When to see your doctor about lower abdominal pain

April 19, 2024 Providence Health Team


In this article:

  • Lower abdominal pain is a common complaint with multiple causes ranging from mild to severe.

  • Gastroenterologist Ryan Childers, M.D., shares how to recognize serious symptoms associated with lower abdominal pain.

  • Learn how experienced specialists at Providence can diagnose and treat your lower abdominal pain. 

Understanding your lower abdominal pain

Lower abdominal pain is not uncommon. We have all experienced cramps and other abdominal pain or discomfort at some point in our lives. However, gastroenterologist Ryan Childers, M.D., with The Oregon Clinic Gastroenterology South and Providence Health, says it’s important to understand when to seek professional evaluation for lower abdominal pain.

“Lower abdominal pain and gastrointestinal distress can greatly impact your quality of life. In many cases, there is a solution that can relieve your symptoms and help you enjoy a normal, active lifestyle,” Childers says.

Your lower abdomen is the area below your belly button and above your pubic bone. There are several abdominal and pelvic organs located within or near the lower abdomen region including the colon, rectum, small intestines, appendix, uterus, pancreas, ovaries and bladder.

Types of lower abdominal pain

Like many types of pain, lower abdominal pain is often subjective. You are the only person who can describe your pain, but it can range from mild to severe. Some of the most common forms of lower abdominal pain include:

  • Cramps.
  • Sharp pains.
  • Pain after eating.
  • Pain that comes and goes.
  • Dull and achy feeling.

Lower abdominal pain can be either acute or chronic. You may experience acute pain suddenly, without warning. Chronic pain persists for days or longer. Both types of lower abdominal pain can become progressively worse.

Dr. Childers urges his patients to be aware of their pain. “I advise my patients to carefully monitor any symptoms of abdominal pain. If it persists or worsens, further testing may be necessary. If you experience severe, debilitating abdominal pain, you should call your doctor right away or go to the emergency room,” he says.

Common causes of lower abdominal pain

There is a wide range of conditions that can cause lower abdominal pain. As a gastroenterologist, Dr. Childers often sees causes stemming from the small or large intestines. These include digestive diseases that may cause additional symptoms like diarrhea, constipation or rectal bleeding. Many of these conditions can be influenced by lifestyle decisions (diet, activity) or genetics.

“In our culture, we are surrounded by highly processed foods, and I am seeing an increased number of conditions and symptoms likely caused by or influenced in some part by these types of foods,” Dr. Childers says.

You also may experience pain in your lower abdomen if your intestines are inflamed. Inflammation may be a sign that your immune system is working to fight something in your body, or that there is an autoimmune process, in which part of the immune system is (incorrectly) attacking part of the body. Some conditions that may cause inflammation in your small or large intestines include:

  • Ulcerative colitis.
  • Crohn’s disease.
  • Celiac disease.
  • Cancer.
  • Infection.

The lower abdomen also includes many female reproductive organs. It’s not uncommon for women to experience lower abdominal pain. Some common nongastrointestinal causes of lower abdomen pain in women may include:

  • Endometriosis.
  • Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID).
  • Uterine fibroids.
  • Ovarian pain.
  • Menstrual cramps.
  • Ovarian cysts.

Dr. Childers says women who experience persistent lower abdominal cramps should talk to their primary care provider or gynecologist to determine if a referral to a gastroenterologist is necessary.

If you experience acute, severe lower abdominal pain, Dr. Childers recommends calling your doctor right away, or going to the emergency room. Some possible causes of severe lower abdominal pain include:

  • Appendicitis.
  • Ischemic colitis.
  • Infectious colitis.
  • Inflammatory bowel disease.
  • Bowel obstruction.
  • Aortic aneurysm.
  • Gallstones.
  • Kidney stones.

Treating your lower abdominal pain

Lower abdominal pain can range from mild to severe. Dr. Childers says he would categorize “mild” abdominal pain as pain that is minimally disruptive and does not worsen. He suggests first trying rest and hydration, or the use of Tylenol or a heating pad for relief.

He generally advises his patients to avoid routine use of over-the-counter medications such as Motrin, Advil and other “NSAIDs.” These medications could cause gastrointestinal inflammation.

Dr Childers says some symptoms associated with lower abdominal pain could indicate a more serious health concern. These symptoms include:

  • Rectal bleeding.
  • Change in bowel movements.
  • Loss of appetite.
  • Unexplained weight loss.

“Serious lower abdominal pain would include pain that progresses or is intolerable. If pain interferes with your ability to function or eat, you also should see a doctor or seek emergency care,” Dr. Childers says.

How to avoid lower abdominal pain

The best way to avoid conditions associated with lower abdominal pain is through living a healthy lifestyle. Dr. Childers suggests eating a healthy diet and getting plenty of regular exercise. He also says to take notice if specific foods cause an issue.

“Some people may have food intolerances, like lactose or dairy intolerance, or may notice that certain food groups or even very specific foods can cause abdominal distress. Careful self-reflection and consideration of historical food exposures may help provide clues,” Dr. Childers says.

Dr. Childers also suggests avoiding ultra-processed foods and foods high in fat. And if you are unsure whether your lower abdominal pain is serious, talk to your health care team.

Contributing caregiver


Ryan Childers, M.D., is a gastroenterologist The Oregon Clinic Gastroenterology South. This group provides full-time inpatient consultation support to Providence Willamette Falls Medical Center and Providence Newberg Medical Center and always welcomes outpatient referrals from the communities served by these hospitals.

Find a doctor

If you are looking for a primary care provider or gastroenterologist, you can search for one who is right for you in our provider directory

The gastroenterologists at Providence can help you identify where your lower abdominal pain is coming from and determine the best treatment. Through Providence Express Care Virtual you can access a full range of healthcare services. 

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Related resources

The mind-gut connection and how to improve it

Keep your colon healthy to prevent disease

You don’t have to live with chronic acid reflux

This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your health care professional’s instructions.

About the Author

The Providence Health Team brings together caregivers from diverse backgrounds to bring you clinically-sound, data-driven advice to help you live your happiest and healthiest selves.

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