What Causes Cramps in Your Lower Abdomen
In most cases, abdominal cramps are not a serious cause for concern

Cramps in your lower abdomen can be a symptom of minor conditions such as gas and indigestion or major conditions such as appendicitis and inflammatory bowel disease.

In most cases, abdominal cramps are not a serious cause for concern.  However, if you experience severe lower abdominal pain, seek medical attention immediately or go to an emergency room. Early intervention can help prevent or avoid complications.

What conditions can cause lower abdominal pain?

Appendicitis

Appendicitis is a severe condition that occurs when the appendix gets infected and inflamed and requires urgent medical care to prevent organ rupture. Appendicitis can occur at any age, but most cases occur between the ages of 10 and 30 years. 

The main symptoms of appendicitis pain include:

  • Severe and occurs suddenly near the navel and then moves to the lower right abdomen
  • Gets worse over time
  • Relieved with pressure application and returns when pressure is released
  • Worsens when you move, breathe deeply, cough, or sneeze.

Other appendicitis symptoms include:

A ruptured appendix spreads infection throughout your abdomen (peritonitis). This condition necessitates immediate removal of the appendix and cleaning of your abdominal cavity. If left untreated, sepsis can develop, which is life-threatening.

Colitis

Colitis causes swelling in the large intestine. It may be caused by:

The associated pain may be intermittent or continuous. Other symptoms include:

Ulcerative colitis

Inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD) such as ulcerative colitis frequently present with abdominal pain. The immune system attacks the colon with ulcerative colitis.

Common symptoms of ulcerative colitis include:

Diverticular diseases

Diverticulosis refers to the presence of one or more bulges, whereas diverticulitis refers to inflammation and infection of those bulges in the colon wall (diverticula).

Diverticulosis is common and does not present with symptoms or require treatment. However, the bulging may result in stomach bloating, cramps, and constipation. Left-sided abdominal pain is the most typical symptom of this kind of inflammation or infection. 

Diverticulitis can cause the following symptoms:

Antibiotics are used to treat mild diverticulitis. If complications arise, surgery is required. A high-fiber diet, exercise, and plenty of water help prevent the condition.

Gastroenteritis

Gastroenteritis is a common condition that causes vomiting and diarrhea and is typically caused by a bacterial or viral infection. It affects people of all ages but is most common in young children.

Symptoms of viral gastroenteritis include the following:

  • Abdominal pain or cramps
  • Watery diarrhea
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Fever

Although gastroenteritis is usually not serious, it is still important to consume enough fluids to avoid dehydration.

Acute urinary retention

Acute urinary retention causes a sudden inability to urinate. If you suddenly cannot pass urine, you may experience considerable pain, which can radiate to your abdomen. 

Emergency room treatment is necessary for acute urine retention.

Cystitis

Cystitis or inflammation of the bladder is more common in women than in men. It is typically caused by bacteria but can be due to other causes.

Symptoms of cystitis include:

Kidney infection

Severe kidney infection (pyelonephritis) often develops after bladder infection (also called infectious cystitis). Kidneys may become infected when bacterial or fungal cystitis has spread to them.

Although back pain is likely, you may experience discomfort in the groin, around the abdomen, and under the ribs. Pain from kidney infections is often very severe.

Common symptoms of a kidney infection include:

  • Pain when urinating
  • Frequent urge to urinate
  • High fever with chills
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting

Kidney stones

Back pain is a common symptom of kidney stones, but the pain can advance to one side of the abdomen. Other kidney stone symptoms include:

Larger kidney stones may require treatment, but smaller ones may pass on their own. They can result in urinary tract infections, which can cause sharp lower abdominal pain and painful urination.

Constipation

Constipation can occur if you do not eat enough fiber or suddenly change your eating habits.

Symptoms of constipation include:

  • Lower abdominal pain
  • Hard, dry stools
  • No bowel movements for days
  • Bloating

Trapped gas

Swallowing too much air, consuming high-fat foods, and stress can cause abdominal bloating and pain.

Stomach and intestinal-related conditions that can cause lower abdominal pain include

  • Constipation
  • Food intolerance, such as gluten or lactose

Symptoms of trapped gas usually appear suddenly. The pain can be sharp and stabbing. You may feel bloated and experience stomach cramps. Pain can radiate up to your chest. 

Ingredients that can cause gas include:

  • Soluble fiber in beans
  • Insoluble fiber in vegetables
  • Fructose in onions or bananas
  • Raffinose in cabbage and other cruciferous vegetables
  • Starch in potatoes and noodles
  • Lactose in dairy products

Pain can be felt where the gas is trapped. Right-sided abdominal pain may feel like appendicitis, whereas left-sided abdominal pain may feel like heart-related pain.

Menstrual cramps

During the menstrual cycle, uterine contractions can cause cramping in the lower abdomen. In addition to lower abdominal pain, you may experience lower back pain.

Menstrual cramps may be accompanied by other symptoms, such as:

  • Fatigue
  • Diarrhea
  • Nausea and vomiting

Some people develop menstrual cramps because of another illness or infection. This is called secondary dysmenorrhea. There are several causes for this unusual cramping, including:

Pelvic pain

Sometimes people confuse lower abdominal pain with pelvic pain, which may be caused by:

Pregnancy

Lower abdominal pain during pregnancy could be a sign of an ectopic pregnancy, which occurs when an embryo develops and implants outside of the uterus. Ectopic pregnancy can cause severe pain in the lower abdomen or one side of the body.

Preterm labor, which happens when labor starts at 37 weeks or earlier in pregnancy, is another reason for lower abdomen pain during pregnancy. Contractions and cramping are common in preterm labor.

The more common cause of lower abdominal pain in pregnant women is constipation.

Medications

Certain drugs can occasionally cause stomach pain as a side effect. These may include:

SLIDESHOW

Appendicitis: Symptoms, Signs, Causes, Appendectomy in Detail See Slideshow

When to consult a doctor about lower abdominal pain

Lower abdominal pain can occasionally be a symptom of a serious condition that needs to be evaluated immediately. Seek emergency medical care if the following symptoms occur:

  • Sudden, severe abdominal or pelvic pain
  • Abdominal injuries
  • Vomiting blood
  • Rectal bleeding
  • Bloody stools
  • Bleeding during pregnancy
  • Changes in awareness or alertness, including fainting or becoming unresponsive
  • High fever (temperature more than 101 F)
  • Lack of bowel movements, especially when vomiting is present
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Abdominal stiffness

How is lower abdominal pain diagnosed?

Contact a doctor if your abdominal pain does not appear to be related to indigestion, is getting worse, or does not go away.

Your doctor will probably conduct a physical examination and inquire in-depth about your symptoms. If you experience lower abdomen pain, they may perform a rectal or gynecological exam. Additionally, they may order tests to rule out other potential causes of your abdominal pain.

The following tests may be ordered:

  • Blood tests to screen for infections or blood loss, such as a complete blood count
  • Pregnancy tests
  • Imaging procedures to view your abdominal organs, such as a CT scan
  • An ultrasound is the preferred imaging approach for examining unexplained stomach pain if you are pregnant

What is the treatment for lower abdominal pain?

If your pain is severe, treatment may involve one or more of the following:

  • Painkillers to provide temporary relief
  • Intravenous fluids to make up for the fluid loss
  • Anti-nausea medications to stop vomiting
  • Fasting (your doctor may advise fasting until the cause of your pain is identified)

If your pain is mild, you can try several home remedies to relieve the discomfort:

  • Using a hot water bottle to relieve pain
  • Taking a warm bath
  • Staying hydrated
  • Avoiding alcohol, coffee, and tea
  • Eating bland food
  • Resting
  • Taking over-the-counter drugs, such as acetaminophen

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Medically Reviewed on 10/20/2022
References
Image Source: iStock image

Stomach Cramps: Causes and Treatments https://www.webmd.com/digestive-disorders/stomach-cramps

Abdominal pain https://www.mountsinai.org/health-library/symptoms/abdominal-pain

Abdominal pain https://www.mayoclinic.org/symptoms/abdominal-pain/basics/causes/sym-20050728

Abdominal Pain https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK412/