Stomach Problems

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What are stomach problems?

Conditions that affect digestion or cause pain or discomfort in the abdomen are often perceived and described as stomach problems, although the stomach may not always be involved. Most stomach problems are related to the digestive tract, although symptoms may also be due to conditions of the body wall, blood vessels, urinary tract, reproductive organs, or organs of the chest.

When pain is present, stomach problems may be due to the organs near the site of the pain, such as the stomach or gallbladder in the upper abdomen, or the appendix in the lower abdomen. Generalized stomach problems may be associated with diet, infection or inflammation. In women, stomach problems may be related to the menstrual cycle or to infection or other conditions of the reproductive organs.

Problems specific to the stomach and upper gastrointestinal tract include belching, heartburn, gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), hiatal hernias (weakened area of the diaphragm that allows the stomach to protrude into the chest), gastritis (inflammation of the stomach lining), or peptic ulcers. Symptoms may be brought on by certain foods and may worsen when lying flat. Gas, bloating, constipation and diarrhea, which may arise from the intestines, can also be related to food intake or may be related to intestinal infection or inflammation.

Pain associated with shingles, a reactivation of the chickenpox virus, may be attributed to stomach problems until the characteristic blistering rash becomes apparent. Abdominal trauma, poisoning, heart attack, pneumonia, pleurisy (inflammation of the lining around the lungs), reproductive system conditions, and stones or infections of the urinary tract can also cause symptoms that are perceived as stomach problems.

Stomach problems that are severe or that do not improve within a day or two can be symptoms of serious medical conditions. Seek immediate medical care (call 911) for severe pain that comes on suddenly, an inability to have bowel movements, bloody stool, vomiting blood, abdominal rigidity, breathing difficulties, or pain in the neck, chest, shoulders, or between the shoulders. You should also seek immediate care if you have stomach problems and have cancer or might be pregnant and experience vaginal bleeding or abdominal cramps.

If your stomach problems are persistent or cause you concern, seek prompt medical care.

What other symptoms might occur with stomach problems?

Stomach problems may accompany other symptoms, which vary depending on the underlying disease, disorder or condition. Stomach problems are often related to the digestive system, but may also be related to other body systems.

Digestive tract symptoms that may occur along with stomach problems

Stomach problems may accompany other symptoms affecting the digestive system including:

Other symptoms that may occur along with stomach problems

Stomach problems may accompany symptoms related to other body systems including:

Serious symptoms that might indicate a life-threatening condition

In some cases, stomach problems may be a symptom of a life-threatening condition that should be immediately evaluated in an emergency setting. Seek immediate medical care (call 911) if you, or someone you are with, have any of these life-threatening symptoms including:

  • Bleeding while pregnant

  • Change in level of consciousness or alertness such as passing out or unresponsiveness

  • Chest pain, chest tightness, chest pressure, or palpitations

  • High fever (higher than 101 degrees Fahrenheit)

  • Inability to have bowel movements, especially if accompanied by vomiting

  • Rapid heart rate (tachycardia)

  • Respiratory or breathing problems such as shortness of breath, difficulty breathing, labored breathing, wheezing, not breathing, or choking

  • Rigidity of the abdomen

  • Seizure

  • Severe abdominal pain or sharp abdominal pain that comes on suddenly

  • Trauma to the abdomen, pelvis or testicles

  • Vomiting blood, rectal bleeding, or bloody stool

What causes stomach problems?

Stomach problems often originate in the digestive tract, although they can be due to disorders of the circulatory system, urinary tract, reproductive system, respiratory system, nervous system, or body wall.

Digestive tract causes of stomach problems

Stomach problems may be caused by conditions of the digestive tract including:

Other causes of stomach problems

Stomach problems can also be caused by conditions involving other body systems including:

  • Abdominal or hiatal hernia (weakening in the abdominal wall or diaphragm, through which internal organs can pass)

  • Cancer of an abdominal or pelvic organ

  • Endometriosis (condition where tissues resembling the uterine lining grow in other areas of the body)

  • Kidney stones

  • Menstrual cramps

  • Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID; infection of a woman’s reproductive organs)

  • Pleurisy (inflammation of the lining around the lungs)

  • Pneumonia

  • Shingles (painful, blistering rash that results from a reactivation of the varicella-zoster, or chickenpox, virus)

  • Urinary tract infection

Serious or life-threatening causes of stomach problems

In some cases, stomach problems may be a symptom of a serious or life-threatening condition that should be immediately evaluated in an emergency setting. These include:

  • Abdominal abscess

  • Abdominal, pelvic or testicular trauma

  • Aneurysm of the abdominal aorta (life-threatening bulging and weakening of the wall of the abdominal aorta that can burst and cause severe hemorrhage)

  • Appendicitis

  • Bowel obstruction or perforation

  • Chemical or heavy metal poisoning

  • Colonic volvulus (twisting of the colon) or intussusception (telescoping of the intestines into themselves)

  • Ectopic pregnancy (life-threatening pregnancy growing outside the uterus)

  • Intestinal ischemia (loss of blood supply to the intestines leading to death of intestinal tissue)

  • Myocardial infarction (heart attack)

  • Peritonitis (infection of the lining that surrounds the abdomen)

  • Torsion of an ovary or a testicle (twisting of an ovary or spermatic cord)

Questions for diagnosing the cause of stomach problems

To diagnose your condition, your doctor or licensed health care practitioner will ask you several questions related to your stomach problems including:

  • How long have you had stomach problems?
  • How would you describe your problems?
  • Does anything make them go away or get worse?
  • Have you had stomach problems like this before?
  • Do you have any other symptoms?
  • What medications are you taking?
  • Is there any possibility you are pregnant?

What are the potential complications of stomach problems?

Because stomach problems can be due to serious diseases, failure to seek treatment can result in serious complications and permanent damage. Once the underlying cause is diagnosed, it is important for you to follow the treatment plan that you and your health care professional design specifically for you to reduce the risk of potential complications including:

  • Bowel infarction (severe injury to an area of the bowel due to decreased blood supply)
  • Infertility
  • Internal hemorrhage
  • Intestinal obstruction and rupture of the intestinal wall
  • Organ failure or dysfunction
  • Ruptured appendix
  • Spread of cancer
  • Spread of infection
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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2021 Jan 2
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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.
  1. Stomach disorders. Medline Plus, a service of the National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health. http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/stomachdisorders.html
  2. Heartburn, gastroesophageal reflux (GER), and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse (NDDIC). http://digestive.niddk.nih.gov/ddiseases/pubs/gerd/