Belly Pain

Key points:

  • Almost everyone experiences at least a little bit of belly pain from time-to-time.
  • Usually the pain does not last long and goes away on its own.
  • In collaboration with the National Institutes of Health, the MyGiHealth research team conducted a national survey and found that 26% of Americans reported having at least some belly pain within the last 7 days.

What is it?

Belly pain is just that: pain in your belly. The “belly” is also called the “abdomen”, and it is the area below the chest to the pelvis. In women, this area includes the uterus and the ovaries.

There are two kinds of belly pain:

  • Acute pain, which usually goes away after a few days or sooner

  • Chronic pain, which lasts longer, often more than 3 months.

What are the symptoms?

People feel belly pain in different ways; pain is often different from person to person, and even within the same person pain can change.

There are many words people use to describe belly pain. Common types of belly pain include:

  • Dull or aching pain
  • Sharp pain
  • Cramping
  • Burning
  • Pressure like
  • Stabbing
  • Twinge
  • Throbbing
  • Stinging
  • Gnawing
  • Squeezing
  • Aching
  • Spasm
  • Pounding

Belly pain may:

  • Last a few seconds to many days
  • Occur in any part of the belly
  • May be felt in the back
  • Hurt constantly or come and go
  • Get worse or better when you eat, have a bowel movement, throw up, or lay down

If you see a doctor for your belly pain, then it will be important to describe the type(s) of pain you have. The MyGiHistory function of MyGiHealth asks more about your pain and can help you translate your symptoms into "doctor talk" should you plan to see a healthcare provider.

What causes it?

Mild belly pain can be caused by:

  • Food the body can't digest
  • Constipation
  • Medical conditions, like ulcers or GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease)
  • Gas
  • Food leaving the stomach too slowly, called gastroparesis
  • Stress

Severe belly pain has different causes if it's acute or chronic.

Acute belly pain may be caused by:

  • Food poisoning
  • Appendicitis
  • Stones in the gallbladder
  • A block in the intestines
  • Not enough blood going to the intestines, called ischemic colitis

Chronic belly pain may be caused by:

  • Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
  • Pain in the upper part of the belly, called functional dyspepsia
  • Certain gynecological conditions in women
  • Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD), like Crohn's disease or ulcerative colitis.

Where can I learn more?

To learn more about belly pain, please visit these websites: