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)
Constipation or fecal impaction
Food intolerance or food allergy
Food poisoning, such as Salmonella food poisoning
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS; digestive discomfort that does not cause intestinal damage or serious disease)
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
Pelvic inflammatory disease (infection of the uterus and fallopian tubes)
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 tumor, mass or abscess (a collection of pus caused by infection)
Acute congestive heart failure
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)
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
- 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.
- Abdominal pain or cramping. March of Dimes. http://www.marchofdimes.com/pregnancy/yourbody_cramping.html.
- 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.
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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.