Pain is your body’s way of signaling to your mind that something is wrong with it. And while teeth sensitivity most likely means that you should lay off ice cream, when it comes to your belly, things get way more complicated. The belly, also known as the abdomen, is where many of your essential organs sit. Pain in the abdomen could point to a variety of conditions: it might be that extra ice cream upsetting your stomach, or muscle pain after an intense ab workout, but it may also be an issue with your liver, cardiovascular system or reproductive organs. The location of the pain can tell you a lot about the possible underlying issue, which is why we have created this abdominal map that will help you understand the reason for that annoying belly pain.
Central Upper Abdomen
This is the part of your body where most of your stomach sits, so when you experience pain only in this part of your belly, it generally indicates a stomach issue. Many of these conditions produce very similar symptoms and require medical tests to be diagnosed.
- Gastritis is an inflammation of your stomach lining. The main symptom of gastritis is upper abdominal pain, nausea, and vomiting, loss of appetite and heartburn. To read more about gastritis, click on this guide to gastritis.
- Hiatal hernias are another stomach-related issue that makes you experience acid reflux and food “balling up” before entering the stomach, which causes abdominal and chest pains while eating.
- Though rare, gastroparesis may be another cause for upper abdominal pain, especially if you also feel full all the time, even though you didn’t eat for a while. Other symptoms include heartburn and constant nausea.
- Burning upper abdominal pain that improves after eating, and often starts after taking aspirin, drinking alcohol, orange juice, or coffee may be a symptom of a peptic ulcer. If you’d like to learn about stomach ulcers follow this link on how to deal with stomach ulcers.
- Pericarditis, unlike the other diseases we have discussed in this section, is a heart disease. Though not a main symptom, it can cause chest pain radiating into the abdomen and back that worsens when lying down.
Right Upper Abdomen
When you feel pain that starts in the right upper abdomen, it is particularly difficult to specify the reason, as it can indicate problems with the liver, gallbladder or the upper intestinal tract. The quality and persistence of the pain may hint to a specific condition.
- Cholecystitis (an inflamed gallbladder). The main symptom is a sudden sharp pain in the upper right side of your belly that can persist for hours. It has a tendency to spread toward the right shoulder. The painful area feels tender, and breathing deeply worsens the pain. Click here if you want to know how to keep it healthy and functioning well.
- Gallstones may cause pain after eating fried and fatty foods that often ceases after a few hours.
- Cramping, sudden abdominal pain, and tenderness in the right upper part of your tummy that worsens when you consume fatty foods or alcohol may indicate liver damage, which may due to different conditions, such as hepatitis, alcohol abuse or cirrhosis. Click on this comprehensive guide to cirrhosis to learn all about this common disease.
The symptoms of duodenitis, the inflammation of the upper small intestine that is adjacent to the stomach are similar to that of gastritis, but the pain can also be experienced in the upper right side under the ribs.
Left and Right Upper Abdomen
When you experience pain in the top right and/or left sides of the abdomen and back, it is usually due to some lung condition, such as pneumothorax, pleurisy or pneumonia. It can be sudden and one-sided in pneumothorax, or constant, dull and aching in pneumonia and pleurisy. Abdominal pain is by no means the primary symptom of these conditions, however, shortness of breath, fever and fast heart rate are. To be able to evaluate if your cough needs medical attention, read the 7 symptoms of a bad cough.
Entire Upper Abdomen
When the origin of pain is difficult to pinpoint, or it spreads throughout the entire upper part of your belly, it can be due to a variety of different conditions.
- Not an uncommon condition is intestinal obstruction, about the dangers of which you can learn by clicking here. This a medical emergency that causes sudden strong cramps in the upper belly that come and go, which may be accompanied by swelling and bloating.
- Pancreatitis pain wraps around the upper belly and the back in a band-like fashion. It may be aggravated by eating, especially foods high in fat.
- A heart attack is generally associated with a squeezing chest pain, but it can spread to the abdomen and left hand. To know how to react to a heart attack and how to determine if you or someone else has one, click on the link about heart attack symptoms.
Central Lower Abdomen
The central part of your belly and pelvis is another part of the abdomen where different systems meet and intertwine. Pain in this region can be caused by intestinal issues, problems with certain blood vessels and the urinary tract.
- Cystitis is a bladder infection, which can cause stabbing pains in the middle part of your pelvis, as well as burning sensations during urination and difficulty urinating.
- A rare symptom of thoracic aortic aneurysm, a disease of the largest blood vessel of the human body, is abdominal and back pain. Here is a link to a dedicated article on everything you need to know about this deadly disease: aortic aneurysm 101.
Right Lower Abdomen
- Dull pain on the right side of your navel which sharpens and shifts to the lower right abdomen is the first sign of appendicitis. For a comprehensive article on appendicitis, click on our guide to appendicitis.
Left Lower Abdomen
- One of the most common reasons for pain in the left lower side of your tummy is diverticulitis, an inflammation in the large intestine, which causes sudden onset pain in the left lower abdomen, blood in stool and periods of constipation followed by periods of diarrhea.
Left and Right Lower Abdomen
If you experience symmetrical pain in the lower abdomen, or pain that fits the following descriptions on either side, it is usually due to an issue with kidneys or the reproductive system.
- Women can experience dull aching pain in either or both sides of the abdomen, as well as a feeling of heaviness, fullness, swelling and pressure in these areas may suffer from ovarian cysts.
- Salpingitis, the inflammation of the fallopian tubes, can also be accompanied by abdominal pain and lower back pain on either or both sides in women.
- Kidney Infection and kidney stones are the primary causes of lower back and abdominal pain after spine problems. Both of these conditions cause excruciating intermittent pain that starts from either or both sides of the groin and spreads upward in the direction of the back. Difficulty urinating, painful urination and urinary urgency are other symptoms of these diseases. On more about kidney stones, click on 6 signs you have kidney stones.
- Significant pain on either side of the belly in men can be caused by inguinal hernia, which presses on the intestine and can be very dangerous if not treated.
Entire Lower Abdomen
Some conditions can cause pain in any location of your lower abdomen, or cause pain in the entire area. These include endometriosis, PID, IBD, and intestinal obstruction.
- Women suffering from endometriosis and pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) feel mild to severe pelvic and lower abdominal pain, as well as sometimes pain during intercourse. Pelvic pain in women is a concern that shouldn’t be ignored, which we discuss in detail in this article about pelvic pain.
- Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) always causes abdominal cramps and spasms, as well as weight loss, anemia, and rectal bleeding.
- An intestinal obstruction can occur in the lower intestine, too, not only in the upper one. If that is the case, the lower part of the belly will hurt and the skin in that area will be oversensitive and swollen.
Please keep in mind that the information included in this article is just a general guide to abdominal pain and isn’t a diagnosis. If you feel pain in your belly that is strong, persistent, and/or interferes with your daily life we highly recommend you talk to your doctor, who will be able to make a proper diagnosis.