When your stomach doesn’t feel well, it can be difficult to distinguish between passing discomfort and serious sickness. However, experts say there’s one symptom you should never ignore when it comes to your abdomen, especially if it happens to be in one specific location. Pain in this particular place can tip you off to a pressing problem—one that’s considered a medical emergency with potentially life-threatening results. Read on to learn what feeling in your stomach means you should seek help immediately, and which other symptoms to look out for.
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Everyone experiences abdominal pain from time to time, with varying underlying causes. “Most of the time, a serious medical problem is not the cause, and how bad your pain is doesn’t always reflect the seriousness of the problem causing your pain,” according to the experts at Mount Sinai’s health library. “The important thing to know about abdominal pain is when you need immediate medical care.”
Explanations for your pain can range from mild to severe illness. While some people will experience pain resulting from mild to moderate causes such as gas, a stomach virus, food poisoning, or allergies, others will experience pain with life-threatening underlying causes. These may include appendicitis, colon cancer, abdominal aortic aneurysm, or a bowel blockage, among other things.
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With so many possible explanations for stomach pain, medical emergencies are sometimes dismissed as something less concerning. However, experts say it’s important to call 911 immediately if you experience sudden, severe pain that starts at your belly button and progresses toward the lower right quadrant of your lower right abdomen.
That’s because this particular symptom can indicate appendicitis, a serious condition which occurs when the appendix becomes inflamed. “As inflammation worsens, appendicitis pain typically increases and eventually becomes severe,” explains the Mayo Clinic. “It’s not until the pain moves down to the right side and is persistent over a period of six to 12 hours that appendicitis is more likely,” general surgeon William O’Brien, MD tells the Cleveland Clinic.
Some people experiencing signs of appendicitis may think they’re experiencing an orthopedic problem. That’s because the location of this particular pain can appear to be in the pelvis, hip, or groin, seemingly reflecting a musculoskeletal issue rather than an organ issue.
Tracking your pain may help you distinguish between the two. Pain from appendicitis will progressively worsen, while orthopedic issues may remain consistent for some time, or even improve. If you notice your symptoms quickly worsening over the course of hours or days, it’s important to seek medical care. While some cases of appendicitis can be treated with intravenous fluids and antibiotics if caught early, this condition usually requires surgery to prevent the appendix from bursting.
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In addition to lower right quadrant pain, there are several other symptoms which could signal appendicitis. According to the Mayo Clinic, those include nausea and vomiting, loss of appetite, a progressive low-grade fever, constipation or diarrhea, flatulence, and abdominal bloating.
“Appendicitis is a serious condition, and it’s always an emergency,” says O’Brien. Seek medical attention right away if you believe you are experiencing signs of this life-threatening illness.
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