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It could be more than a cramp

Maybe it started off small. Maybe it suddenly came out of nowhere. Whatever it is, you’re having pain in your side. But why? Where did it come from? And should you be worried?

We’re all familiar with pain from stubbing a toe or twisting an ankle, but internal pain is a bit more disconcerting since it’s often tricky to pick out the cause. Pain is your body’s way of sounding the alarm. When you feel pain, your body is trying to tell you to take it easy — something is wrong.

“Pain in your side or in your abdomen is a common complaint, and it’s a common reason for people to visit the emergency room,” explains Dr. Matthew Souder, a general surgeon at Geisinger. “If you’re experiencing pain in your side, keep track of the pain and see what aggravates it. Does it hurt more when you stand or sit? When you breathe in or breathe out? Does it always hurt the same amount or is it off and on? If you notice the pain is severe or interrupting your ability to go about your day — get medical attention. Even if it isn’t anything dangerous, it’s still better to be sure.”

Importantly, if you notice you’re having severe pain, fever, swelling and tenderness of the abdomen, bloody stools, yellowing of the skin or persistent nausea and vomiting, see a doctor immediately.

Here are a few things that may be causing that pain in your side.

Gas and constipation

The most common reason for the pain in your side is what you ate or drank.

Gas or constipation is usually the biggest false alarm when it comes to abdominal and side pain. Each can cause fairly severe pain, but they usually aren’t harmful. Normally, gas and constipation pains can be identified by their inconsistency: the pain may come and go, and it will change depending on how you’re sitting or standing. Gas and constipation pain should subside within an hour or shortly after a bowel movement. 

Irritable bowel syndrome

Irritable bowel syndrome, or IBS, is a common condition that affects the large intestine by causing spasms.

“Cases of IBS can range anywhere from mild to severe, and it often runs in families,” notes Dr. Souder. “Factors like food, stress and hormones can trigger IBS, causing symptoms like cramps, pain, bloating, diarrhea and constipation.”

If you’re experiencing IBS symptoms, talk to your doctor. They can diagnose whether you do have IBS and prescribe medication if necessary.


Stones aren’t just something you find outside — they may show up in your kidneys or your gallbladder, too.

Kidney stones are deposits of salt and minerals that can form and harden in your kidneys. Gallstones are deposits made from cholesterol and bile.

“Kidney stones and gallstones can cause excruciating pain,” says Dr. Sounder. “Kidney stones may be passed naturally, but in more severe cases, they may require surgery. Talk to your doctor if you experience severe, radiating pain that lasts for more than a day.”


“One of the most serious reasons for abdominal pain is appendicitis,” adds Dr. Souder. “Appendicitis, or an infection of the appendix, can be a life-threatening condition. Appendicitis is considered a medical emergency, and surgery is required to remove the appendix.”

If you notice pain (especially on your right side), fever, vomiting and loss of appetite, get emergency medical attention. 

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