Abdominal Pain: When Is It Time To Visit A Gastroenterologist?

By: GI Alliance


We’ve all experienced abdominal pain at some point.  It can be bothersome and frustrating.  But, what if your abdominal pain reaches the point of concern?  If you’ve had ongoing or severe pain, you may find yourself wondering when you should see a physician, and you are right to do so.  While many stomach pains resolve on their own or respond to certain methods of self-medication, there are others that require a more in-depth look. Not sure which category your discomfort falls into?  Here are some general guidelines to help you determine when it’s time to see your gastroenterologist.

Location of Abdominal Pain Matters

While it is often the severity of pain that prompts an appointment, the location of abdominal pain is an important factor as well.  The abdomen covers a large area and encompasses many important organs.  Paying attention to where your pain originates can be helpful in determining its root cause. Pain in the upper, middle abdomen – This location is where the esophagus connects with the stomach.  Pain here is commonly associated with heartburn.  Often, it can be relieved with simple antacids.  However, chest pain due to heart problems, heartburn or other conditions such as inflammation/musculoskeletal pain or even panic attacks, may present in the same way.  Therefore, it is best to seek medical care to determine the cause.  It is always better be safe than sorry, by not missing serious conditions, rather than assuming it is something simple. Pain in the lower abdomen – If you have a general feeling of cramping or discomfort in the lower abdomen, constipation in the likely culprit.  The condition is often passing and could be helped along with increased fluid and fiber intake or laxatives.  However, if the problem persists or recurs often, a gastroenterologist should be consulted. Additionally, it is important to note that while many patients assume pain in this area could indicate colon cancer, the disease and associated polyps may not cause ANY symptoms. This is why everyone above 50 needs a colonoscopy, even if they are feeling fine, and sometimes earlier if other risk factors are present. Pain that is localized – Pain that is localized to one side or the other of the abdomen could indicate an underlying problem with an organ.  Pain in the right, lower abdomen, for instance, could come from the appendix, while the gallbladder may cause pain in the upper right area.  In any case, persistent pain in a localized area should be examined by a doctor.

Severity and Endurance of Abdominal Pain

In general, fleeting abdominal pain is not a cause for concern.  In many cases, your body is able to deal with the source of pain and get you back to normal relatively quickly.  However, this is not always the case.  Seek medical attention immediately if your pain is severe or if it associated with any of the following:
  • Fever
  • Bloody stools
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Yellowing skin or eyes
  • Abdominal swelling or tenderness
  • Shortness of breath
While most cases of abdominal pain are relatively harmless, there are always exceptions.  Still, it is important not to Google your symptoms and allow yourself to assume the worst possible condition such as cancer.  This will only give you undue anxiety regarding your health.  If you experience the above symptoms, it is important to promptly seek medical care.  Then, allow your physician and their medical knowledge to assess the nature and seriousness of your condition and treat it accordingly. Request an appointment with a GI Alliance gastroenterologist today!