What to Do for Severe Stomach Pain

When Is Abdominal Pain an Emergency?

Woman on bed with cramps
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Experiencing unbearable stomach pain can be alarming. It can also be hard to know what you are supposed to do. Do you need to call an ambulance or go to the emergency room? Should you call your doctor? Or is it something minor that you can treat at home?

These are important questions and there are a few things you need to know to make the safest, smartest decision for yourself or someone you love. Remember to err on the side of caution when deciding whether or not to seek immediate medical attention.

When in doubt, make the call.

When to Call an Ambulance or Go to the ER

When a person is having a medical emergency, time is of the essence. If you have any of the following symptoms, get to the emergency room. An ambulance should be called if you are alone, think immediate EMT assistance is necessary, or think your health could take a turn for the worse during the time it takes to get to the nearest hospital.

Get help immediately if your severe stomach pain is accompanied by any of the following symptoms:

  • Abdomen that is extremely hard or tender to the touch
  • Bleeding that cannot be stopped
  • Bloody diarrhea
  • Chest pain or pressure
  • Coughing up or vomiting blood
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Dizziness
  • Fainting
  • Inability to have a bowel movement accompanied by vomiting
  • Pain in neck, shoulder or between shoulder blades
  • Unable to stop vomiting
  • Vision changes

Other reasons you might need immediate medical care for severe stomach pain:

  • You have recently been injured in your abdomen.
  • You are undergoing cancer treatment.
  • You are pregnant or think you might be pregnant.

When You Should Call Your Doctor

If you have decided that your symptoms do not warrant a visit to the emergency room, you may still be wondering if you should let your doctor know what is happening.

If you have any of the following symptoms, it is important that you contact your doctor in a timely manner:

Not an Emergency? How to Feel Better

If you decide that you are not deathly ill, you are still faced with the fact that you are not well. Here are are some steps to take:

  • Limit yourself to only clear liquids for a few hours.
  • If you experience vomiting and/or diarrhea, stick with the BRAT diet and other mild foods until your symptoms start to subside.
  • Avoid foods that are tough on the digestive system, such as fried foods, spicy foods, and drinks containing alcohol or caffeine.
  • Try an over-the-counter antacid or gas-relieving product.
  • Try to have a bowel movement. Sometimes the cause of sudden sharp abdominal pains is trapped gas. Having a bowel movement may help to get the intestines moving so that the gas can make its way out of your system.
  • Use a hot water bottle or heating pad. This may help to ease your pain, and if nothing else, can be quite soothing. Place the pad on your abdomen for half hour intervals and be sure to use a towel under the pad to protect your skin.

    How to Ease Your Mind

    Anxiety about what is possibly wrong will enhance your experience of the pain. Here are some things you can do to help to reduce your worry:

    Educate yourself about your digestive system. You may not have given your insides any thought since high school biology. You can take a look at pictures of your digestive system to figure out what's inside where it hurts. You will not come up with an answer as definitive as your doctor because pain can radiate, but visualizing what might be going on may help to reduce your anxiety.

    Educate yourself about the possible causes of your pain. While you are waiting for the pain to ease or to speak with your doctor, you could spend a little time learning about the more common causes of digestive problems.

    Reassure yourself. Keep in mind that our bodies sometimes do funky things. As stated above, trapped gas can be quite painful, yet does not mean that anything terrible is wrong with you.

    Also, remember that if there was something more serious going on it is likely that your body will let you know. If any of the above scary symptoms do not develop, you are most likely experiencing some kind of temporary problem that your body will work out over time.

    Source:

    U.S. National Library of Medicine. Abdominal Pain. Medline Plus. 2016.

    American College of Emergency Physicians. Is it an Emergency? 2017.

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