Abdominal pain: What central pain means – and what helps

Man with stomach ache on couch

Abdominal pain: Depending on the location of the pain, different organs can be responsible. (Source: g-stockstudio/Getty Images

Abdominal pain is one of the most common complaints because it has many causes. Depending on where they are located, different triggers come into question.

Everyone suffers from stomach pain from time to time . The pain can puzzle those affected and their doctors. Abdominal pain is a very unspecific symptom that can have many causes. This makes diagnosis more difficult. The exact location of the abdominal pain can help determine the cause. In this article you will find out what can be behind central abdominal pain.

Abdominal pain – what types are there?

Abdominal pain can feel very different. A distinction is often made between:

  • Type of pain: dull, cramp-like, stabbing or pulling
  • Duration of pain: short, long-lasting, acute or recurring (chronic)
  • Location of the pain: right , left , middle, diffuse or rather in the upper or lower abdomen

As varied as abdominal pain is, the list of possible causes is just as long.

Causes of central abdominal pain

In many cases, abdominal pain is harmless. For example, an unfavorable diet, stress or an irritable stomach or irritable bowel syndrome can be behind it. Sometimes stomach pain is also a sign of a much more serious illness.

Pain in the middle of the abdomen (e.g. in the navel area) is usually caused by diseases of the small intestine, the upper section of the large intestine and the appendix. If the abdominal pain occurs in the middle or is distributed more or less over the entire abdomen, these possible causes may include:

  • Food intolerance (e.g. lactose, fructose or gluten)
  • Gastrointestinal infection
  • Intestinal infarction
  • Intestinal obstruction
  • Chronic inflammatory bowel diseases such as Crohn’s disease or irritable bowel syndrome
  • Peritonitis
  • Stress, fears
  • Appendicitis (often leads to pain in the right lower abdomen)

In most cases, the causes of abdominal pain actually lie in the abdominal cavity. Occasionally the pain also radiates from another organ into the abdomen. The location of the abdominal pain is therefore only an indication of the possible cause.

Accompanying symptoms of central abdominal pain

Additional symptoms that occur can also help with the diagnosis. The most common accompanying symptoms of abdominal pain include flatulence , diarrhea or nausea.

Central abdominal cramps with flatulence and diarrhea

Flatulence occurs when the bacteria in the large intestine produce gases when digesting food components. How much gases are formed depends, among other things, on the diet and the bacterial colonization of the intestine. Foods rich in fiber such as whole grains, legumes or onions promote flatulence. But lactose intolerance can also result in flatulence. If the central abdominal pain occurs together with flatulence, lactose intolerance could possibly be behind it. Diarrhea can also occur. You can find out more about how lactose intolerance manifests itself here .

Severe to very severe flatulence, on the other hand, is often a sign of digestive disorders or intestinal diseases, such as irritable bowel syndrome or Crohn’s disease. However, these two diseases do not necessarily lead to central abdominal pain. Pain and cramps in the abdomen are also possible. If abdominal pain, flatulence, diarrhea and constipation occur alternately, this is primarily a sign of irritable bowel syndrome.

Central abdominal pain with nausea

If the abdominal pain is accompanied by nausea and vomiting, this indicates diseases of the gastrointestinal tract. They are often signs of a gastrointestinal infection caused by bacteria or viruses. In this case, the abdominal pain may also be in the upper abdomen.

Central abdominal pain: when to see a doctor?

Central abdominal pain does not always occur alone. You should seek medical attention in particular in the following situations:

  • If you regularly suffer from other symptoms such as diarrhea, heartburn, difficulty swallowing, bad breath or nausea.
  • If the stomach pain comes on suddenly, persists and gets worse quickly.
  • If the abdominal pain lasts for several days.
  • If the stomach pain keeps coming back.
  • If you have unintentionally lost a lot of weight recently.
  • If your abdominal wall is also tense.

An unexpected weight loss in connection with abdominal pain is always a warning sign of a serious illness of the gastrointestinal tract. In particular, if you notice that the abdominal pain is concentrated in the upper abdomen, this could be a sign of a stomach ulcer or pancreatitis.

If the central abdominal pain occurs with a hardened stomach, this can also be a sign of life-threatening peritonitis. In women, however, a tense, painful middle and lower abdomen could indicate urinary retention, uterine inflammation or pregnancy outside the uterus.

Central abdominal pain – what helps?

Heat can help with stomach pain
Home remedies for stomach pain: Heat can help with mild gastrointestinal complaints. (Source: ocusfocus /imago-images-bilder)

Depending on the cause of the abdominal pain, it must be treated differently. Therefore, the most important step is to have the cause clarified by a doctor. An intestinal infarction or obstruction, acute peritonitis or appendicitis should be treated immediately in hospital.


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