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Abdominal Pain - Upper

Is this your symptom?

  • Pain or discomfort in the upper abdomen. This is the area below the rib cage and above the belly button.

Some Basics...

  • There are many things that can cause pain in the upper part of the stomach (abdomen). Most causes are not serious.
  • Pain in this area can be caused by eating too much. It can be caused by a food or a drug that upsets the stomach. It can be caused by more serious problems like stomach ulcers or a gallbladder attack.
  • Reflux disease (GERD) causes a burning pain that goes into the chest. Laying down makes pain worse. Some people with reflux get a sour or bitter taste in their mouths.
  • Stomach pain is more likely to be serious in an older person.

Pain Scale

  • None: no pain. Pain score is 0 on a scale of 0 to 10.
  • Mild: the pain does not keep you from work, school, or other normal activities. Pain score is 1-3 on a scale of 0 to 10.
  • Moderate: the pain keeps you from working or going to school. It wakes you up from sleep. Pain score is 4-7 on a scale of 0 to 10.
  • Severe: the pain is very bad. It may be worse than any pain you have had before. It keeps you from doing any normal activities. Pain score is 8-10 on a scale of 0 to 10.

Common Causes of Upper Stomach Pain in People Younger Than 50 Years of Age

  • Appendicitis
  • Gallbladder disease
  • Irritable Bowel Syndrome
  • Nonspecific abdominal pain
  • Peptic ulcer disease

Common Causes of Upper Stomach Pain in People Older Than 50 Years of Age

  • Appendicitis
  • Bowel obstruction
  • Diverticulitis
  • Gallbladder disease
  • Pancreatitis
  • Peptic ulcer disease

Other Causes

  • Angina and heart attack
  • Abdominal aortic aneurysm
  • Hepatitis
  • Herpes zoster
  • Pneumonia


A person can have a heart attack and think that it is just "heartburn." If you are over 40 years old or have any of these risk factors, you could be having a heart attack:

  • Diabetes
  • Hypertension
  • High cholesterol
  • Obesity
  • Smoking
  • Someone in your family has had a heart attack

When to Call for Abdominal Pain - Upper

Call 911 Now

  • Passed out (fainted)
  • Very weak (can't stand)
  • Sweat on or dripping down face
  • More than 50 years old and pain lasts more than 5 minutes
  • History of a heart problem and pain lasts more than 5 minutes
  • More than 35 years old and have at least one heart risk factor, including:
    • Hypertension
    • Diabetes
    • High cholesterol
    • Obesity
    • Smoker
    • Family member has had a heart attack
  • You think you have a life-threatening emergency

Call Doctor or Seek Care Now

  • Fever over 103° F (39.4° C)
  • Fever over 100.4° F (38.0° C) and more than 60 years old
  • Fever and have diabetes
  • Fever and have a weak immune system (such as HIV, cancer chemo, long-term steroids, splenectomy, transplant)
  • Fever and are bedridden (nursing home patient, stroke, chronic illness, or recovering from surgery)
  • Whites of the eyes have turned yellow
  • Pregnant
  • You feel weak or very sick
  • You think you need to be seen, and the problem is urgent

Call Doctor Within 24 Hours

  • Stomach pains come and go (cramps), and last more than 24 hours
  • More than 60 years old
  • You think you need to be seen, but the problem is not urgent

Call Doctor During Office Hours

  • Stomach pains off and on for weeks or months (are frequent, come and go)
  • Burning pains in chest with a sour taste in mouth
  • Stomach pains often occur 1 hour after meals
  • You have other questions or concerns

Self Care at Home

  • Mild upper stomach pain

Care Advice for Mild Upper Abdominal Pain

  1. What You Should Know:
    • Mild stomach pain can be caused by an upset stomach, gas pains, or eating too much. It can also be caused by reflux disease (GERD). Sometimes mild stomach pain is the first sign of a vomiting illness like stomach flu.
    • You can treat mild stomach pain at home.
    • Here is some care advice that should help.
  2. Fluids: Sip only clear fluids until the pain is gone for more than 2 hours. Clear fluids include water, broth, and water mixed with fruit juice. Then slowly return to a normal diet.
  3. Diet:
    • Start with clear liquids. When you feel better, you can begin eating a bland diet.
    • Avoid alcohol or drinks with caffeine in them.
    • Avoid greasy or fatty foods.
  4. Stop Smoking: Smoking can make heartburn and stomach problems worse.
  5. Avoid Aspirin: Avoid aspirin and drugs such as Motrin, Advil, and Aleve. These drugs can bother your stomach. Try taking Tylenol.
  6. Antacid: If you are having pain now, try taking a liquid antacid. Follow all instructions on the bottle.
  7. Reflux Disease (GERD): Eat smaller meals and avoid snacks for 2 hours before sleeping. Avoid foods that tend to cause heartburn and stomach problems. These include fatty/greasy foods, spicy foods, mints, chocolate, and drinks with caffeine.
  8. What to Expect: With harmless causes, the pain most often goes away within 2 hours. With stomach flu, the pain may come and go for 2 to 3 days. You may have belly cramps before you vomit or have diarrhea. If your pain does not stop and gets worse, it may be more serious.
  9. Call Your Doctor If:
    • Severe stomach pain occurs
    • Stomach pain is constant and lasts more than 2 hours
    • You think you need to be seen
    • You get worse

And remember, contact your doctor if you develop any of the 'Call Your Doctor' symptoms.

Disclaimer: this health information is for educational purposes only. You, the reader, assume full responsibility for how you choose to use it.

Last Reviewed: 11/20/2019 1:00:23 AM
Last Updated: 3/14/2019 1:00:21 AM

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