With so many types of tummy ache, it’s not always easy to know what’s wrong. The experts tell Kim Jones how to suss out the symptoms…
How it feels: A constant severe pain on the right side under the ribs that may radiate to the centre of the back or shoulder blades, lasting from a few minutes to several hours. Episodes may be sporadic, and you may also experience vomiting, raised temperature, yellowing skin and/or whites of the eyes, shivering and itchy skin.
Could be: Gallstones.
Do this: “Gallstones, formed in the gallbladder, are made up of chemicals in bile such as cholesterol. See your GP as you may need to be referred for surgery to remove them,” says Perkins.
How it feels: A dull twinge or sharp pain on either side of the lower abdomen behind the hip bone that lasts minutes up to 48 hours. Some women may experience a small amount of bleeding (spotting).
Could be: Ovulation pain (pain as the ovary releases an egg).
Do this: “A hot bath or hot-water bottle can help,” says Perkins. “Over-the-counter pain relief such as paracetamol and ibuprofen can also provide relief. Talk to your pharmacist. If unexplained heavy bleeding is experienced mid-cycle or pain lasts longer than three days, contact your GP for advice.
How it feels: Bloated abdomen, cramps, nausea and loss of appetite. May be accompanied by less need to pass solids.
Could be: Constipation.
Do this: “Increase your fibre intake – good sources include vegetables, cereals, legumes and fruit,” says Perkins. “Drink more water but limit consumption of tea, coffee and alcohol as these are diuretics and can exacerbate the problem.
Regular exercise can increase gut/bowel motility. Some patients benefit from the short-term use of a laxative – talk to your pharmacist. If you experience bleeding, weight loss or the pain doesn’t respond to over-the-counter medication, see your GP.”
How it feels: Pain in the tummy, side and/or back around the kidney area and sometimes into the groin. It may be accompanied by vomiting, loss of appetite, raised temperature, shivering, diarrhoea, increased urgency to urinate, pain when urinating and blood in urine.
Could be: A kidney infection or kidney stones.
Do this: “Kidney stones can be formed from waste products in the blood and can block part of the urinary system,” says Perkins. “See your GP and ensure you’re drinking plenty of fluids to help flush the bacteria or pass the stone.”
Could be: Lactose intolerance.
Do this: “People with this have trouble digesting the milk sugar lactose, so try skipping dairy products to see if your symptoms go away – if they do, gradually reintroduce small amounts to see if symptoms return,” says Dr Richard Stevens, editor of the Primary Care Society for Gastroenterology’s journal The Digest. “If you have lactose intolerance and need to avoid dairy, it’s important to get advice from a GP or dietitian.”
How it feels: Gnawing pain in the upper abdomen is localised (you may be able to point to the exact source of pain). The pain is worse when the stomach is empty (and can wake you in the night) and is eased by eating.
It may be accompanied by nausea or vomiting.
Could be: Gastritis (inflammation of the stomach) or a peptic ulcer (a sore in the lining of the stomach).
Do this: Both can be caused by overuse of anti-inflammatory medication such as aspirin and ibuprofen or by the bacterial infection Helicobacter pylori (H pylori). “See your GP who can test for H pylori,” says Dr Stevens.
“If no infection is found, you may be prescribed antacids. If infection is present, antibiotics will be prescribed along with an acid blocker. If at any time the pain is accompanied by blood in the vomit and dark stools, call 999 as this may be the sign of a bleeding ulcer.”
Do this: “Certain foods can exacerbate the symptoms including rich, fatty foods and some fibre-rich foods, which in some individuals may be readily fermented in the gut to produce excess gas and bloating,” says GP Dr Ellie Cannon.
How it feels: Stomach cramps with repeated diarrhoea, nausea and vomiting, accompanied by headaches and a high temperature.
Could be: Gastroenteritis.
Do this: “The two most common causes of gastroenteritis in adults are the norovirus and food poisoning, most commonly caused by salmonella or the campylobacter bacterium,” says pharmacist Sunil Kochhar from. “Ask your pharmacist about an oral-rehydration solution and anti-nausea medication. If your symptoms are severe or last longer than a few days, see your GP.”
How it feels: Sharp pain and bloating in the upper abdomen, often relieved by burping.
Could be: Indigestion.
Do this: “Cut back on triggers such as heavy, fatty foods and alcohol,” says Dr Stevens. “Eat regular meals, chew slowly and mindfully, and ask your pharmacist for over-the-counter relief.”