Why Am I Getting Stomach Pains?

14 March, 2021
This article has been written and endorsed by el biólogo Samuel Antonio Sánchez Amador
The intestinal system is considered by many experts as our "second brain", since emotional imbalances are expressed in this system before it manifests in other organs. Many events can cause abdominal discomfort.

Abdominal pain, with stomach cramps, is the most important manifestation of gastrointestinal disorders, as well as being frequent in other extra-abdominal pathologies, such as myocardial ischemia and pneumonia. Most of us experience this type of pain at some point, but, in most cases, it isn’t serious.

Chronic digestive diseases are on the rise, because, in a society with constant stress problems and an unhealthy diet, it’s common for there to be changes in the intestinal microbiota, and other factors that cause these changes. A representative example is irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).

In addition to IBS, many health problems produce those typical stomach cramps that we’ve all experienced at some time. If you want to know the possible reasons for this symptom, keep reading.

Types of abdominal pain

The most correct term here is “abdominal pain.” According to the United States Library of Medicine, there are a few variants. Among them, we find the following:

  • Generalized pain: This is felt in more than half of the abdomen or belly. It can appear in stomach infections or excessive gas production. When the discomfort worsens, it can be due to intestinal blockages.
  • Localized pain: This occurs in an isolated part of the abdomen. Diverticulitis, appendicitis, stomach ulcers, and other processes cause this type of discomfort, since only a specific structural section is compromised.
  • Cramp-like pain: This isn’t usually very serious, as it’s due in most cases to abdominal distention and gas.
  • Colicky pain: This is very intense, and occurs intermittently. Gallstones and kidney stones often cause this type of sensation.

Beyond this utilitarian classification, the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) shows us that abdominal pain can be classified into three types, according to physiological characteristics, and they’re the following:

  • Visceral: Felt in the area of primary stimulation. It’s often difficult to describe.
  • Parietal: This occurs at a deeper level. It occurs due to the irritation or inflammation of the parietal peritoneum or the root of the mesentery – internal lining tissues. It’s more defined and easier to describe than visceral pain.
  • Referred: This is a pain that occurs in a place other than the one that has been stimulated.

We’re going to focus on the visceral variants and, in general, localized or generalized ones. Many of the common medical problems that lead to abdominal pain are due to these.

Abdominal pain is synonymous with punctures in the belly.
Several benign medical conditions can cause abdominal pain

6 reasons why you have abdominal pain

Without further delay, we’re going to show you some of the most common causes that can explain why this pain occurs. Some of them are benign conditions, while others are illnesses that could get progressively more serious.

1. Gases

According to the Mayo Clinic, the presence of gas in the digestive system is normal. Therefore, repeated flatulence or belching is also typical, and doesn’t have to be due to an underlying disease.

If these accumulations of gas don’t move correctly through the intestines or there’s difficulty in expelling them, pain can occur.

Among the most common symptoms of gas pain, we find the following:

  • Belching
  • Expulsion of gases, usually odorless
  • Pain, cramping, and a kind of abdominal knot sensation
  • A feeling of fullness and abdominal pressure
  • A visible increase in the size of the abdomen – abdominal distention.

These events are normal and there are over-the-counter medications that help alleviate them. However, if you also have blood in your stools, excruciating pain, diarrhea, or recurrent vomiting, a visit to the doctor is mandatory.

2. Acute diverticulitis

Diverticula are structural alterations in the intestinal wall – more specifically the colon – that form a kind of external “pocket”. They’re caused by the herniation of the colonic and subcolonic mucosa, due to functional problems.

On the other hand, when diverticula become inflamed or infected, we’re talking about diverticulitis. Diverticulitis has many symptoms, but the most characteristic of all is a type of pain located in the lower-left part of the abdomen.

Diverticulosis is a medical condition whose frequency increases with advancing age, which is why the diagnosis is more common in older adults. Sometimes, diverticula cause obvious signs and symptoms, but in other cases they don’t pose any major complications.

Some episodes of diverticulitis can be solved by taking antibiotics and even surgery.

3. Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)

This is another of the most common medical conditions that causes abdominal pain. According to the National Library of Medicine of the United States, the most frequent symptoms of this pathology are the following:

  • Abdominal pain and bloating
  • Gases
  • A feeling of fullness
  • Changes in bowel habits

In most cases, these pains disappear when you go to the bathroom. Unfortunately, irritable bowel syndrome has no cure, as it can only be addressed with lifestyle changes and medical or psychological help. Although you may not have thought so, stress can greatly promote this condition.

3. Constipation

Who hasn’t suffered from constipation at least once in their life? This event is defined as the presence of fewer than 3 defecations a week, and causes abdominal pain in almost all cases. As some research indicates, 7.5% of the world’s population has suffered from this condition.

This unpleasant event occurs when stool moves very slowly through the digestive tract. Eventually, these become hard and dry, and their excretion becomes increasingly difficult. Many pathologies can cause constipation, and in some cases, there’s an emotional or dietary cause.

In general, being an adult – especially female – not consuming enough water, having a low fiber diet, doing very little physical activity, or taking certain medications are elements that predispose you to developing constipation.

Constipation is a common cause of abdominal pain.
When patients go several days without being able to have a bowel movement, constipation becomes a common cause of abdominal pain.

4. Allergies or intolerances

If we take lactose intolerance as an example, this is due to the deficient production of the lactase enzyme in certain intestinal cells. The prevalence of this condition depends a lot on the geographical area analyzed, as there are ethnic groups that have “evolved” to consume dairy products more effectively.

In these cases, foods with lactose can’t be digested, which is why they cause an alteration in the intestinal lumen and usually cause abdominal pain, accompanied by diarrhea. This medical condition is linked to diet, that is, to the consumption of milk or derivatives.

This can be applied to intolerance to other foods. When these cannot be digested, the intestinal osmotic balance is lost and water is released, causing the production of diarrhea and abdominal pain. Identifying the cause of these events can be difficult, but once accomplished, the approach is usually fairly straightforward.

European populations are much less prone to lactose intolerance than Asian populations, for example.

5. Cholecystitis

As indicated in the MSD Manual portal, cholecystitis is a complication of gallstones. This manifests itself as sudden and severe pain in the upper abdomen. In a small number of patients, there are no gallstones, a condition known as acalculous cholecystitis.

Many people with gallstones have no symptoms, but when the gallstones block a bile outlet, the gallbladder can become inflamed and infected. In these cases, we’re dealing with the aforementioned cholecystitis which, unfortunately, requires hospital admission.

A cholecystectomy may well be performed, a procedure that involves the removal of the gallbladder.

6. Intestinal infections, a common cause of stomach problems

It’s quite common for a viral or intestinal infection to cause abdominal pain. From Salmonella to noroviruses, a large number of pathogens can cause inflammation of the intestinal mucosa, with different effects on the patient.

These clinical signs can vary greatly depending on the microbe involved and the general health of the patient. For example, a Clostridium difficile intestinal infection, according to some studies, can show up in the following ways:

  • Constant watery diarrhea
  • Very intense abdominal cramps
  • Fever
  • Blood or mucus in the stools
  • Nausea, loss of appetite and weight
  • Dehydration

Multiple causes for the same symptom

As you may have seen, punctures in the belly can be due to multiple causes. We have described the most common ones, but they are certainly not the only ones.

For example, we haven’t mentioned malignancies and other serious conditions that require a more thorough evaluation. In case of doubt, it’s advisable to go to the doctor.

  • Dolor abdominal, Medlineplus.gov. Recogido a 28 de diciembre en https://medlineplus.gov/spanish/ency/article/003120.htm
  • Dolor abdominal, OPS. Recogido a 28 de diciembre en http://www.sld.cu/galerias/pdf/sitios/gericuba/guia12.pdf
  • Gases y dolores por gases, Mayoclinic.org. Recogido a 28 de diciembre en https://www.mayoclinic.org/es-es/diseases-conditions/gas-and-gas-pains/symptoms-causes/syc-20372709
  • Diverticulitis, Intramed. Recogido a 28 de diciembre en https://www.intramed.net/contenidover.asp?contenidoid=89423#:~:text=La%20diverticulitis%20es%20m%C3%A1s%20com%C3%BAn,%2C3%20por%20100000%20personas).
  • Síndrome del intestino irritable (SII), Medlineplus.gov. Recogido a 28 de diciembre en https://medlineplus.gov/spanish/ency/article/000246.htm
  • Garrido, A. S., Bermejo, A. P., Pomo, Y. J., & Soler, A. M. (2012). Estreñimiento. Medicine-Programa de Formación Médica Continuada acreditado, 11(6), 331-336.
  • Colecistitis, MSDmanuals. Recogido a 28 de diciembre en https://www.msdmanuals.com/es-es/hogar/trastornos-del-h%C3%ADgado-y-de-la-ves%C3%ADcula-biliar/trastornos-de-la-ves%C3%ADcula-biliar-y-de-las-v%C3%ADas-biliares/colecistitis
  • Tratamiento y prevención de las infecciones intestinales causadas por el microbio Clostridium difficile, NCBI.com. Recogido a 28 de diciembre en https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK95292/