Should You See A Doctor?

This pain is often caused by minor problems such as constipation, gas, or something you ate. Waiting a few hours, having a bowel movement, or passing gas may help.

You can also try taking these steps:

  • Limit yourself to clear liquids for a few hours.
  • If you have vomiting or diarrhea, make sure to stay hydrated. Small sips of fluids and electrolyte replacement beverages is important. If you can tolerate food, eat low-fiber foods such as bread and crackers until you feel better. Some people find success following the BRAT diet for short-term until their symptoms have improved.
  • Avoid foods that are hard to digest. Fatty, fried, or spicy foods can cause stomach pain. So can drinks containing alcohol or caffeine.
  • Try an over-the-counter antacid or a product to relieve gas.
  • If you are constipated, eating foods with fiber can help to initiate a bowel movement. Fruits, vegetables, high-fiber grains, breads, and cereals, can help. Make sure you drink plenty of fluids with your fiber.
  • Use a hot water bottle or heating pad. Place the pad on your abdomen for a half hour at a time, with a towel under the pad to protect your skin.

Your symptoms may improve within a day or two. If they do not, call your healthcare provider.


Stomach pain may mean you have an urgent medical problem like appendicitis or a blockage or leak in your intestines. A hard stomach, vomiting, bleeding, dizziness, or fainting are signs of a medical emergency when they happen with stomach pain.

If you're pregnant, being treated for cancer, or have had an abdominal procedure or trauma, don't wait. Go to the emergency room right away.

Call your doctor if you have other symptoms such as fever or diarrhea with stomach pain. You may have a health condition that needs treatment. Otherwise, you may be able to try some home remedies to ease the pain.

A Word From Verywell

Stomach pain is very common. When the pain is severe, it can be alarming. Because there are so many causes, it can be hard to figure out whether it is serious or not. If you are not sure whether your stomach pain is serious, it is best to seek medical attention.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What causes lower abdominal pain?

    Lower abdominal pain can have lots of different causes. Colitis, appendicitis, cystitis, kidney stones, trapped gas, menstrual cramps, constipation, and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) are some possibilities.

    Learn More:Overview of Lower Abdominal Pain

  • What is the difference between acute and chronic abdominal pain?

    Acute abdominal pain comes on suddenly. It may be severe and is usually due to a short-term condition. Chronic pain is long-term. It often comes and goes and is due to a chronic condition like IBS.

    Learn More:What You Need to Know About Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)

    (Video) Abdominal Pain: Signs, Examination & Diagnosis – Emergency Medicine | Lecturio
  • Can I take painkillers for stomach pain?

    You can, but choose wisely. Avoid nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as aspirin, Motrin or Advil (ibuprofen), or Aleve (naproxen). These can irritate your stomach lining and cause ulcers. Tylenol (acetaminophen) tends to be easier on the stomach.

    Learn More:Is There Any Difference Between OTC Pain Relievers?

  • How do I know if my appendix burst?

    If appendicitis is not treated right away, your appendix may rupture, or burst. This can happen as early as two to three days after you start to develop symptoms. If your appendix has burst, the pain feels like it has spread all over your stomach.

    Learn More:How Appendicitis Is Diagnosed

  • Can COVID-19 start with stomach pain?

    Stomach pain can be an early symptom of COVID-19, but there are usually other symptoms that accompany it. These include persistent cough, joint and muscle pain, and loss of smell.

    Learn More:How Early COVID-19 Symptoms Differ by Age and Sex

    (Video) Abdominal Pain - Should I Go To The Emergency Room

6 Sources

Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.

  1. Cervellin G, Mora R, Ticinesi A, et al. Epidemiology and outcomes of acute abdominal pain in a large urban emergency department: retrospective analysis of 5,340 cases. Ann Transl Med. 2016;4(19):362. doi:10.21037/atm.2016.09.10

  2. Lohsiriwat V. Anorectal emergencies.World J Gastroenterol. 2016;22(26):5867-5878. doi:10.3748/wjg.v22.i26.5867

  3. Michigan Medicine.Abdominal pain, age 11 and younger.

  4. Harvard Health Publishing. Where to turn for pain relief - acetaminophen or NSAIDs?.

  5. Johns Hopkins Medicine. Appendicitis.

  6. Canas L, Sudre C, Capdevila Pujol J, et al.Early detection of COVID-19 in the UK using self-reported symptoms: a large-scale, prospective, epidemiological surveillance study. The Lancet Digital Health. 2021;3(9):e587-e598. doi:10.1016/s2589-7500(21)00131-X

Additional Reading

How to Know If Your Stomach Pain Is an Emergency (2)

By Barbara Bolen, PhD
Barbara Bolen, PhD, is a licensed clinical psychologist and health coach. She has written multiple books focused on living with irritable bowel syndrome.

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(Video) How to Know if Stomach Pain is Serious

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How do I know if I need to go to the ER for stomach pain? ›

If the pain is sudden, severe or does not ease within 30 minutes, seek emergency medical care. Sudden abdominal pain is often an indicator of serious intra-abdominal disease, such as a perforated ulcer or a ruptured abdominal aneurysm, although it could also result from a benign disease, such as gallstones.

How do I know if my stomach pain is serious? ›

Call your doctor if you have abdominal pain that lasts 1 week or longer, if your pain doesn't improve in 24 to 48 hours, if bloating lasts more than 2 days, or if you have diarrhea for more than 5 days. There are three body views (front, back, and side) that can help you to identify a specific body area.

How do you know if you have a serious stomach? ›

The first signs of gastrointestinal issues often include one or more of these symptoms: Nausea and/or vomiting. Pain in the abdominal area. Diarrhea.

What are red flags for abdominal pain? ›

Red flags that raise suspicion of serious pathology

Confusion/impaired consciousness. Signs of shock. Systemically unwell/septic-looking. Signs of dehydration.

What will the ER do for stomach pain? ›

So if you're having severe pain we'll give you a pain medication. If you're having nausea we'll treat that. Often times we're giving fluid for dehydration, especially if a person has been vomiting a lot, "I've had a lot of diarrhea." And then I'm thinking about testing.

When should you not ignore stomach pain? ›

Call the doctor right away if your stomach pain is so severe that you can't move or if you have any of the following symptoms: Blood in stools. Chills. Fever.

How long should stomach pain last before seeing a doctor? ›

These stomachaches are usually tolerable and go away after a few minutes or hours. But if the pain persists for more than six hours, gets worse, or is accompanied by vomiting or high fever, it may be time to head to your doctor or emergency care.

What are the 4 stages of appendicitis? ›

The stages of appendicitis can be divided into early, suppurative, gangrenous, perforated, phlegmonous, spontaneous resolving, recurrent, and chronic.

How do I know if my stomach pain is gas? ›

Signs or symptoms of gas or gas pains include: Burping. Passing gas. Pain, cramps or a knotted feeling in your abdomen.

How do you know if your stomach burst? ›

If you have a gastrointestinal or bowel perforation, you may experience: Abdominal pain or cramping, which is usually severe. Bloating or a swollen abdomen. Fever or chills.

What is stomach distress like? ›

They often experience feeling full soon after starting a meal or an uncomfortable fullness after a meal, discomfort or burning in their stomach and bloating. Indigestion can be triggered by medication, different foods and drinks.

How do I know if my stomach is failing? ›

What Are the Symptoms of Intestinal Failure?
  • Bloating.
  • Diarrhea.
  • Extreme tiredness (fatigue)
  • Malabsorption of nutrients.
  • Oily or foul-smelling stool (steatorrhea)
  • Poor appetite.
  • Weakness.
  • Weight loss.

What are the four types of abdominal pain? ›

There are four types of abdominal pain: upper, lower, right-sided and left-sided. Each type has specific symptoms and causes, and all are briefly discussed below (for detailed discussion).

What is the difference between stomach pain and abdominal pain? ›

A stomach ache is cramps or a dull ache in the tummy (abdomen). It usually does not last long and is often not serious. Severe abdominal pain is a greater cause for concern. Complete our self-help guide to check your symptoms and find out what to do next.

What should you avoid to ensure that abdominal pain do not get worse? ›

Take care not to scald yourself. Drink plenty of clear fluids such as water. Reduce your intake of coffee, tea and alcohol as these can make the pain worse.

How severe can gas Pains be? ›

Though gas pain is usually nothing serious, the discomfort can be intense. Intestinal gas and its discomfort are likely to resolve on their own. Burping or passing gas through the rectum (flatulence) is usually enough to ease your physical discomfort.

What are the 3 types of abdominal pain? ›

There are three main types of abdominal pain: visceral, parietal, and referred pain.

Where is gas pain located? ›

Trapped gas can feel like a stabbing pain in your chest or abdomen. The pain can be sharp enough to send you to the emergency room, thinking it's a heart attack, or appendicitis, or your gallbladder. Producing and passing gas is a normal part of your digestion.

How long should you leave stomach pain? ›

Most stomach aches are not anything serious and will go away after a few days.

Should I stop eating if I have stomach pain? ›

A person who has an upset stomach may find it difficult to eat anything at all. However, they must drink plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration. Bland foods without strong tastes or odors may help satisfy hunger without further upsetting the stomach.

How can I sleep with stomach pain? ›

The best overall position to aid digestion is on your left side. This position uses gravity to help waste make its way through the digestive tract. Left side sleeping can also reduce heartburn because this keeps stomach acid lower in the esophagus. The next best position is on your back with your head elevated.

How do I know if my appendix burst? ›

Call 999 to ask for an ambulance if you have pain that suddenly gets worse and spreads across your abdomen, or if your pain temporarily improves before getting worse again. If your pain eases for a while but then gets worse, your appendix may have burst, which can lead to life-threatening complications.

Can stomach pain be severe? ›

Call your doctor right away if you have abdominal pain so severe that you can't move without causing more pain, or you can't sit still or find a comfortable position. Seek immediate medical help if pain is accompanied by other worrisome signs and symptoms, including: Severe pain. Fever.

How can I check my appendicitis at home? ›

The classic symptoms of appendicitis include:
  1. Pain in your lower right belly or pain near your navel that moves lower. This is usually the first sign.
  2. Loss of appetite.
  3. Nausea and vomiting soon after belly pain begins.
  4. Swollen belly.
  5. Fever of 99-102 F.
  6. Can't pass gas.
Oct 13, 2021

How many hours does appendicitis last? ›

A: Appendicitis symptoms may last between 36 to 72 hours before the appendix ruptures. Appendicitis symptoms develop quickly from onset of the condition. Early symptoms include pain near the belly button, loss of appetite, nausea and vomiting, and a low fever.

How do you suspect appendicitis? ›

Tests and procedures used to diagnose appendicitis include:
  1. Physical exam to assess your pain. Your doctor may apply gentle pressure on the painful area. ...
  2. Blood test. This allows your doctor to check for a high white blood cell count, which may indicate an infection.
  3. Urine test. ...
  4. Imaging tests.
Aug 7, 2021

How fast does appendicitis go? ›

The appendix can get infected. If not treated it can burst (rupture). This can happen as soon as 48 to 72 hours after you have symptoms. Because of this, appendicitis is a medical emergency.

How do you get trapped gas out? ›

20 ways to get rid of gas pain fast
  1. Let it out. Holding in gas can cause bloating, discomfort, and pain. ...
  2. Pass stool. A bowel movement can relieve gas. ...
  3. Eat slowly. ...
  4. Avoid chewing gum. ...
  5. Say no to straws. ...
  6. Quit smoking. ...
  7. Choose non-carbonated drinks. ...
  8. Eliminate problematic foods.

Why do gas pains feel like? ›

“Gas pains can feel like a stretching sensation and sometimes people get sharp pains,” Dr. Singh said.

Is it appendicitis or gas? ›

Pain from gas can feel like knots in your stomach. You may even have the sensation that gas is moving through your intestines. Unlike appendicitis, which tends to cause pain localized on the lower right side of the abdomen, gas pain can be felt anywhere in your abdomen. You may even feel the pain up in your chest.

Would it hurt if your stomach burst? ›

Symptoms of gastrointestinal perforation include abdominal pain, vomiting, and running a fever.

How many pounds can a stomach hold? ›

The stomach has the ability to stretch and hold up to 4 pounds of food at one time 😱 | By Austin Gastroenterology | Facebook.

How much can a stomach hold before bursting? ›

Pathologists' reports seem to suggest the stomach is able to do OK handling up to about three liters, but most cases of rupture seem to occur when a person has attempted to stuff their stomach with about five liters of food or fluid.

What causes severe stomach pain? ›

Generalized pain -- This means that you feel it in more than half of your belly. This type of pain is more typical for a stomach virus, indigestion, or gas. If the pain becomes more severe, it may be caused by a blockage of the intestines. Localized pain -- This is pain found in only one area of your belly.

How can I comfort my stomach? ›

  1. Sports drinks.
  2. Clear, non-caffeinated sodas such as 7-Up, Sprite or ginger ale.
  3. Diluted juices such as apple, grape, cherry or cranberry (avoid citrus juices)
  4. Clear soup broth or bouillon.
  5. Popsicles.
  6. Decaffeinated tea.

How long can gas pain last? ›

While trapped gas may cause discomfort, it usually passes on its own after a few hours. Some people may be able to relieve pain due to trapped gas using natural remedies, certain body positions, or OTC medications. Avoiding known trigger foods or drinks can help prevent trapped gas from occurring.

How do I get my stomach checked? ›

Some GI tests are:
  1. abdominal imaging tests using ultrasound, CT scan, or MRI.
  2. barium swallow, or upper GI series, using X-rays to look at your upper GI tract.
  3. upper GI endoscopy to diagnose and treat problems in your upper GI tract.
  4. barium enema, an imaging test that uses X-rays to look at your lower GI tract.
Mar 7, 2019

Will Tylenol help with stomach pain? ›

#1 Doctor Recommended Pain Relief brand for those with stomach problems. TYLENOL® will not irritate the stomach the way naproxen sodium (Aleve®1), or even Ibuprofen (Advil®1, MOTRIN®) can. TYLENOL® can help relieve your pain while being gentle on your stomach.

How do I know if I have a stomach tumor? ›

Stomach cancer can present itself in several different ways, such as difficulty swallowing, feeling bloated after eating, feeling full after only eating a small amount of food, heartburn, indigestion, nausea, stomach pain, unintentional weight loss, and vomiting.

What painkiller is good for stomach pain? ›

Over-the-Counter Medications

For cramping from diarrhea, medicines that have loperamide (Imodium) or bismuth subsalicylate (Kaopectate or Pepto-Bismol) might make you feel better. For other types of pain, acetaminophen (Aspirin Free Anacin, Liquiprin, Panadol, Tylenol) might be helpful.

What does intestinal cramping feel like? ›

Colon spasms can feel like your body is working against you. The muscle contractions are involuntary, often painful and disruptive to healthy bowel activity. Relief lies in getting back on the same page with your gut so that you can address its concerns while helping to calm it down.

Where do you feel gas pain? ›

Gas in the intestine causes pain for some people. When it collects on the left side of the colon, the pain can be confused with heart disease. When it collects on the right side of the colon, the pain may feel like the pain associated with gallstones or appendicitis.

What can be mistaken for appendix pain? ›

Appendicitis can easily be confused with something else, such as:
  • gastroenteritis - a stomach bug that causes diarrhoea and vomiting.
  • severe irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
  • constipation.
  • bladder or urinary tract infections.
  • Crohn's disease.
  • a pelvic infection.

Where do you push to check for appendicitis? ›

Your provider will do a physical exam. If you have appendicitis, your pain will increase when your lower right belly area is pressed. If your appendix has ruptured, touching the belly area may cause a lot of pain and lead you to tighten your muscles. A rectal exam may find tenderness on the right side of your rectum.

What is pinch an inch test for appendicitis? ›

Although rebound tenderness is a widely used examination, it is uncomfortable and may be inaccurate. To perform the pinch-an-inch test, a fold of abdominal skin over McBurney's point is grasped and elevated away from the peritoneum. The skin is allowed to recoil back briskly against the peritoneum.


1. Abdominal Pain: Assessment, Diagnosis, & Treatment in the Emergency Department
(Easy A Nursing)
2. 6 Emergency Signs of an Appendix About to Burst
(Health Zone)
3. Causes of Abdominal Pain: EASY TRICK to Never Miss an Emergency [Must See]
4. Abdominal Pain: Signs, Examination & Diagnosis – Emergency Medicine | Lecturio
(Lecturio Medical)
5. Diverticulitis Surgery: A UVA Student’s Stomach Pain Turns Into an Emergency
6. Abdominal Pain & the Emergency Department: What you need to know.
(Doctors Hospital of Augusta)
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