Abdominal cramps: causes, types & home remedies

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Who doesn't know them - stomach cramps! Stomach cramps are more common than you think - whether as a child or as an adult. There are many causes and they can be triggered, for example, by greasy food, stress or an inflammation of the stomach. The cramps are noticeable by pressing or stabbing and can occur on the left as well as on the right.

Often these are harmless symptoms caused by unfamiliar food or periods, but sometimes the pain is serious. Accompanying symptoms and knowledge of one's own body are good indicators here. In this article we would like to give you an insight into possible causes, how they can be treated and what home remedies can provide quick relief.

the essentials in brief

  • Abdominal cramps are acute spasmodic muscle contractions. Usually harmless, there is also long-lasting, very severe pain, for which it is advisable to consult a doctor.
  • The symptoms often occur in combination with nausea, diarrhea, constipation or fever. In addition, the pain feels different and can radiate to the back.
  • To determine the cause of the evil, the nature, duration, localization and accompanying symptoms are examined. They can provide information about the reason for the pain and thus define the treatment.

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Background: What you should know about abdominal cramps

Abdominal pain has its origin in the stomach - that much is already clear! But where exactly does the pain come from and how can you distinguish between serious pain and harmless cramps? You'll find out all of this in the coming paragraphs, but don't panic. In most cases, the pain is short-lived and goes away quickly. If not, you should see a doctor.

What causes abdominal cramps?

Abdominal cramps are not always easy to localize because the nerve plexus in the abdomen is well connected to the body. That is why it is also known as the abdominal brain. Stress or emotional tension can also trigger cramps. (1) However, the pain usually occurs due to an irritated hollow organ. These typically include the stomach, intestines, gallbladder, urinary bladder or the uterus.

The irritation itself can be caused by inflammation, a foreign object, or an ulcer. By cramping and relaxing, the body tries to help itself and get rid of any foreign bodies or push them outwards. Abdominal cramps occur due to a variety of triggers and depend on various factors. A large number of spasms are caused by the gastrointestinal tract.

Although the causes of abdominal cramps can be varied, there are some that are more common than others. A lot of cramps can be traced back to diet. Heavy or greasy meals, an incorrect diet or eating too hastily are meant. Spicy or unfamiliar food (especially on vacation) can also be the reason. But unclean food can also be the cause. Usually caused by infection with viruses.

If the abdominal cramps occur after eating, food is often the cause. Triggers can be lactose intolerance, gluten intolerance, sorbitol or histamine intolerance.

What types of abdominal cramps are there?

Abdominal cramps in general are also called colic when they are severe. As a rule, the cramps appear in waves and in most cases are harmless and disappear again after a short time. The abdominal cramps are perceived as dull, oppressive or even stabbing. In the pain-free phases, the pain increases until it reaches a peak and then subsides again. Sometimes this peak of pain lasts for up to a few minutes.

Menstrual abdominal cramps

Abdominal cramps during or before the period, also called menstrual pain, often start 1-2 days before the start and can last for several hours or even days. Menstrual pain varies in severity at different times and, like colic, progresses in waves.

The cramps occur because the uterus keeps contracting. By contracting, the uterus sheds its mucous membrane. It is not uncommon for side effects to occur alongside the cramps. Typical symptoms include, for example, diarrhea or vomiting.

abdominal cramps in pregnancy

Abdominal pain or cramps are not uncommon symptoms, both in early pregnancy and later on. However, they should be observed closely or checked out by a doctor. Lower abdominal pain and cramps are common, especially at the beginning of pregnancy.


Cramps have different causes and express themselves accordingly in different ways. If the cramps persist for a long time or occur in combination with other symptoms, a doctor should be consulted. (Image Source: Sydney Sims / Unsplash)

This is because the fetus is growing and the uterus is expanding. At the same time, it makes localizing the pain more difficult. (2) Slight pulling or cramps usually occur when the child is lying awkwardly. In case of bleeding or other additional symptoms, a doctor should be consulted urgently.

epigastric pain

Upper abdominal pain usually comes from the organs located there. These include, for example, the stomach, duodenum, liver (right), gallbladder, spleen (left) and pancreas. But the heart or lungs can also trigger cramps in the upper abdomen. The causes include: heartburn, irritable bowel or stomach, inflammation of the gastric mucosa or inflammation of the pancreas.

abdominal pain

Lower abdominal pain includes everything below the navel. Here the pain often comes from the intestines, but inflammation of the urinary tract or gynecological problems can also be the cause of cramps. Typical causes include:

  • appendicitis
  • urinary tract infections
  • hernia
  • Fallopian tube inflammation or cysts
  • prostate inflammation

However, chronic diseases of the intestines such as ulcerative colitis or Crohn's disease can also be the cause. These usually progress in phases (3) and can initially be mistaken for harmless cramps.

abdominal cramps in children

When children suffer from abdominal cramps, the exact origin (especially in young children) is difficult to pinpoint. As a rule, children can only say exactly where it hurts from primary school onwards. If the abdominal pain recurs, parents should monitor this closely and have it checked by a doctor.

It is important to find out whether it is a disease that needs to be treated or whether it is a food intolerance. If pain suddenly occurs in combination with accompanying symptoms such as fever, sweat or vomiting, a doctor should be consulted urgently. If diarrhea or vomiting persists, the child should drink plenty of fluids to avoid dehydration.

How to distinguish abdominal cramps?

Abdominal cramps in themselves are ambiguous, but can be easily distinguished using various criteria. As a result, conclusions can be drawn about the causes of the pain. In the following table we have summarized the criteria for you.

criteria Description
localization Upper, middle, lower abdomen and right, left center
kind of pain Duration of the intervals - oppressive, burning, stabbing or dull - pain intensity from 1-10
pain development slow pain development over a long period of time or sudden onset of pain
time of pain before, during or after eating
improvement after elimination Vomiting, gas discharge or defecation
accompanying symptoms Do the cramps occur alone or in combination with other symptoms, such as vomiting, diarrhea, fever or bleeding (vomiting or bowel movements)

If pain develops slowly and over a longer period of time, this indicates an inflammatory process. Sudden pain, on the other hand, is more likely to indicate poor blood flow to important organs in the abdomen. The pain can therefore be roughly classified and, depending on the criterion, indicates the cause of the abdominal cramps.

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When should you see a doctor for abdominal cramps?

Broadly speaking, if you have abdominal cramps that feel different than usual or are more than the usual pinching, see your doctor. The intensity and duration of the cramps are still a good guide. If the symptoms are very severe or last longer than 1-2 days, there may be more than a harmless abdominal cramp behind them. In addition, accompanying symptoms can be another indication of unusual abdominal pain. Warning signs are, for example, blood in the stool, vomiting or a tense hard stomach. (4)

In order to rule out a serious illness, you should have your pain clarified by a doctor. Especially in connection with accompanying symptoms, there is often a serious illness behind it. (5) The cause of the pain can be a food allergy or intolerance. This is easy to find out with an allergy test. Other options for finding the cause of the pain are, for example, a gastroscopy or colonoscopy.

Which doctor is responsible depends on who has which pain and where. If you are not sure or cannot exactly identify the pain, you are definitely in good hands with your family doctor. They can then refer you to a specialist. In addition to the family doctor, the responsible doctors are internists, gastroenterologists, paediatricians, gynecologists and urologists.

How are abdominal cramps (medically) treated?

First of all, there is a patient interview (anamnesis), palpation and listening of the abdomen. The information from the anamnesis often provides the doctor with valuable information on a possible cause of the symptoms. (6) Subsequent investigations can be carried out if there is any suspicion. These may be blood, stool, or urine tests. In order to examine the internal organs, ultrasound, gastric, intestinal or laparoscopy are performed.


If a detailed history does not suggest a cause for the abdominal cramps, further testing may be ordered. These then provide information and determine the further procedure or treatment. (Image source: Francisco Venancio / Unsplash)

After the diagnosis, we proceed depending on the cause of the pain. A pain reliever or antispasmodic medication is often prescribed for the pain itself. A bacterial infection is treated with antibiotics. In the case of stress-related or cramps due to a food intolerance, a change or improvement in eating and living habits is a simple method.

Serious conditions, such as cancer or gallstones, can be treated with surgery, chemotherapy, or radiation. Chronic conditions are treated with medication and should be monitored more closely soon after diagnosis. In the further course and if the medication is well adjusted, regular checks are carried out at further intervals.

This helps against stomach cramps: the best tips and home remedies for a relaxed stomach

The majority of cramps are harmless and usually go away on their own. Whether it’s period pain, digestive problems or gastrointestinal infections, they all affect your general well-being. While infections are best treated with medication, many abdominal cramps can be soothed and provide pain relief with a variety of home remedies. Which home remedy works best varies from person to person, but the following remedies have proven themselves:

  • Heat : very effective, especially for menstrual pain. You can use a hot water bottle or a heat pad to keep you warm. The heat relaxes the muscles and counteracts cramps. Heat patches are ideal for on the go.
  • Drink a lot : 1-2 liters of liquid a day helps with digestive problems. Plain water or teas are good here. Tea made from fennel, anise, caraway or chamomile is particularly good, as these herbs also stimulate digestion.
  • Eating that is easy on the stomach : suitable for calming the gastrointestinal tract. For the time being, you should avoid greasy, spicy food and anything that you do not tolerate well. Easily digestible foods such as soups, porridge or rice are better.
  • Eliminate stimulants : Alcohol, nicotine, and even fizzy drinks can make your stomach cramps worse. Therefore, you should avoid them for the time being. (7)
  • Avoid foods : A food intolerance or allergy (8) can also trigger abdominal cramps. If you know or have observed which foods trigger cramps in you, you should eliminate them from your diet.
  • Sport : Exercise helps reduce pain. Just 30 minutes a day can have a preventive effect or help during cramps. The movement stimulates intestinal activity, for example. Standing on all fours can help during periods.
  • Abdominal massage : stimulates the natural movement of the intestines and can relieve tension. This will alleviate your discomfort. To do this, apply gentle pressure and let your hands run over your stomach. This method is particularly good for babies and children.
  • Relaxation : Rest allows your body to regroup. This gets the digestion going again and the cramps can subside.

The strenght is to be found in serenity! Relaxation helps the body relax, as the body can now focus on relieving pain. (Image Source: Nathan Dumlao / Unsplash)

As you can see, there are a number of home remedies that can be used to relieve abdominal cramps. There is also a wide range of over-the-counter medications that also help with cramps and provide quick relief.


Even if it is sometimes difficult to locate or distinguish abdominal cramps precisely, there are some criteria that can be used as a guide. If you still feel unsafe or the pain expresses itself differently than usual, you should see a doctor. This makes the diagnosis much easier. Often the abdominal cramps are harmless and can be traced back to diet or too much stress. Sometimes, however, there is more to it and further investigation is needed to find the cause of the pain.

Pain from harmless cramps can be relieved with various home remedies. It comes down to what kind of pain you're having and what works best for you. Every body reacts differently. Otherwise, there are also some over-the-counter medications that work to relieve pain or relieve cramps. Serious or chronic diseases must be treated with medication, surgery or chemotherapy or radiation.


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