This Pain Map Could Help Reveal Exactly Why Your Stomach is Hurting

Stomach aches usually just mean that you’ve had a little too much to eat. But sometimes, they can be a sign of other health issues. If… Aisha Abdullah - December 21, 2022

Stomach aches usually just mean that you’ve had a little too much to eat. But sometimes, they can be a sign of other health issues. If you go to a doctor with abdominal pain, the very first question you will be asked is, “Where does it hurt?” That’s because the location of your stomach pain can give you clues about what’s wrong. Your abdomen contains not just your stomach but also your large and small intestines, kidney, liver, spleen, gallbladder, and bladder as well as internal reproductive organs like the uterus. Only a medical professional can diagnose the health conditions that could be causing abdominal pain. But a stomach pain map can help you figure out what might be making your stomach hurt so you can fix it. The map splits the abdomen into a grid with three rows (upper: just below the chest, lower: just above the hip bone, and center) and three columns (right, middle, and left).


This pain map reveals what’s bothering you. Pinterest.

Gallstones (Upper Right and Upper Middle Abdomen)

The gallbladder is a pear-shaped organ located just above the liver in the upper right corner of your abdomen. Although small, the gallbladder plays an important role in digestion, producing bile that travels through bile ducts to the intestines to help break down fat in food. Sometimes this bile can build up and harden, forming pebble-like gallstones, which can range in size from a grain of sand to a golf ball. Most gallstones are harmless, but if they grow large or travel to other organs, they can cause inflammation (swelling) and severe pain.

Small gallstones can be dissolved with medication and pass naturally out of the body. Gallstones that are causing severe pain or are stuck in the bile ducts can be removed in a quick, minimally invasive surgery. If gallstones are causing serious complications or are challenging to reach, the gallbladder may need to be removed entirely. However, like the tonsils and the appendix, it’s possible to live a completely normal life without a gallbladder.

Source: Freepik

Heartburn (Upper Middle Abdomen)

Pain in the upper middle part of the abdomen, just under the chest, is often a symptom of heartburn, a type of indigestion. Eating too fast or too much fatty food can lead to many different kinds of upset stomach, including gas, bloating, and a general feeling of being overly full. Heartburn is caused by acid reflux, which occurs when stomach acid travels up the esophagus, a tube that connects the throat to the stomach. This acid causes the burning feeling in the middle of the chest and upper abdomen that is known as heartburn.

Overeating, especially spicy food and acidic food like tomatoes, and drinking alcoholic, caffeinated, or carbonated drinks can lead to heartburn. Heartburn can also be a symptom of other medical conditions, including some digestive diseases like gastroesophageal reflux disease. Additionally, heartburn may be worsened by smoking, pregnancy, and stress. It’s usually treated with over-the-counter antacids and dietary changes, but persistent heartburn may require medical attention.

Source: Vecteezy

Stomach Ulcer (Upper and Center Abdomen)

Burning or constant dull pain in the upper and center abdomen may be a sign of a stomach ulcer, an open sore in the stomach lining. Although many stomach ulcers do not have any symptoms, some can cause pain, nausea, and indigestion. The two most common causes of stomach ulcers are a bacteria called H. pylori that lives on the stomach wall and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), a common type of pain medication that includes ibuprofen and aspirin.

The bacteria and the drugs can disrupt the stomach lining’s ability to protect itself against stomach acid, which can damage the tissue and cause ulcers. Contrary to popular belief, spicy foods, excessive alcohol, and stress do not cause stomach ulcers but can worsen symptoms. Ulcers may be treated with antibiotics and medication to reduce the amount of acid that the stomach produces. Antiacids may also be used to reduce acid in the stomach and relieve symptoms, but they will not heal the ulcer.

Source: Scientific Animations

Pancreatitis (Upper and Center Abdomen)

The pancreas is the small gland just behind the stomach that produces insulin, which helps the body process sugar, and enzymes that aid digestion. Sometimes these digestive enzymes become active in the pancreas instead of the intestines. When that happens, they can cause a rare but serious condition called pancreatitis, or swelling of the pancreas. Usually triggered by heavy drinking or gallstones, pancreatitis can cause severe pain in the upper abdomen that extends to the back. Pain is often accompanied by a fever, nausea or vomiting, and elevated heart rate.

If left untreated, pancreatitis can cause permanent damage to the pancreas, kidney damage, malnutrition due to the body’s inability to digest food properly, and diabetes, which occurs when the body is unable to produce insulin. Pancreatitis is treated by removing the cause of the disease, such as gallstone removal or abstaining from alcohol, and procedures to remove the damaging enzymes and inflamed tissue from the pancreas.

Source: Vecteezy

Epigastric Hernia (Upper Middle Abdomen)

Hernias are bulges of tissue or fat that push through a weak spot or hole in the abdominal wall, the abdomen muscles that are meant to hold your abdominal organs in place. Hernias can happen anywhere on the abdominal wall. Most are present from birth, but they can also develop later, well into adulthood, usually without a known cause. Epigastric hernias on the upper abdominal wall can cause pain and tenderness in the upper part of the abdomen up to the chest. They may appear as a raised bump, usually above the belly button.

The only treatment for epigastric hernias is surgery to repair the opening in the abdominal wall to prevent the growth from getting larger or causing severe complications. If not treated, these types of hernias can increase in size, risking blockage of the intestines or the part of the intestines pushing through the hernia.

Source: Shutterstock

Hepatitis (Upper Right Abdomen)

Hepatitis, or swelling of the liver, is the most common liver disease caused by one of five hepatitis viruses or as a side effect of alcoholism. The disease often causes abdominal pain under the right side of the ribcage. Other symptoms of hepatitis are jaundice (yellow skin) and lack of appetite. Tucked just above the stomach and below the rib on our right side is the liver, our body’s detox and filtration system.

It removes harmful substances, absorbs nutrients from food, keeps the blood healthy, and balances hormone levels. So, as you can imagine, any disease that affects liver function can impact the entire body. Some types of hepatitis resolve on their own, while others require anti-viral treatments or lifestyle changes. In severe cases, hepatitis may require a liver transplant. Untreated hepatitis can lead to infection, severe liver disease, or death.

Source: Shutterstock

Enlarged Spleen (Upper Left Abdomen)

The spleen produces white blood cells that remove dangerous foreign materials like bacteria and dead cells from the body. An enlarged spleen can cause pain and bloating just under your ribcage on the left side of the body. Pain from an enlarged spleen may extend all the way to the left shoulder. Although the condition is often harmless, it can be a sign of other serious health issues such as infections, injury, liver disease, some blood disorders, and certain cancers.

Treatments for enlarged spleen include treating the underlying infections and avoiding activities that increase the risk of further injuries, such as contact sports. In some cases, the spleen has to be surgically removed. If this happens, the liver takes over most of the spleens functions.

Source: Vecteezy

Small Intestine Ulcer (Upper Left Abdomen)

Ulcers in the upper part of the small intestine, called duodenal ulcers, result from damage to the intestinal wall by stomach acid that breaks down food. Like stomach ulcers, intestinal ulcers are most often caused by using certain pain medications (NSAIDs) or bacteria that live on the wall of the stomach and intestines. Small ulcers may cause burning pain in the upper left part of the abdomen, heartburn, bloating, gassiness, and nausea. Severe ulcers can also cause internal bleeding or swelling.

Like stomach ulcers, intestinal ulcers may be treated with antacids and other medicines that reduce or neutralize stomach acid and antibiotics to eliminate bacterial infections. The goal of these treatments is to reduce further damage to the intestinal wall while the ulcer is healing.

Source: Vecteezy

Biliary Colic (Upper Left Abdomen)

The digestive system contains a network of bile ducts. These tiny tubes carry bile, a fluid that breakdowns fat in food and aids digestion, from the gallbladder, liver, and pancreas to the small intestines. Biliary colic occurs when these ducts are blocked by gallstones, pebble-like structures that develop when bile builds up and hardens in the gallbladder. The blockages can cause pain in the middle and upper right abdomen that spreads all the way up to the right shoulder.

Most of the time, biliary colic goes away without treatment when the gallstone gets unstuck and passes out of the bile ducts naturally. Over-the-counter medication can be used to relieve pain while waiting for the gallstone to pass. If that doesn’t happen, the gallstone will need to be dissolved by a doctor. Surgical gallbladder removal is usually recommended to prevent gallstones and complications like biliary colic from occurring again.

Source: Pixabay

Kidney Stone (Center Left and Right Abdomen)

The kidney is basically a giant filter, taking in blood and absorbing water and other chemicals that our bodies need and releasing those we don’t need as urine. Kidney stones happen when some of those unwanted chemicals in urine crystalize, forming hard little stones in the kidney. If kidney stones move or build up, they can block urine in the kidney or bladder, causing pain in the sides of the abdomen and lower back.

Kidney stones can be prevented by drinking enough water, which helps flush out unwanted chemicals, and eating too many salty or sugary foods. Sometimes small kidney stones pass on their own. Stones that do not or cannot pass can be broken up into smaller pieces using sound waves or a small tube inserted through the urethra, which expels urine from the body. Surgery to remove kidney stones is only necessary for very rare situations when the stone is too large or in too difficult a location to be broken up.

Source: Freepik

Bladder Infection (Center Left and Lower Middle Abdomen)

Urinary tract infections (UTIs) can happen anywhere in the urinary system, usually in the bladder or urethra, the tube connected to the bladder that releases urine from the body. People with bladder infections feel pain and pressure in the lower middle part of their abdomen. This discomfort is accompanied by frequent burning urinating that may be difficult to control. Women are much more likely to experience UTIs than men because they have a shorter urethra.

Bladder infections are caused by bacteria on the skin, especially the anus, which make their way into the bladder. This can be prevented by wiping from front to back after going to the bathroom to keep bacteria from coming in contact with the urethra. In addition, staying hydrated helps flush bacteria out of the body, reducing the risk of bladder infections. UTIs are typically treated with antibiotics.

Source: Freepik

Constipation (Lower Right and Center Abdomen)

Constipation is an inability or difficulty pooping, usually because the poop is too dry or hard. This happens when the large intestine (also called the colon) absorbs too much water from food as it moves through the intestines. Constipation is a very common cause of pain in the center and the lower right side of the abdomen. Not drinking enough water or eating enough fiber, poor diet, certain medications, pregnancy, and lack of exercise can all cause constipation.

Occasional constipation usually resolves on its own and is a sign that you might need to improve your diet or water intake. Laxatives and fiber supplements can help relieve constipation by softening poop and making it easier to pass or stimulating the colon muscles.

Source: Freepik

Lumbar Hernia (Center Abdomen)

Lumbar hernias are weak spots in the muscles on the side or back of the abdomen that tissue and organs may push through. Pain from a lumbar hernia usually radiates out from the lower back. It may include cramps in the middle and sides of the abdomen. Like stomach and intestine hernias, many lumbar hernias don’t require any treatment unless they begin to cause pain or increase in size.

Hernias can be caused by heavy lifting without appropriate support. Lifting heavy objects can affect the pressure inside your abdomen and put stress on the muscles, causing them to weaken. Hernias can be avoided by lifting with the knees instead of the back, using tools like a dolly or additional assistance to lessen the weight, and building core muscles.

Source: Wikimedia

Inflammatory Bowel Disease (Center and Lower Middle Abdomen)

The gastrointestinal (GI) tract runs the entire length of the digestive system, from the mouth to the anus. Conditions that cause swelling in the GI tract are called inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD), including Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. Abdominal pain in the middle and lower abdomen, diarrhea, an urgent need to go to the bathroom, and bloody stool (poop) are common symptoms of IBD.

The exact cause of IBD is unknown, but they have been linked to an immune system that overreacts to viral or bacterial infections in the GI tract, causing inflammation (swelling). The diseases can be treated with drugs that decrease inflammation by reducing the immune response. Changes in diet can also improve IBD symptoms, as particular food can trigger inflammation. In some cases, surgery may be required to relieve symptoms of IBD.

Source: Vecteezy

Umbilical Hernia (Center Abdomen)

An umbilical hernia occurs when tissue or part of the intestines pushes through a weak spot in the abdominal muscles, creating a bulge at or near the belly button. Umbilical hernias are common and usually harmless in babies and young children. However, hernias that do not close or that develop in adulthood may be more concerning, especially if they begin to cause pain or discomfort.

In adults, umbilical hernias are caused by conditions or activities that put pressure on the muscles that support and protect abdominal organs. For example, weightlifting, childbirth, severe constipation or vomiting, and a chronic cough can lead to hernias, including umbilical hernias in adults. Surgery to close or cover the hernia with mesh is usually recommended for hernias that don’t resolve on their own.

Source: GETTY

Small Bowel Obstruction (Center Abdomen)

When the small intestines (also called the small bowel) are blocked, it can cause severe abdominal pain, constipation, vomiting, and dehydration. Small bowel obstructions occur when something blocks the flow of digested food through the intestines, causing waste to build up in the small intestine. People with small bowel obstructions will usually not be able to keep food and fluids down because they have nowhere in the body to go.

These blockages are commonly caused by bands of scar tissue called adhesions that can form after abdominal surgery. In addition, inflammatory bowel diseases and hernias can cause small bowel obstructions. Small bowel obstructions require hospitalization for observation. Patients will usually receive fluids for dehydration and antibiotic or anti-inflammatory medications to relieve the source of the blockage. In many cases, the obstructions resolve without issue, but obstructions that do not improve or worsen may require surgical removal.

Source: Pexels

Diverticulitis (Lower Left and Lower Middle Abdomen)

Diverticulitis is an infection in the small pouches that can form on the lining of the intestines. The pouches on their own are harmless. However, if they become infected, they can cause blood in poop and severe pain on the left side and middle of the abdomen. The infection can also cause swelling that blocks the intestines, leading to worse pain, bloating, and diarrhea or constipation.

Mild diverticulitis cases can be treated with rest, a clear liquid diet, and over-the-counter medication for pain. More severe cases may require hospitalization, antibiotics, or surgery. Maintaining a healthy, high-fiber diet, drinking lots of water, quitting smoking, and exercising regularly can help decrease the risk of diverticulitis.

Source: Pexels

Endometriosis (Lower Abdomen)

Endometriosis is a condition that causes tissue that is supposed to grow inside the uterus to grow outside. It causes cramps and pain in the lower abdomen, and bleeding in between menstrual cycles. The disorder affects about 1 in 10 women and can cause serious issues if not treated. Because tissue can grow on other reproductive organs, like the ovaries and fallopian tubes, endometriosis can make it more difficult to get pregnant. It may also increase the risk of ectopic pregnancy, a fertilized egg that grows outside the uterus.

Although there is no cure for endometriosis, it can be treated with hormonal birth control, which may help relieve symptoms. However, if hormonal treatments do not improve symptoms or the condition affects fertility, endometriosis tissue may need to be surgically removed from the affected organs.

Source: Vecteezy

Appendicitis (Lower Right and Center Abdomen)

The appendix is a small organ with no known functions that is attached to the large intestine. Appendicitis is an infection in the appendix that causes swelling and severe pain in the middle and on the lower right side of the abdomen. Early signs of appendicitis include a sudden, sharp pain in the center of the abdomen that gets worse when you move around, cough, or laugh.

Appendicitis requires immediate medical attention to avoid serious complications, including a burst appendix, which can be fatal. Surgery to remove the appendix is the only treatment for appendicitis. Fortunately, the organ does not have any essential functions, so its removal shouldn’t negatively impact health.

Source: Shutterstock

“Pelvic” Pain (Lower Abdomen)

Pelvic pain is felt in the lower abdomen and may be a sign of many different health conditions. Female reproductive conditions like uterine fibroids and ovarian cysts are common causes of pelvic pain, as are hernias, bladder infections, sexually-transmitted infections, and intestinal issues. Sometimes pelvic pain is nothing to be concerned about. However, if the pain starts suddenly, is severe, or is accompanied by blood in pee, you should seek medical attention immediately.

Doctors may do various tests, including pelvic exams and ultrasound, and collect blood, urine, and stool samples to determine the cause of pelvic pain. Treatments will likely depend on the root cause, but pain medicine, as directed by a doctor, can relieve pelvic pain.

Ovarian cysts. Shutterstock.

Ovarian Cysts (Lower Right and Left Abdomen)

Ovarian cysts are fluid-filled sacs that can grow inside or outside the ovaries. The cysts are common in women of childbearing age. They may cause pain and pressure in the lower sides of the abdomen. Ovarian cysts may also cause weight gain, pain during sex, and difficulty peeing. If one ruptures, it can cause severe pain and even blood loss.

Many conditions can cause ovarian cysts, including polycystic ovary syndrome. But the disease is usually caused by an ovary failing to release an egg or dissolving the egg sac after the egg is released. Cysts typically resolve on their own without causing any symptoms. However, if cysts are causing severe symptoms or are affecting fertility, then surgery to remove the cysts or the ovary may be necessary.