It's probably not cause for worry if...
Call your doctor when...
- You have diarrhea. When that's the only other symptom, the culprit is most likely a mild gastrointestinal irritation or an infection (such as the stomach flu). Drink plenty of clear fluids to prevent dehydration, and call your doctor if the symptoms become severe or last more than five days.
- The pain is in the upper part of your abdomen and occurs either just after meals or many hours later when your stomach is empty. You may have heartburn or an ulcer. Take antacids or over-the-counter H2-blockers (such as Prilosec), which reduce the amount of acid your stomach produces.
- If your symptoms last longer than a month or get worse, call your doctor. If the pain occurs only when you eat specific foods, then you most likely have a food allergy or intolerance.
- You have a frequent urge to urinate, and/or there's a burning sensation when you do. If you also have a pain in your groin, you may have a kidney stone; if not, the cause could be a urinary tract infection.
- You're also feeling pain between your shoulder blades, accompanied by nausea, bloating, belching, or fever. These are signs of gallbladder disease.
- You've missed a menstrual period and have constant, increasing pain in your lower abdomen or lower back. You may have an ectopic pregnancy (when a fetus develops outside the uterus). Call your ob-gyn right away.
- Your last period was unusually heavy or painful. You should have your ovaries checked for cysts or something more serious, like cancer.
- The pain is more severe now than it's ever been. This could be a warning sign of an intestinal or gallbladder infection, an ulcer, an ovarian cyst, or even cancer.
- The pain, even if not strong, develops after several months of poor appetite and an unexplained weight loss (certainly if it's more than ten pounds in six months). These could indicate a grave condition, such as cancer (pancreatic, stomach, intestinal, or liver) or chronic pancreatitis.
- You also have rectal pain, a constant urge to have a bowel movement with little or no success, or mucus from the rectum. This pattern is typical of an inflammation of the anus or rectum.
- The pain is in the upper abdomen and it comes on or gets worse when you're lying down—symptoms associated with several common conditions, including GERD and a hiatal hernia. If your symptoms last more than a week, despite taking antacids, call your doctor.
- Upper-abdominal pain is recurrent, you're tired, and your stool is black or tarlike. You could have a bleeding ulcer.
- The pain is in the lower abdomen and you've got diarrhea that contains either blood or mucus and/or you're running a fever. You may have an inflamed large intestine (colitis or diverticulitis).
- Lower-abdominal pain is accompanied by bloating and alternating bouts of diarrhea and constipation. An intestinal disorder like irritable bowel syndrome may be causing your problems.
- The pain is sudden and you have a fever of more than 100 degrees or your abdomen is unusually swollen. These symptoms could indicate an intestinal obstruction, appendicitis, acute pancreatitis, or peritonitis, and you should call the doctor right away.
From Self-Diagnosis 101