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When to go to the emergency room (ER) for stomach pain

Abdominal pain is the single leading reason for emergency room visits in the U.S. according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

April 18, 2022
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Abdominal pain is the single leading reason for emergency room visits in the U.S. according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Abdominal pain is the leading reason for emergency room visits in the U.S. according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Even though most people call it stomach pain, it's not always a stomach problem. Your abdomen holds many other organs, including your pancreas, liver, spleen, gallbladder, intestines (colon and bowels) and appendix.

Similar to chest pain or a headache, it may be difficult to determine the source of why your stomach is not feeling well. We’ve outlined some ways to tell where your stomach pain is coming from and when it is an emergency. 

Assess your abdominal pain

When you experience abdominal discomfort, start with these three questions to better understand the source of your stomach pain. 

  • What type of pain are you experiencing? Whether it is more of a sharp, stabbing pain or dull, achy pain can tell doctors a lot about what might be going on.
  • Where does the pain occur? Determining where exactly the pain is coming from can be difficult, but try to narrow it down to the right side or the left, the upper abdomen or lower abdomen.  
  • Are there additional symptoms? Other symptoms, such as vomiting, diarrhea and constipation, can also help your doctor make a diagnosis.     

When to go to the ER for stomach pain

Seek immediate medical attention or go to the emergency room if you have:

  • A high fever associated with your pain 
  • Severe or constant stomach pain
  • Serious or unusual symptoms that accompany the pain, such as a change in behavior or difficulty breathing  
  • Pain that changes location or intensity, such as starting in one area and radiating to another or going from a slight ache to a sharp stab 
  • Pain that is localized to one particular area
    • Appendicitis is characterized by right lower quadrant pain
    • Cholecystitis or a gallbladder infection is characterized by right upper quadrant pain
    • Diverticulitis or a colon infection is characterized by left lower quadrant pain

If you have a question about the stomach pain you are experiencing, call our 24/7 Consult-A-Nurse® line at (844) 706-8773 to talk with a licensed nurse. If you or a loved one is experiencing a medical emergency, call 911. 

Bacterial or viral infection 

While there is never a good time to have diarrhea, it can be a clue to help rule out a more serious issue.

Vomiting with diarrhea can indicate that you have a bacterial or viral infection and not something more serious like a surgical emergency. If you have a bacterial infection from eating something contaminated, you will know soon after eating it – within an hour. 

It’s also important to not get dehydrated if you have a viral or bacterial infection. If you are experiencing the symptoms above, the emergency room team can assess if you have a need for IV fluids. 

Norovirus

When dealing with stomach pain, especially in the upper abdomen, it can be hard to distinguish if you are dealing with heartburn or something more serious. 

According to the CDC, norovirus is the top cause of acute gastroenteritis in the world. It is very common but can be hard to diagnose. In fact, members of the same family can all have the same disease but exhibit symptoms differently. 

Is it a kidney stone

If you are passing a kidney stone, you will know immediately. You will be incapacitated with pain on the side of your back or abdomen. The level of pain will be very severe and is often accompanied by nausea and vomiting. 

Poison prevention

Another cause of GI issues is an overdose from toxic substances. 

Weekly pill organizers can be problematic for children because they hold a large amount of medication and can be easy to access. Be sure to keep medication where kids can’t get to them.

Unfortunately, if somebody is experiencing liver inflammation from toxic substances, they will likely have no other symptoms until they are experiencing liver failure and need emergency medical care.

We are committed to providing you with the high level of care you and your loved ones need. Find the closest HCA Florida Healthcare emergency room or learn more about our emergency care services here. 

Published:
April 18, 2022
Location:
HCA Florida Healthcare

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