Reasons why your stomach might be hurting

Get to the bottom of what may be causing stomach aches, cramps and bloating.

It’s common to get tummy aches and cramps from time to time – in fact, stomach pain sparks an estimated 5 to 10 per cent of visits to hospital emergency departments.

“If you are getting stomach pains on a regular basis, speak to your GP to find out what is causing the pain,” says Professor Terry Bolin, of The Gut Foundation.

“There are some common causes of pain that are nothing to worry about – but it’s important to check in case there is a more serious underlying cause.”

Terry says there are three common causes of ongoing stomach pain:

Irritable bowel syndrome

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) affects up to 20 per cent of people, particularly men and women aged from their teens to 30s.

IBS can sometimes be triggered by diarrhoea.

“The pain can be all over the abdomen, but particularly lower down,” says Terry.

“It’s a cramping pain that can come and go and is relieved through passing wind or passing a bowel motion.

“IBS often goes hand in hand with constipation or diarrhoea, and is frequently accompanied by bloating.”

IBS can be eased with a higher fibre diet and your specialist may also recommend pain medications.

Diverticular disease

Diverticular disease is more common as people age and has similar symptoms to IBS.

It occurs in the wall of the large bowel and symptoms include stomach pain, bloating, constipation or diarrhoea.

By the age of 50, around a third of people have the problem.

Terry says a lack of fibre is often a factor, and gradually increasing foods like wholemeal bread and cereals, legumes, fruits and vegetables can help.

Paracetamol can help relieve pain.

“But it’s important to introduce fibre gradually as it can lead to bloating,” says Terry.


“Gallstones are signalled by severe pain in the upper abdomen, under the ribs, that often radiates to the back,” says Terry.

“The gall bladder produces bile that mixes with calcium and creates stones. If a stone gets caught in the bile duct it causes severe pain.”

Gallstones can occur at any age, and are often linked to a family history.

Stones can be removed in different ways depending on the type of stone and where it is.

Options include oral medication, shock wave therapy that shatters the stones so they can be excreted, or surgery.

How to treating general stomach pain at home

  • Place a hot water bottle or heat pack on your stomach
  • Relax in a warm bath
  • Drink plenty of clear fluids, such as water

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Written by Sarah Marinos.