It’s not exactly a topic that anyone wants to talk about, but stomach pain is one of the worrying health symptoms that we’ve all experienced at some point. Because abdominal pain is a symptom of so many different gut-related problems, it can be hard to pinpoint exactly what might be wrong.

Here are a few common types of stomach pain, and their possible causes:

Dull upper abdominal pain: Excess gas

A dull, bloated feeling in the upper stomach area commonly means excess gas. It can be caused by eating too quickly or swallowing air too quickly. It can also be caused by certain foods and drinks like sodas and beers, dairy, leafy vegetables and beans, or artificial sweeteners.

You can prevent excess gas by cutting down on foods that cause it, or help to alleviate it with peppermint oil pills or other supplements like active charcoal.

Pain in the lower chest area, top of the abdominal area: Heartburn

Heartburn, or acid reflux, causes an uncomfortable acidic taste at the back of the throat and/or a burning pain in the chest and upper stomach. It can be caused by certain foods like greasy or spicy foods, alcohol or coffee and acidic juices. Pregnancy also increases the risk of heartburn in women, and smoking is known to worsen it.

Antacids like Gaviscon can help to alleviate heartburn quickly, and cutting down on foods that cause it can help to prevent the feeling in the long term.

Severe pain in the upper abdominal area: Ulcers

Severe, sharp pain in the upper stomach area could potentially be caused by ulcers. Ulcers develop when the stomach lining is damaged and can be caused by strong doses of painkillers, or a bacteria called Helicobacter pylori. While stress might not be the cause of ulcers, it can aggravate existing ulcers severely. Smoking can also worsen ulcers.

If you think you have an ulcer, it’s important not to treat it with painkillers like aspirin or other similar anti-inflammatory pills, as that could make it worse. It’s best to see a doctor who can prescribe a course of antibiotics.

Cramping and bloating: Irritable Bowel Syndrome

The cause of Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) is hard to pin down, but it’s generally attributed to a sensitive digestive system which can be aggravated by certain foods. IBS causes your digestive system to either work faster than normal, causing diarrhoea, or slower than usual, causing constipation. IBS can be triggered by fizzy or caffeinated drinks, greasy foods, alcohol or stress.

Reducing stress, being sensitive to what you eat and reducing the intake of triggering foods, and increasing fibre can all help with IBS. However, each person experiences it differently and you’d need to find what works for you.

Cramping and diarrhoea: Gastroenteritis (stomach flu)

Cramping and diarrhoea that comes along suddenly could be caused by a virus or bacteria, leading to gastroenteritis. Different bacteria commonly found in meat products, dairy products, or water can cause these symptoms, and often subsides within two to five days.

It’s important to keep hydrated enough so that your body can still function. Severe dehydration could lead to hospitalisation.

Mild pain and indigestion: Lactose intolerance

Frequent cramping, gas, bloating and indigestion could be caused by lactose intolerance, and inability to digest the natural sugar found in dairy products. It can be treated by following a lactose-free diet, but to ensure you don’t lose out on calcium, include extra broccoli, kale, tuna, salmon, and calcium-fortified products like soy milk.

Gas, chronic diarrhoea, bloating: Gluten Intolerance 

Gluten intolerance or Celiac Disease is a digestive disorder that means the body is unable to properly process gluten-rich foods. It causes cramping, bloating and chronic diarrhoea, but can be managed by adopting a gluten-free diet.

Severe pain in the upper right abdomen and under the shoulder: Gallstones

Gallstones are mainly caused by too much cholesterol in the body. Women, people over 40 years old and people who have lost a substantial amount of weight are more susceptible to gallstones. If the pain you feel is mild, medication can help you to control it. However, severe pain may need to be treated by removing the gallbladder in surgery.

Lower right abdominal pain: Appendicitis

Sharp pain in your lower tummy area or around the belly button, accompanied by nausea or vomiting, could be appendicitis. It’s caused when the entrance to the appendix is blocked and gets infected. There could be multiple different causes, and it’s best to see your doctor immediately.

In general, regardless of the type of pain you’re experiencing, if it persists or gets worse, it’s best to see a doctor.