What the location of your stomach ache means – plus when to seek help and the best treatments | The Sun

FROM uncomfortable bloating to gnawing aches, none of us escape the pain of tummy aches.

According to the NHS, most stomach pains are not anything serious and will go away after a few days.

But many of your vital organs reside in the pit of your tummy.

This means the location of the throbbing pain can sometimes indicate what is wrong or, more specifically, what organ is being affected, according to GP Claire Merrifield.

However, our pain sensors in the abdomen (between the ribcage and the pelvis) work slightly differently from those on our skin.

"This means the location of pain in the stomach doesn’t always tell us exactly what's going on, although it can be useful," she tells Sun Health.

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"As a general rule, widespread pain is less likely to be serious than pain you can point to with a finger."

Here, Dr Claire explains what the position of your tummy ache can mean – and the most effective way to dull each kind.

Upper central

Any pain coming from just underneath the ribcage could be a sign of acid reflux, according to Dr Claire, from Selph.

"It might also be painful to press on that area," she explained.

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Acid reflux happens when the muscle that allows food to flow from the oesophagus to the stomach doesn’t work as it should.

It can cause a burning feeling in your chest, which we often call heartburn.

The NHS says other symptoms of acid reflux include:

  • an unpleasant sour taste in your mouth
  • a cough or hiccups that keep coming back
  • a hoarse voice
  • bad breath
  • bloating and feeling sick

It's usually caused by simply overeating or eating certain foods.

Coffee, tomatoes, chocolate and fatty or spicy foods can all cause heartburn, according to the NHS.

Avoiding these foods can sometimes help reduce the side effects of heartburn.

"You could try taking some antacid remedies like Gaviscon or Nexium to see if that helps," the medic said.

These work by neutralising the acid in your stomach and can relieve symptoms in just a few hours.

Best treatments: Over-the-counter anti-acids and avoiding certain foods

When to seek help: If you have heartburn most days or lifestyle changes and pharmacy medicines are not helping

Upper right

A sudden sharp pain from the upper right side of the abdomen could be coming from the gallbladder, which sits just behind the rib cage.

"Gallstones, where stones form inside the gallbladder, are probably the most common cause of pain here," Claire explains.

In most cases, they do not cause any symptoms and do not need to be treated, the NHS says.

But if a gallstone becomes trapped in an opening inside the gallbladder, it can trigger a sudden, intense pain in your tummy that usually lasts up to five hours.

Dr Claire added: "You can take simple painkillers like paracetamol or ibuprofen for pain relief.

"It’s a good idea to see your doctor about this pain if it’s happening frequently or is severe."

Some people with gallstones can also develop complications, such as inflammation of the gallbladder, also known as cholecystitis.

If this is left untreated, it can lead to dangerous infections and sepsis – a life-threatening reaction to an infection.

The NHS says symptoms of cholecystitis include:

  • a high temperature
  • feeling sick
  • being sick
  • sweating
  • loss of appetite
  • yellowing of the skin and the whites of the eyes (jaundice).
  • a bulge in the tummy

Best treatments: Over-the-counter painkillers

When to seek help: If pain is persistent and affects your daily life

Lower right back

Pain radiating from your lower back could indicate something going wrong in your kidneys.

"If you put your hands on your hips, your thumbs will point to your loins, which is where your kidneys live," Claire explained.

"The commonest cause of pain here would be kidney stones or a kidney infection.

According to the NHS, kidney stones are incredibly common but incredibly painful and can lead to pain, nausea, vomiting, fever and chills."

They can be anywhere between a grain of salt and a golf ball in size.

People usually pee them out without any discomfort.

Larger kidney stones can cause infections or can stop the kidney working if left untreated.

Kidney infections can also be very dangerous.

If treated with antibiotics immediately, a kidney infection does not cause serious harm.

However, if left untreated, it can lead to permanent kidney damage, sepsis and even death.

"Either one of these needs medical attention so feel free to take painkillers but don’t delay in speaking to a doctor if you have pain here that doesn’t go away," Claire adds.

Best treatments: Over-the-counter painkillers

When to seek help: If pain is persistent

Lower right stomach

A persistent pain in the lower right part of your stomach can sometimes be a sign of appendicitis.

This happens when the appendix, an organ connected to the large intestine, gets inflamed.

"With appendicitis, people will tend to feel generally unwell with a dull pain around the belly button initially, which will then move down to the right lower abdomen," Dr Claire explains.

"Pain in this area of the abdomen, particularly if it is constant or painful to press on, could well be appendicitis."

You may lose your appetite, feel sick, and have constipation or diarrhoea, the NHS says.

Dr Claire added that if you’re experiencing "significant pain" in this area that’s not settling down, it’s best to go to an A&E to get checked out.

If appendicitis is not treated, the appendix can burst and cause potentially life-threatening infections.

Best treatments: Appendix removal surgery

When to seek help: If pain is constant or significant

Lower central

The lower central part of the abdomen is where our bladder lives and for women, the womb.

Pain emerging from this general area could be a sign of a urinary tract infection (UTI).

"If you have a UTI, you will also likely have a burning sensation when you wee and it might smell unpleasant," the medic says.

She said mild UTIs can sometimes clear up on their own if the sufferer drinks lots of water to flush out the infection.

But in many cases, antibiotics are needed to avoid more serious conditions, especially in men.

The NHS says other symptoms of a UTI may include:

  • pain or a burning sensation when peeing (dysuria)
  • needing to pee more often than usual
  • needing to pee more often than usual during the night (nocturia)
  • needing to pee suddenly or more urgently than usual
  • pee that looks cloudy
  • blood in your pee
  • lower tummy pain or pain in your back, just under the ribs
  • a high temperature, or feeling hot and shivery
  • a very low temperature below 36C

Best treatments: Water and antibiotics

When to seek help: If your symptoms get worse or do not improve within two days


Pain coming from the middle of your tummy is probably to do with your bowel.

"It might be trapped wind, bloating, or irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) pain or discomfort," Claire says.

"Usually changing position, making sure your waistband is not too tight and gentle stomach massage will soothe discomfort in this area."

IBS is a common condition that affects the digestive system.

It causes symptoms like stomach cramps, bloating, diarrhoea and constipation, the NHS says.

It can be debilitating and requires a lifelong commitment to routine habits, which can include avoiding foods that trigger your symptoms and eating food high in fibre.

If you think you could have IBS, the NHS recommends you visit your GP.

They can check for IBS and do some tests to rule out other problems.

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Best treatments: Avoiding trigger foods

When to seek help: If your symptoms are persistent

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