8 Signs You Should See a Doctor About Stomach Pain

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The good news is that gastroenteritis usually goes away on its own, Dr. Tripathi says. But, she adds, if you’re struggling to keep fluids down (a common problem with gastroenteritis), it’s definitely time to see a doctor.

3. The pain has stuck around for more than a day, and it’s spreading into your back.

Keep in mind that the amount of time you’ve been in pain isn’t usually enough to tell you what’s up on its own. “The duration of pain is often not a reliable indicator of serious vs. benign conditions,” says Dr. Lee. But having persistent stomach pain that won’t stay put and actually starts spreading into your back can indicate something serious like acute pancreatitis (sudden inflammation of the pancreas) or cholecystitis (inflammation of the gallbladder).

With pancreatitis, the pain (which can be mild or severe) typically starts in your upper abdomen and may extend into your back from there, the NIDDK says. While that’s usually the main symptom of this condition, others include fever, nausea and vomiting, a quickened heartbeat, and a swollen or tender abdomen. If it’s cholecystitis, on the other hand, severe pain may first start brewing in your upper right or center abdomen before spreading to your right shoulder or back, according to the Mayo Clinic. Just in case these conditions don’t seem similar enough, cholecystitis can also cause nausea, vomiting, fever, and stomach tenderness. Point being, call your doctor. Both issues are serious, and it’ll be too hard to figure out what’s up on your own (especially when you’re in pain).

4. The pain is in your lower right abdomen, came on suddenly, and is getting worse.

Sigh. Classic appendicitis. This inflammation of the appendix (a finger-shaped pouch that sits at the end of your colon) often starts around the belly button before moving to the lower right abdomen, the NIDDK says, and it can be Truly The Worst. “The pain usually becomes progressively more intense,” Dr. Lee says, often within a matter of hours. People have described it as “knives carving up my insides” and “genuinely the worst pain I’ve ever felt in my life.” The pain may also get worse when you move around, take deep breaths, cough, or sneeze, the NIDDK says, and come along with symptoms like fever, nausea and vomiting, constipation, diarrhea, and swelling.

If you have these symptoms, don’t try to wait them out. Call your doctor or seek out medical care as quickly as possible. “Appendicitis requires immediate attention,” Dr. Tripathi says. Without prompt medical care, your appendix could burst.

5. The pain is in your side or lower back, and it hurts to pee.

It could be a kidney stone, which is a (cursed) pebble-like piece of material that can form in one or both of your kidneys when you have high levels of certain minerals in your pee. Kidney stones can vary in shape and size, the NIDDK explains, and while it’s possible to have one and not even know it, larger stones can cause some otherworldly pain as they pass through your urinary tract on their way out of your body. “Pain usually comes and goes and may move toward the groin,” Dr. Lee says. “The pain can be so intense that it can cause nausea, vomiting, and chills.” In addition to the pain, you might also notice that your urine is pink, red, or brown due to blood, the NIDDK says. Given how painful kidney stones can be, you probably don’t need us to tell you that you should see a doctor if you think you have them. Seriously, though, don’t try to tough it out!

6. You have intense stomach cramps in your lower abdomen, but you feel better after you poop.

This can be a sign of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), a disorder that’s related to how your brain and gut work together (or, well, don’t), the NIDDK says. Basically, IBS can cause your gut to be more sensitive and change how the muscles in your bowel contract, the NIDDK explains. That can lead to myriad issues, like persistent stomach pain, bloating, diarrhea, constipation, and more. “With IBS, the abdominal cramping is usually in the lower abdomen … and often improves after completing bowel movements,” Dr. Tripathi says. IBS is a chronic disorder, but its symptoms can come and go, the NIDDK says.

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