A stomach ache is one of those pains often ignored and passed off as gas or cramping of some sort. But belly pain can be caused by various medical conditions, and although commonly attributed to gas, serious conditions such as gallstones and appendicitis can be present and a delay in diagnosis worsens the outcome.
Below, general, laparoscopic and bariatric surgeon Dr Alfred Dawes explains some stomach pains women should never ignore.
1. Intense pain in your umbilicus or right part of the abdomen
Dr Dawes said this should never be ignored, especially if you are pregnant. “The larger uterus can push the appendix outside of its usual position, and the pain of appendicitis may not be in the lower abdomen. A delay in diagnosis may lead to rupture and a threat to the baby,” he said.
2. Pain that is followed by vomiting
This, according to Dawes, is usually associated with inflammation of an organ in the abdomen. “Gastroenteritis usually starts with vomiting and/or diarrhoea before you feel stomach cramps. But if the pain is the first sign then the vomiting, it could be any number of conditions that need medical attention. Gallstones cause pain and nausea but may not be associated with vomiting. Pain of gastritis and ulcers may be related to hunger or food intake and lead to nausea and decreased appetite,” he said.
3. Pain associated with eating food
“Fatty foods trigger gallstone pain. The fat stimulates the gall bladder to squeeze out the digestive juices and in so doing the stones block the opening, causing pain. Spicy foods can irritate the lining of the stomach if there is gastritis present. This pain is worse if there is a tumour or an ulcer,” Dr Dawes said.
4. Pain after a night of drinking
Dr Dawes said this is usually due to irritation of the stomach; however, if the pain is associated with vomiting and gets severe, you may have pancreatitis. He said this is more likely if the pain moves to the centre of your back.
5. Pain during ovulation
At the time of ovulation there may be a rupture of the cyst containing the egg and this may cause a sharp pain as the blood irritates the lining of the abdominal cavity. This is called mittelschmerz and usually resolves on its own. Mittelschmerz is one-sided, lower abdominal pain associated with ovulation. It occurs midway through a menstrual cycle — about 14 days before your next menstrual period — and usually does not require medical attention. However, pain associated with the twisting or torsion of an ovarian cyst is prolonged and associated with vomiting and will usually have the woman writhing in pain due to its severity.
6. Pain in pelvis
Pain in the lower abdomen can be due to pelvic inflammatory disease or PID. This pain can be in the centre of the lower abdomen or the left or right sides. In some instances the infection may track all the way up to around the liver and pain in the right upper abdomen can be experienced. In some instances the pain of PID is mistaken for appendicitis and this is because of the similar presentation, in that the patient will feel sick and there may be nausea, vomiting and fever, the cardinal signs that pain in the belly is more than simple colic.