Stomachaches: From Gas to Gallstones—When to See a GI Doctor


Everyone gets a stomachache from time to time, but when might it be cause for concern? John Dowd, DO, gastroenterologist with Concord Gastroenterology Associates, explains the difference between something like a simple stomachache or bout of gas and more serious issues such as appendicitis or gallstones.

“We all have gas pains at some point, and those can be very uncomfortable. If the pain is severe, and is progressing or getting worse, or if it is associated with vomiting or bleeding, you should seek medical help,” explains Dr. Dowd.

Often, an over-the-counter, anti-gas medication will do the trick and provide relief. Anyone suffering from more severe symptoms, especially if accompanied by pain, fever, or as a result of physical trauma, should seek medical attention immediately.

Acute vs. Chronic Abdominal Pain

When diagnosing abdominal pain, Dr. Dowd differentiates between acute and chronic abdominal pain. Acute abdominal pain encompasses rapid-onset issues involving the gallbladder, appendix, or an intestinal obstruction — all of which typically require surgery.

Conditions such as Crohn's disease, ulcerative colitis, and celiac disease fall into the chronic abdominal pain category. Symptoms range from mild to severe, and they often come and go but don’t necessarily worsen over time.

Additional causes of abdominal pain that are not related to gastrointestinal organs include kidney stones, hernias, and gynecologic pain in women (e.g. endometriosis, ruptured ovarian).

When Food Is the Culprit

One relatively simple fix for recurring abdominal pain is to pay attention to the “cause and effect” of certain foods. For example, if every time you eat dairy you have a negative gastric reaction, you may be lactose intolerant. With bread or pasta, gluten may be the culprit.

“If it is triggered by the same food every time, there is something to that. You have to listen to your body and avoid those foods,” advises Dr. Dowd.

Eating too quickly can also cause discomfort, because you are swallowing extra air in addition to food. “Slow down, take smaller bites, and be mindful of how you are eating — and what you are eating,” adds Dr. Dowd.

Telehealth: Not Ideal for Abdominal Pain

Dr. Dowd prefers to see patients complaining of abdominal pain in person. Concord Gastroenterology Associates has taken many precautions to ensure patients coming into the office can do so safely.

“There are a lot of things we can do in GI that don't require us laying hands on patients' bellies, but abdominal pain is not one of them. You need to evaluate where the pain is, if the pain is associated with a rebound — which is assessing if the pain is worse when you push in or when you let go suddenly. Those are signs of inflammation of the inside of the abdomen, which can be a serious symptom that needs additional testing and/or evaluation.”

Listen to the Podcast

Dr. John Dowd discusses bellyaches, what they are, and when you should seek help from a doctor.

Subscribe to the Health Works Here Podcast on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts and wherever podcasts can be heard.

Request an Appointment

Dr. Dowd is a board-certified gastroenterologist. For more information or to make an appointment visit the Concord Gastroenterology Associates home page or call (978) 287-3835.

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