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Stomach pain can be a tricky condition to diagnose. First off, it’s quite the general term and isn’t really enough to go on and make a clear self-diagnosis without the completely plausible risk of being horribly off the mark.

Stomach pain also varies wildly in intensity due to the large degree of variation in cause and location.

Nuances in location and cause mean it is in your best interest to seek an actual medical professional when you’re dealing with stomach pain.

In short, if you’re wondering if you should see a doctor about your troubling stomach pain then you probably should.

That said, there are pointers that can make it easier for you to determine whether a trip to the doctor is necessary.

Understanding the types, sources of stomach pain, and common stomach pain signs can change your thinking from “I wonder if it’s worth seeing the doctor about this” to “Oh I recognize that sign, I should definitely see my doctor about this.”

So let’s first jump into the different types and sources of stomach pain and then explore some of the stomach pain signs to be on the lookout for in determining whether to see a Gastroeneterologist.


Types and Sources of Stomach Pain

Stomach pain can often be confused as pain that isn’t the stomach at all but rather the abdominal region.

The abdomen includes not only the digestive tract but also other vital organs such as the large intestine, stomach, appendix, kidneys, liver, and gallbladder.

Apart from these organs, your abdomen houses muscles, bones, blood vessels and other structures.

There is simply a lot going on in the abdomen and, as such, any problem with one of these structures may cause pain in the abdomen.

Due to the sheer complexity of what’s housed in the abdomen, there is a vast array of potential problems that may cause pain.

Some of the more common sources of pain include indigestion, gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), kidney stones, appendicitis, irritable bowel syndrome and a whole host of others.

One of the most common causes of stomach, or abdominal, pain is related to bloating and gas where a generalized pain is felt most often due to indigestion.

The pain, as you are likely aware, is uncomfortable but normally resides after some time.

Taking an over-the-counter medication such as an antacid can lower the recovery time significantly but often normal digestion will resume with time and the pain will subside.

This general pain is different from abdominal pain that is more localized to a certain region. This may indicate a sign of a problem with one of your organs.

Before you panic whenever you feel localized pain, know that this pain may be transient in nature thereby passing with time.

However, a sharp, persistent, or worsening localized pain may indicate a good time to see your doctor.

Stomach Pain Signs for When to

See a Gastroenterologist

General pain is, well… pretty general. As such, it can be difficult to discern between pain that may subside in a short while and acute pain that requires more serious attention.

To help one make sense of and differentiate between something that will shortly subside and that which may be a sign of something more troubling, let’s take a look at several stomach pain signs that justify a visit to the doctor.

1.   Intense Pain Accompanied by Bloody Diarrhoea

If this appears quite suddenly, it can serve as a sign of something like a foodborne illness thanks to food contamination of some sort.

Salmonella and E. Coli are both causes of foodborne illnesses. Food poisoning is often accompanied by other symptoms such as running a fever.

While food poisoning does generally subside in a few days, it is worth a visit to the doctor even if just to ensure that food poisoning is indeed the cause and whether additional precautionary measures need to be taken.

Regular severe pain coupled with bloody diarrhoea, on the other hand, could suggest something more serious such as a form of inflammatory bowel disease like ulcerative colitis.

The tricky aspect of something like inflammatory bowel disease is that it may have periods of remission where the pain and general symptoms disappear. This can provide a false sense of recovery to patients.

Ultimately, intense pain accompanied by bloody diarrhoea warrants a visit to the doctor every time.

2. Sudden Pain Paired with Vomiting

As in the previous sign, this could be an indication of a foodborne illness. And, as mentioned earlier, this may pass after several days.

These symptoms can, however, be the cause of acute gastroenteritis (‘stomach flu’). Gatroenteritis is caused by a bacteria, virus or parasite and manifests as inflammation of the intestine lining.

Viral gastoenteritis is very common today and generally subsides on it’s own. As such, it’s not essential to see a Gastroenterologist but if you are struggling to keep fluids down then a visit to the doctor is needed.

3. Intense Stomach Pain in Lower Abdomen

If one experiences a high level of pain in the lower abdomen that is relieved once the bowels are moved, it could be a sign of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).

IBS involves a change in the normal functioning of the digestive system and is related to how the brain and the gut work together.

Those with IBS tend to have more sensitive guts resulting in changes in muscular contraction in the bowels. Symptoms include bloating, constipation, and persistent stomac pain, among others.

Due to the fact that stomach cramps that subside after the moving of one’s bowels can be a sign of constipation, the lines between IBS and ordinary constipation can become a little blurred.

If constipation is something you find reoccurring on a regular basis then a visit to the doctor may do you some good in helping to clear up the causes and looking at possible solutions.

4. Side or Lower Back Pain

Kidney stones may be the problem if you experience side or lower back pain coupled with pain during urination.

Kidney stones are tiny pebble-like crystals that can form in one or both of the kidneys due to high levels of certain minerals.

The pain caused by kidney stones is due to their sharp crystalline structure passing through the urinary tract as tries to leave your body.

The pain can be quite incredible and is often accompanied by nausea and even vomiting.


Stomach pain and that in the surrounding abdominal region can be quite mild.

In the majority of cases, pain in this area is related to indigestion and bloating and does not always require a trip to the doctor.

If pain persists for a longer period of time or worsens, then it is time to seek professional medical help.

Localized pain, that is pain felt in a specific region of the abdomen, may indicate a more severe problem and certainly warrants paying the doctor a visit.

In any case, if you are unsure whether you should or shouldn’t see a doctor, then the answer is always that you should.

Don’t rely on internet blogs and articles to self-diagnose as this can be dangerous for your health and should not be taken as medical advice.

Always trust the professionals as they are trained to diagnose and help you recover.

Learn More from the Experts

GiDoc Cape Town is a practice founded to provide medical solutions in the area of gastroenterology.

Over the years, Dr Eduan Deetlefs has earned the reputation of a trusted health expert providing consultative, diagnostic, and therapeutic endoscopic and related services to patients in Cape Town and beyond. 

Book an appointment online or give us a call at 021 551 8678 to find out more.



The information on this website is to provide general guidance. In no way does any of the information provided reflect definitive medical advice and self-diagnoses should not be made based on information obtained online. It is important to consult a Gastroenterologist or medical doctor regarding ANY and ALL symptoms or signs including, but not limited to: abdominal pain, haemorrhoids or anal / rectal bleeding as it may a sign of a serious illness or condition. A thorough consultation and examination should ALWAYS be performed for an accurate diagnosis and treatment plan. Be sure to call a physician or call our office today and schedule a consultation.

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© Dr. Eduan Deetlefs, Registered Gastroenterologist, GI Doc Cape Town

Our website information is not intended or implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Please consult a doctor about your specific condition. Only a trained physician can determine an accurate diagnosis and proper treatment.