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Abdominal Pain: Just Gas Or An Emergency?

Several types of acute abdominal pain affecting women are described below.  As always, this is general background information and only your health care provider can diagnose your individual situation.


Indigestion or "heartburn" is not usually serious or terribly painful and will often respond to over-the-counter antacids.  The pain of indigestion is often felt in the lower mid-chest, but can be felt in the upper abdomen.  It may be accompanied by gas pain, which is often felt in the left upper side of the abdomen, but can be felt anywhere.  This can be a sharp or burning pain.  Chronic or recurrent indigestion that does not respond to over-the-counter medication should be evaluated by your physician:  it can lead to ulcers, bleeding, or problems with your esophagus.  Or, you could have the wrong diagnosis entirely.

Persistent acute "indigestion" that does not respond to antacids may actually be the early symptoms of a heart attack.  Call your physician if you have any uncertainty.

Gas pain:

Many people have wound up in the emergency room because of simple gas pain.  Generally felt in the left upper quadrant of the abdomen, it can be felt anywhere.  It can be sharp and it can be scary.  One tip is that massaging the affected area deeply may actually make it feel better.  Walking may also help resolve the pain.  Trying to move your bowels or pass gas may also relieve the pain.  Often, this pain accompanies constipation.  Taking an over-the-counter product like Gas-X™ can help.


Many people with severe constipation are not even aware of the last time they had a bowel movement.  A general rule is that you should have a bowel movement every 1-2 days.  Increasing the fiber and water content in your diet will aid this, as will regular exercise, but sometimes fiber supplements or laxatives must be taken.  Severe constipation can lead to impacted stool, which can be very painful and may have to be manually removed.  In rare cases, this can lead to or result from an obstruction of the bowel.  Sometimes patients with severe constipation will panic because they feel a mass in their abdomen; this is the accumulation of stool in the colon, which can actually feel quite hard.  This can be a problem in pregnancy, especially since prenatal vitamins are constipating and the growing pregnancy presses against the colon.  If you have this problem, speak with your physician about preventive strategies.

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 The best advice I can give you is: if you think it's an emergency, it probably is. 

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