December 4, 2023

Sharp pain in the stomach has several potential causes. Some of these may resolve on their own without medical treatment, but others are considered a medical emergency. It is important to pay attention to symptoms so a healthcare provider can make an accurate diagnosis.

This article will discuss the causes of sharp stomach pain, treatment options, and when to see a healthcare provider.

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Why Does Your Stomach Hurt?

Stomach pain may come on suddenly, or it might be an ongoing or recurring symptom. The causes vary from everyday complaints such as food poisoning or stomach flu that usually get better with treatment to serious conditions that are medical emergencies or require ongoing medical care.


Also called dyspepsia, indigestion is a general term for a group of symptoms related to the digestive tract. The symptoms may be due to something you ate or be related to other conditions. Symptoms may include:

  • Pain in the upper abdomen
  • A burning sensation in the upper abdomen (heartburn)
  • Bloating
  • Burping
  • Feelings of fullness while eating
  • Feeling too full following a meal
  • Gurgling or growling sounds from the stomach
  • Nausea
  • Gas
  • Burping up liquids or foods

Treatment for indigestion varies based on the underlying cause. Options may include:

  • Lifestyle modifications
  • Changes to diet
  • Medications
  • Psychological therapies

Foodborne Illness

Often called food poisoning, foodborne illnesses can be caused by bacteria, toxins, viruses, and parasites. Symptoms of food poisoning can vary between people.

Common symptoms may include:

  • Stomach cramps (can be very painful)
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Nausea

In some people, symptoms can be severe and even life-threatening.

In most cases, a foodborne illness will resolve without medical treatment. However, those with severe symptoms should see a healthcare provider.


Also known as stomach flu, gastroenteritis is an infection of the stomach or intestines. It is often caused by a virus, such as norovirus in adults and rotavirus in children, but can be due to bacteria or parasites.

Symptoms may include:

  • Abdominal cramps (can be very painful)
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Nausea
  • Fever

There is no specific treatment for gastroenteritis, but rehydration solutions can be helpful. Medications may also be recommended.

Lactose Intolerance

Lactose is a type of sugar often found in dairy products like milk. Lactose intolerance occurs when the body can’t properly digest lactose. Symptoms vary among people but will often begin 30 minutes to two hours after consuming food or drink containing lactose.

Possible symptoms include:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Cramping
  • Bloating
  • Gas
  • Nausea
  • Diarrhea

There is no treatment for lactose intolerance, but symptoms can be avoided by managing diet.

Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a chronic functional digestive condition. Several symptoms can occur together.

These symptoms can include:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Changes to bowel movements
  • Diarrhea
  • Constipation

Treating IBS may involve several approaches. These may include:

  • Making changes to diet
  • Probiotics (beneficial bacteria normally present in the digestive tract)
  • Medicine
  • Mental health therapy


Appendicitis is considered a medical emergency. It can be caused by an infection in the digestive tract or a blockage of the passage between the large intestine and appendix.

The most common symptom of appendicitis is pain in the abdomen. This pain may:

  • Get worse over time
  • Begin near the belly button
  • Move to the lower right of the abdomen
  • Be worse with movement or with touch
  • Be worse with deep breathing, sneezing, and coughing

Medical Emergency

Appendicitis is a medical emergency. If not treated, the appendix can rupture within 48 to 72 hours of the first symptoms, which can be life-threatening.

Other symptoms that may accompany pain include:

  • Vomiting
  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Constipation
  • Swollen stomach
  • Diarrhea
  • Loss of appetite

Appendicitis is treated through surgery (appendectomy).


Gallstones are hard, small, pebble-like deposits that can form in the gallbladder (an organ that stores and releases bile, which is used for digestion). If a gallstone blocks the bile duct, bile can build up in the gallbladder and trigger a gallbladder attack.

This can cause several symptoms, including:

  • Pain in the abdomen that may persist for hours
  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Vomiting
  • Nausea
  • Jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes)
  • Pale-colored stools
  • Urine the color of tea

Typically, gallbladder attacks are treated with surgery to remove the gallbladder.

Ovarian Cysts

Ovarian cysts are sacs filled with fluid on the ovaries (egg-producing reproductive organs). Many people who have ovarian cysts experience no symptoms, but symptoms can occur.

Possible symptoms of ovarian cysts include:

  • Pain in the lower abdomen (sharp or dull and may come and go)
  • Pressure
  • Swelling
  • Bloating
  • Pelvic pain
  • Pain during sex
  • Unusual vaginal bleeding
  • Unexplained weight gain
  • More frequent urination

If a cyst bursts, it can cause severe, sudden pain.

Treating ovarian cysts may involve surgery, pain medicine, and hormonal birth control.

Ovulation Pain

Roughly 14 days before a menstrual period, the ovary releases an egg. This is known as ovulation.

During this time, some people will experience pain on one side of their lower abdomen. This is typically considered a normal part of the menstrual cycle. The pain may feel sharp and sudden, or like a dull cramp.

Ovulation pain can be treated with over-the-counter (OTC) painkillers or home remedies like a hot bath.

Urinary Tract Infection (UTI)

A UTI is an infection anywhere in the urinary system. They more commonly occur in females than in males.

Symptoms of a urinary tract infection may include:

  • Pressure felt in the lower abdomen
  • Pain when urinating
  • Burning when urinating
  • Blood in the urine
  • Foul-smelling urine
  • Urge to urinate more often
  • Needing to urinate, but not much urine comes out when trying to urinate
  • Weakness
  • Confusion
  • Fatigue
  • Fever

Urinary tract infections are treated with antibiotics.

Celiac Disease

Celiac disease is an autoimmune disease in which the immune system mistakenly attacks the body. When a person with celiac disease consumes gluten (a protein found in some grains), it triggers a reaction that causes damage to the small intestine.

There are more than 200 symptoms associated with celiac disease. These may include:

  • Pain in the abdomen
  • Bloating
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Constipation
  • Weight loss
  • Fatigue

The treatment for celiac disease is to adhere to a lifelong, strict gluten-free diet.

Kidney Stones

A kidney stone is a hard, small, rock-shaped mass that is formed from substances in the urine.

Kidney stones can cause a variety of symptoms including:

  • Sharp pain in the lower abdomen
  • Sharp pain in the side or back
  • Pain that may come and go
  • An intense urge to urinate
  • Burning sensation when urinating
  • Dark or red urine
  • Vomiting
  • Nausea
  • Pain at the tip of the penis

Treatment may involve waiting for the stone to pass naturally, medications, or surgery.

Peptic Ulcers

Also known as a stomach ulcer, a peptic ulcer is a sore that can form in the lining of the stomach or the duodenum (the first part of the small intestine)

People infected with the Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) bacterium or people who take nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) long term are most likely to get a peptic ulcer.

The most common symptom of a peptic ulcer is a burning or dull pain in the stomach. The pain most commonly occurs when the stomach is empty.

Other symptoms may include:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Weight loss
  • Loss of appetite
  • Bloating

Treatment varies based on the cause of the ulcer but may include antibiotics, medications, or avoiding NSAIDs.

Food Allergies

A food allergy can cause a variety of symptoms. These most commonly occur seconds to minutes after ingesting food containing the allergen (a substance that triggers the allergic reaction).

Symptoms may include:

  • Pain in the abdomen
  • Diarrhea
  • Itchy mouth
  • Swelling
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Itchy eyes

An allergic reaction is treated either with antihistamines or, in the case of a severe anaphylactic reaction, with epinephrine (adrenaline).

Medical Emergency

Anaphylaxis is a life-threatening whole-body allergic reaction. Symptoms include hives, facial, tongue, or throat swelling, difficulty breathing, and a fast or slow heartbeat. People who are at risk of anaphylaxis should carry an EpiPen epinephrine injector to use at the first signs of anaphylaxis and seek emergency medical care.

Ectopic Pregnancy

An ectopic pregnancy occurs when a pregnancy develops outside the uterus (womb). This most commonly occurs in a fallopian tube. An ectopic pregnancy endangers the pregnant person’s life and will not result in delivery of a baby.

An ectopic pregnancy can cause a variety of symptoms, including:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Pelvic pain
  • No recent menstrual period
  • Vaginal bleeding unrelated to a period

Methods for treating an ectopic pregnancy vary based on hormone levels, how far along the pregnancy is, and whether the fallopian tube has ruptured.

Treatment options include:

  • Medications to stop the pregnancy from developing further
  • Surgery
  • Careful monitoring and allowing the pregnancy to heal naturally and the body to absorb it (only in some cases)

Medical Emergency

See a healthcare provider if you are pregnant and have abdominal pain and abnormal vaginal bleeding. Seek emergency care if you have signs of a ruptured fallopian tube (which can be life-threatening), which include:

  • Sudden, severe abdominal or pelvic pain
  • Shoulder pain
  • Dizziness, fainting, or weakness

When to See a Healthcare Provider

You should contact a healthcare provider right away if you have abdominal pain and you:

  • Are vomiting blood
  • Have blood in your stool
  • Are being treated for cancer
  • Can’t pass stool
  • Are pregnant or may be pregnant
  • Have trouble breathing
  • Have pain in the shoulder, neck, or chest
  • Have sudden, sharp pain in the abdomen
  • Have had an injury to the abdomen

Diagnosis and Testing for Abdominal Pain

As well as taking a full medical history and completing a medical exam, a healthcare provider may use a variety of tests to diagnose the cause of abdominal pain.

These may include:

  • Blood tests
  • Urine tests
  • Stool tests
  • Ultrasound: Sound waves are used to produce images.
  • Colonoscopy: A flexible tube with a camera is inserted through the rectum to take images of the colon.
  • Sigmoidoscopy: A flexible viewing tube is inserted through the rectum to examine the lower third of the colon.
  • Endoscopy: An instrument with a camera is inserted into the body to obtain images of internal organs and other structures.
  • X-rays: Radiation is used to produce images.
  • Barium enema: Contrast media is given rectally to enhance X-rays of the colon.
  • Computed tomography (CT) scans: A computer and X-rays are used to produce cross-sectional images.


Sharp stomach pain has a number of potential causes. Some of these may resolve without the need for medical treatment but some, like appendicitis, are considered a medical emergency that requires immediate attention from a healthcare provider.

A healthcare provider may use a variety of tests to diagnose the cause of stomach pain. Treatments vary based on the underlying cause and may involve medications, lifestyle changes, surgery, or home remedies.

A Word From Verywell

Dealing with sharp stomach pain can be upsetting and scary. If you are concerned about any symptoms you are experiencing, don’t be afraid to contact a healthcare provider for help.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How do you cure stabbing pain in the stomach?

    Pain in the stomach can have many causes. Treatment will vary based on the underlying cause.

    Possible treatments for stomach pain include:

    • Medication
    • Rehydration remedies
    • Lifestyle changes
    • Diet changes
    • Home remedies like applying a hot water bottle to the abdomen

  • When should you go to the hospital for stomach pain?

    You should see a healthcare provider or call 911 immediately if you have abdominal pain and any of these apply:

    • You are being treated for cancer.
    • You’re having trouble breathing
    • You’re vomiting up blood.
    • You have blood in your stools.
    • You have trouble passing stools.
    • You have pain in the shoulders, chest, or neck.
    • Your belly is tender or rigid.
    • You have had an injury to the abdomen.
    • You’re pregnant or could be pregnant.


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