Symptom Definition

  • Pain or discomfort located between the bottom of the rib cage and the groin crease.

General Information

  • There are multiple causes of abdominal pain.
  • Abdominal pain in the elderly carries with it a higher risk of serious illness.

See More Appropriate Topic (instead of this one) If


Call 911 Now (you may need an ambulance) If:

  • Passed out (fainted)
  • Very weak (can't stand)

Call Your Doctor Now (night or day) If:

  • You feel weak or very sick
  • Severe pain
  • Constant abdominal pain for more than 2 hours
  • Vomit contains blood or black ("coffee ground"-like) material
  • Vomiting bile (bright yellow or green)
  • Vomiting and abdomen is more swollen than usual
  • Blood in bowel movements (black/tarry or red)
  • Recent injury or blow to the abdomen
  • Fever of 103 F (39.4 C) or higher
  • Fever of 100.5 F (38.1 C) or higher and you:
  • Are over 60 years of age:
    • Have diabetes mellitus or a weakened immune system (e.g. HIV positive, cancer chemotherapy, chronic steroid treatment, splenectomy)
    • Are bedridden (e.g. nursing home patient, stroke, chronic illness, recovering from surgery)
  • Whites of the eyes have turned yellow (jaundice)
  • Unable to urinate and bladder feels full
  • Blood in urine
  • Pain in scrotum or testicle.

Call Your Doctor Within 24 Hours (between 9am and 4pm) If:

  • You think you need to be seen
  • Mild pain comes and goes (cramps), but lasts greater than 24 hours
  • Over 60 years old

Call Your Doctor During Weekday Office Hours If:

  • You have other questions or concerns
  • Abdominal pain is a recurrent problem

Self Care at Home If:

  • Mild abdominal pain and you don't think you need to be seen


  1. Reassurance: A mild stomachache can be caused by indigestion, gas pains or overeating. Sometimes a stomachache signals the onset of a vomiting illness due to a viral infection (gastroenteritis).
  2. Rest: Lie down and rest until you feel better.
  3. Fluids: Sip clear fluids only (e.g. water, flat soft drinks or ½ strength fruit juice) until the pain has been gone for over 2 hours. Then slowly return to a regular diet.
  4. Diet:
    • Slowly advance diet from clear liquids to a bland diet
    • Avoid alcohol or caffeinated beverages
    • Avoid greasy or fatty foods.
  5. Pass A BM: Sit on the toilet and try to pass a bowel movement (BM). Do not strain. This may relieve pain if it is due to constipation or impending diarrhea.
  6. Avoid Medicines: Any drug could irritate the stomach lining and make the pain worse, especially an anti-inflammatory medicine such as aspirin and ibuprofen. Do not take any pain medicines, fever medicines or laxatives for stomach cramps.
  7. Expected Course: With harmless causes, the pain is usually better or goes away within 2 hours. With viral gastroenteritis, belly cramps may precede each bout of vomiting or diarrhea. With serious causes (such as appendicitis) the pain becomes constant and severe.
  8. Call Your Doctor If:
    • Abdominal pain is constant and present for more than 2 hours
    • You become worse or develop any of the "Call Your Doctor" symptoms.

Disclaimer: This information is not intended be a substitute for professional medical advice. It is provided for educational purposes only. You assume full responsibility for how you choose to use this information.

Adult HouseCalls Online. Copyright © 2000-2004 David Thompson, M.D. FACEP

Reviewed 8/2004

Revised 8/2003

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