Abdominal pain is so common, and everyday concerns, like gas, can sometimes cause such severe pain that it’s hard to know whether to seek emergency care or not. When symptoms such as severe pain, fever, and vomiting develop, it’s time to get immediate medical help.

If you’re not sure whether your abdominal pain is serious, call the team at River Oaks ER in Houston. By asking just a few questions, they can quickly determine whether your abdominal pain needs emergency attention.

How can you evaluate the severity of your pain?

When you have abdominal pain, your doctor needs information to evaluate the cause of your pain and the severity of the problem. You can help by providing specifics such as:

  • Location of the pain: Is it in one place (localized) or an all-over pain?
  • Symptoms: Do you have symptoms in addition to pain like nausea, fever, or weakness?
  • Type of pain: Would you describe your pain as sharp, dull, burning, or throbbing?
  • Factors that help or hurt: What makes your pain feel better or worse? Does movement hurt or does lying down help?
  • Timing: How long does your pain last, and is it constant or does it come and go?
  • Severity: On a scale of zero to 10, how bad is your pain?

When you have localized pain, the underlying cause can often be determined by the organs associated with the area of the pain.

Upper abdominal pain may arise from problems with your stomach, liver, gallbladder or pancreas, while pain in the middle of your abdomen (near your navel) tends to come from a problem with your small intestine or kidneys.

When pain is in the lower part of your abdomen, it may involve your colon or organs in your genitourinary tract, such as the bladder, uterus, and ovaries.

An inflamed appendix can be tricky, because its pain often begins around your navel then moves down to your lower, right abdomen, which is where the appendix is located.

Are gas and bloating ever signs of a serious problem?

It’s normal to pass gas 13-21 times daily, so everyone produces enough gas to cause pain when it’s trapped in their abdomen. Sometimes gas pain is severe enough to make you wonder whether you should get emergency help, but it seldom requires immediate attention.

However, if you have other accompanying symptoms, they’re a clue that your gas may represent a more serious problem. Call River Oaks ER if you have blood in your stool, difficulty swallowing, constipation, diarrhea, or weight loss.

When should you get emergency help?

Call River Oaks Emergency Room when your gas occurs together with the following symptoms:

  • Pain that develops quickly
  • Severe pain
  • Fever
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Severe tenderness when you touch your abdomen
  • Swollen abdomen
  • Bloody stools
  • Skin that appears yellow
  • Mild pain that suddenly becomes severe
  • Signs of shock (rapid heart rate, sweating, low blood pressure, confusion)

Pain that develops quickly, called an acute abdomen, almost always signals a serious problem that needs immediate medical attention. When your pain increases with movement — and you know it’s not due to a muscle strain — it’s also a sign that you may need emergency attention.

What health conditions can be a source of abdominal pain?

Abdominal pain develops from three primary causes: inflammation or infection, an obstruction, or bleeding. Many different health problems are included in those broad categories, but some of the most common sources of abdominal pain requiring emergency medical attention include:

  • Appendicitis
  • Diverticulitis
  • Pancreatitis
  • Gallstones
  • Kidney stones
  • Hernia
  • Intestinal obstruction
  • Cholecystitis (inflamed gallbladder)

When does referred pain need medical attention?

Referred pain occurs when a health problem outside your abdomen causes abdominal pain. Sources of referred pain tend to have other more common symptoms, but you should make a trip to the emergency room when referred pain arises from:

  • Heart attack: other symptoms include shortness of breath and tightness or pain in your chest, neck, back, arms, or jaw
  • Diabetic ketoacidosis: other symptoms include excessive thirst, frequent urination, and shortness of breath
  • Sickle cell disease: other symptoms include chest pain, fever, cough, weakness, and shortness of breath

When abdominal pain is serious, it can represent a life-threatening emergency, such as loss of blood supply or a rupture that allows infection to spread inside your abdomen. Don’t wait to call or visit River Oaks Emergency if you’re uncertain about your pain. However, if you think you need immediate medical treatment, call 9-1-1 or go to the emergency department.