What are sharp pains in the stomach?

Causes of sharp pains in the stomach can include gas, stomach viruses, appendicitis, gallstones, irritable bowel syndrome, kidney stones, ovarian cysts, and other conditions.
Causes of sharp pains in the stomach can include gas, stomach viruses, appendicitis, gallstones, irritable bowel syndrome, kidney stones, ovarian cysts, and other conditions.

Abdominal pain is pain that you feel anywhere in your stomach region. Pain can range from mild stomach aches to severe pain. While some abdominal pain can be traced to indigestion, other cases may require a doctor’s diagnosis to determine the source.

Types of sharp pains in the stomach

There are several types of abdominal pain, depending on the duration of the pain:

  • Acute pain occurs over a few hours or days
  • Chronic pain can last weeks, months, or more and it may come and go
  • Progressive pain gets worse over time

Some abdominal pain or discomfort is normal, but sharp, stabbing pain can be frightening. Most abdominal pain isn’t a cause for worry, but it may be a sign of a more serious health concern.

The severity of the pain, the location within the abdomen, and other symptoms can help determine the potential cause behind your sharp stomach pains—and whether or not you need to see a doctor.

Symptoms of sharp pains in the stomach

The symptoms of sharp stomach pains depend on the characteristics and location of the pain. It can also be accompanied by other symptoms, like nausea, vomiting, or fever.

You may experience different types of stomach pain. These characteristics can include:

Generalized pain

Generalized pain is pain that you feel in large areas of your stomach, typically more than half of your abdominal area. This pain may be caused by a stomach virus, indigestion, or gas. If the pain is severe, it could be caused by blocked intestines.

Localized pain

Localized pain is focused in one area of your stomach. This is more likely to be a sign of issues in an organ, like the appendix, uterus, gallbladder, or stomach.

Cramp pain

Cramp pain may feel more like a muscle tightening inside your abdomen. Most of the time, this type of pain is due to gas, bloating, or menstrual issues. However, if the pain is persistent, lasts longer than 24 hours, or is accompanied by fever, it may be more serious.

Colicky pain

Colicky pain may come and go, seeming to arrive in waves. It may start and end suddenly. If severe, kidney stones or gallstones may be a cause.

Location of stomach pain

Stomach pain may be generalized—taking up more than half of the abdomen—but it also may be stronger in some areas of the stomach. It can occur in these locations:

  • Upper or lower abdomen
  • Right upper and lower abdomen
  • Left upper and lower abdomen
  • Right and left pelvis

Additional symptoms

Additional symptoms associated with abdominal pain can include:

More serious additional symptoms can include:

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Causes of sharp pains in the stomach

Depending on the type, location, and severity of the pain, sharp pains in the stomach can be attributed to many cause, including the following.

Gas

Gas and bloating can cause stomach pains, ranging from mild to severe. Although the pain doesn’t last long-term, the pain may come in waves and last for up to a few hours.

Stomach viruses

Stomach viruses, like the norovirus, can cause intense, cramp-like pains. Viruses can cause symptoms for several days and typically clear up over time. Other symptoms can include cramping, nausea, vomiting, fever, and muscle aches.

Appendicitis

Appendicitis, or inflammation of the appendix, can lead to sharp pains in the lower right part of your abdomen. There may also be symptoms like nausea, vomiting, and bloating.

Gallstones

Gallstones are hardened deposits that can form in your gallbladder. When a gallstone blocks a duct in your gallbladder, it can lead to severe pain in the abdomen, or cholecystitis. Other symptoms can include sweating, vomiting, fever, or a yellowish tint to the skin.

Irritable bowel syndrome

Irritable bowel syndrome can lead to cramp-like pain in the lower abdomen. It may also be accompanied by bloating, diarrhea, or constipation.

Kidney stones

A sharp, stabbing pain in the lower stomach area may be a sign of kidney stones, or deposits made of minerals and salts that build up in urine. Other symptoms can include nausea, vomiting, fever, and chills.

Ovarian cysts

Ovarian cysts are sacs filled with fluid that form on the ovaries during ovulation. If large enough, these cysts can trigger intense pain in the lower abdomen. They may also lead to bloating, swelling, and pressure in the area of the cyst.

When to see the doctor for sharp pains in the stomach

While some types of stomach pain may go away over time, other forms of abdominal pain should be addressed right away by a doctor. Seek emergency care if you experience any of the following symptoms.

  • Abdominal pain during pregnancy
  • Sharp abdominal pain that lasts for more than 6 hours
  • Sudden pain that begins after eating
  • Pain and tenderness in the lower right side of the abdomen
  • Bloody stool
  • Hematemesis, or vomiting up blood
  • Abdominal swelling
  • Yellow skin
  • Difficulty breathing
  • High fever

Diagnosing sharp pains in the stomach

If you seek medical attention for sharp abdominal pains, your doctor will likely ask you questions to better understand your symptoms and the type of pain you’re experiencing.

Further testing may help evaluate your pain, including:

Treatments for sharp pains in the stomach

Treatments for abdominal pain depend on the cause, but they may include medications to reduce inflammation or treat infection. Other treatment can include surgery to treat issues with the organs.

In some cases, over-the-counter pain relievers can irritate the stomach and worsen the pain. Don’t take medications like aspirin or ibuprofen unless recommended by a doctor.

When recovering from stomach pain, staying hydrated and using heating pads can help speed recovery and reduce pain.

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Medically Reviewed on 2/25/2021
References
American Family Physician: "Evaluation of Acute Abdominal Pain in Adults"

Cleveland Clinic: "Abdominal Pain"

University of Michigan: "Stomachache"

U.S. National Library of Medicine: "Abdominal Pain."