Several conditions can cause upper stomach or upper abdominal pain, including indigestion, gas, and gastritis. Treatment typically depends on the cause, but medications and diet changes often help.

Stomachaches are a common complaint. While many issues responsible for upper stomach pain, such as gas or a stomach virus, are not cause for concern, others may require medical treatment.

In this article, learn about ten possible causes of upper stomach pain, as well as treatment options and when to see a doctor.

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Gas occurs naturally in the intestines and digestive tract. When this gas accumulates, it can cause feelings of pressure, bloating, or fullness.

Gas usually goes away without treatment within a few hours. If it occurs with a fever, uncontrolled vomiting, or intense pain, it is best to see a doctor.

Gas pain is not usually serious, and over-the-counter (OTC) medications can help. A person can also try eating more slowly to avoid swallowing air and prevent the gas from getting worse. Some people notice that certain foods are more likely to cause gas pain.

The medical term for indigestion is dyspepsia. It usually appears when there is too much acid in the stomach, which can happen after eating highly acidic foods. It can cause a burning feeling in the upper stomach and sometimes in the mouth or throat. The pain may also feel like it stems from the chest.

Less commonly, indigestion can result from a stomach ulcer, acid reflux, or even stomach cancer.

OTC medicines are highly effective at managing temporary indigestion. Identifying the triggers, such as certain foods, can help a person make healthful lifestyle changes.

Acute gastritis occurs in the short term and comes on quickly, usually because of a bacterial infection, such as with Helicobacter pylori bacteria. Gastritis causes the stomach lining to become swollen and painful.

Causes of chronic gastritis include:

  • Crohn’s disease
  • autoimmune diseases
  • sarcoidosis
  • allergies
  • viruses in people with weakened immune systems
  • alcohol consumption
  • NSAID use

Antibiotics can usually treat bacterial infections. When gastritis is chronic, diagnosing and treating the underlying cause can help.

Gastroenteritis is a stomach virus that can cause nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea, in addition to upper stomach pain. Some people call gastroenteritis the stomach flu, but it is not actually a type of flu.

For most people, symptoms go away on their own within a few days. Avoiding heavy meals and drinking only clear liquids can help a person stop vomiting.

It is vital to avoid dehydration, so consider drinking something that restores electrolytes until the symptoms pass.

Many muscles extend to the upper stomach. Pain from a mild muscle injury or spasms can cause temporary pain in the upper abdomen.

The pain often gets better with gentle massage and rest. Some people also find relief by using cold and hot packs.

Appendicitis is an infection of the appendix. Without treatment, it can cause the appendix to rupture, and the condition can become life threatening.

In the early stages of appendicitis, a person may notice a dull ache around their belly button, but this pain can radiate to the upper stomach. As the infection gets worse, the pain moves to the lower-right side.

Gallstones are hard formations of cholesterol or bilirubin that can develop in the gallbladder. They do not always cause problems, but sometimes they block a biliary duct.

A blockage from a gallstone can cause intense pain in the upper-right stomach, as well as vomiting, fatigue, and exhaustion.

In some cases, surgery is necessary to resolve problems from gallstones. For example, if gallstones block the cystic duct, then a doctor will remove the gallbladder.

If gallstones block the common bile duct, then an Endoscopic retrograde cholangio-pancreatography (ERCP) may be needed to help extract them. This involves inserting a thin camera and other implements down your throat to manipulate and resolve the blockage.

The liver, pancreas, and gallbladder work together to support digestion. All three organs are in the upper-right side of the stomach.

Sometimes, untreated gallstones block biliary ducts, causing pain in the liver or pancreas.

Liver diseases, such as hepatitis, can cause liver pain. Pancreatitis, which is inflammation of the pancreas, may also cause pain. Some other causes, such as liver or pancreatic cancer, are less likely.

The right treatment depends on the underlying cause. People with pancreatitis may need to stay in the hospital for fluids and observation. Liver diseases require medication, and a liver transplant can treat advanced liver disease.

A bowel obstruction blocks the intestines, making it difficult or impossible for anything to pass through. This can cause intense pain, constipation, and difficulty digesting and absorbing food.

A bowel obstruction is a medical emergency, as the bowel can tear or become seriously infected. Medications, fluid, and pain relievers often help. In some cases, a surgeon may need to remove the blockage.

Small pouches called diverticula can appear in the intestines, especially in the colon. The presence of these pouches is known as diverticulosis.

When these pouches become inflamed or infected, a person can develop intense abdominal pain. Inflammation of the diverticular is known as diverticulitis.

The location of the pain depends on where the diverticula are. While diverticula are more common in the lower intestines, they can also appear in the upper intestines, causing pain in the upper stomach.

Probiotics and a high fiber diet often help treat diverticulitis. Antibiotics have been traditionally used to treat diverticulitis, but emerging recommendations suggest supportive care only in uncomplicated diverticulitis

If the infection worsens or does not go away, a doctor may perform surgery to remove the diverticula or a part of the intestines.

In most cases, it is safe to wait and see if upper stomach pain goes away without treatment. If the pain persists or gets worse, it is best to see a doctor.

See a doctor within 24 hours if:

  • Vomiting lasts longer than 12 hours.
  • There is a fever along with abdominal pain.
  • Abdominal pain occurs following an injury, such as a blow to the stomach.
  • A person develops abdominal pain after taking a new medication.
  • Stomach pain occurs in someone with a weakened immune system due to HIV, chemotherapy, or immunosuppressants.

Go to the emergency room or seek urgent care if:

  • There is severe pain in the upper-right abdomen.
  • The stomach pain is unbearable.
  • There is stomach pain and white or pale stool.
  • A pregnant woman develops severe abdominal pain.
  • A person develops signs of severe dehydration, such as not urinating, chapped lips, very dry skin, confusion, dizziness, or sunken eyes.
  • A newborn has persistent vomiting or a high fever.

Below are frequently asked questions about the causes of abdominal pain.

Why does my stomach hurt at the top?

Pain in the upper part of the abdomen can have many causes, including:

  • trapped gas
  • indigestion
  • muscle strains
  • infections
  • appendicitis
  • gallstones
  • pancreas or liver issues

What does upper gastric pain feel like?

Different causes of upper gastric pain produce different symptoms. However, this pain may feel like a dull ache, a burning sensation, or an intense expanding pressure pain.

When should I go to the ER for upper abdominal pain?

Seek immediate medical help if upper abdominal pain becomes severe, long lasting, or follows a direct injury to the area. If upper abdominal pain accompanies changes in stool color, fatigue, or severe dehydration, it is also essential to visit an emergency room.

How can I relieve my upper stomach pain?

Treatments to relieve upper abdominal pain depend on the cause. For example, a person can often relieve the pain from indigestion with OTC antacids, while pain from viral infections requires hydration and rest.

Abdominal pain can be a minor inconvenience or so intense that it makes functioning difficult. It is important to pay attention to other symptoms before deciding whether medical attention is necessary.

In many cases, especially those due to minor infections or gas, upper stomach pain will disappear in a few hours or days.