What causes stomach cramps?

Stomach cramps can be caused by infection, malignancy (cancer), inflammation, trauma, obstruction, and other abnormal processes. Relatively mild conditions such as indigestion and stress can cause stomach cramps. At the other end of the spectrum, life-threatening conditions such as trauma, appendicitis, and colorectal cancer can also cause stomach cramps.

Gastrointestinal causes of stomach cramps

Stomach cramps may arise from mild to serious problems in the digestive tract including:

  • Appendicitis (inflammation of the appendix generally due to infection)

  • Bowel blockage or obstruction

  • Celiac disease (severe sensitivity to gluten from wheat and other grains that causes intestinal damage)

  • Colorectal cancer

  • Constipation or fecal impaction

  • Food intolerance or food allergy

  • Food poisoning, such as Salmonella food poisoning

  • Gastritis and viral gastroenteritis (viral infection of the digestive tract, also called stomach flu or intestinal flu)

  • Inflammatory bowel disease (includes Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis) and diverticulitis (inflammation of an abnormal pocket in the colon)

  • Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS; digestive discomfort that does not cause intestinal damage or serious disease)

  • Liver disease (includes hepatitis, cirrhosis and liver failure) and gallbladder disease (includes gallstones and cholecystitis, an inflammation of the gallbladder)

  • Pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas)

Gynecological causes of stomach cramps

Stomach cramps may occur in women for gynecological reasons including:

  • Complications of pregnancy, such as miscarriage

  • Endometriosis

  • Menstrual cramps

  • Ovarian cyst

  • Pelvic inflammatory disease (infection of the uterus and fallopian tubes)

  • Pregnancy labor

  • Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs)

Other causes of stomach cramps

Stomach cramps can also be caused by problems in body systems other than the digestive tract and gynecological organs including:

  • Abdominal aortic aneurysm

  • Abdominal trauma

  • Abdominal tumor, mass or abscess (a collection of pus caused by infection)

  • Acute congestive heart failure

  • Bladder infection

  • Exercise

  • Kidney disease (includes kidney stones and kidney failure)

  • Medication side effect (such as chemotherapeutic drugs, antibiotics, and sodium phosphate)

  • Peritonitis (infection of the lining of the abdomen)

  • Stress, anxiety or fear

  • Toxic exposures (ingestion of toxic chemicals or poisonous plants, or poisonous insect bites)

What are the potential complications of stomach cramps?

Complications associated with stomach cramps can be progressive and vary depending on the underlying cause. Because stomach cramps can be due to serious diseases, failure to seek treatment can result in complications and permanent damage. It is important to visit your health care provider when you have persistent stomach cramps or other unusual symptoms. Once the underlying cause is diagnosed, following the treatment plan outlined by your doctor can help reduce any potential complications including:

  • Dehydration due to a decreased desire to drink fluids or fluid loss due to diarrhea and fever

  • Hepatic encephalopathy (confusion and other changes that can lead to coma)

  • Infertility

  • Kidney failure

  • Liver failure

  • Miscarriage of a pregnancy

  • Poor nutrition and vitamin deficiencies due to a decreased desire to eat

  • Spread of cancer

  • Spread of infection to other parts of the body, including the blood


  1. Abdominal pain. Medline Plus, a service of the National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health. http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/003120.htm.
  2. Abdominal pain or cramping. March of Dimes. http://www.marchofdimes.com/pregnancy/yourbody_cramping.html.
  3. Abdominal Pain, Short-Term. FamilyDoctor.org. http://familydoctor.org/online/famdocen/home/tools/symptom/527.html#10.

What are stomach cramps?

“Stomach cramps” is a general term that refers to sharp, intermittent contractions or feelings of pain or discomfort that occur anywhere in the abdomen between the lower chest and the pelvis or groin. The abdomen consists of many organs, including the stomach, intestines, liver, gallbladder, pancreas, esophagus, and numerous blood vessels.

... Read more about stomach crampsintroduction


What other symptoms might occur with stomach cramps?

Stomach cramps may accompany other symptoms, which vary depending on the underlying disease, disorder or condition. If you have other symptoms along with stomach cramps, be sure to inform your health care provider. This information will help your doctor diagnose the reason for your stomach cramps.

Digestive symptoms that may occur with stomach cramps

Stomach cramps may ... Read more about stomach crampssymptoms

Medical Reviewer: Cynthia Haines, MD Last Annual Review Date: Aug 8, 2013 Copyright: © Copyright 2014 Health Grades, Inc. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or reprinted without permission from Health Grades, Inc. Use of this information is governed by the HealthGrades User Agreement.

This Article is Filed Under: Digestive System

Did You Know?

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Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is one of the most common disorders diagnosed by doctors. In fact, it's estimated that as many as 20 percent of adults have symptoms of IBS.