Abdominal distress

Alternative names
Abdominal discomfort


Definition: Any pain or discomfort in the abdomen. The abdominal area is the area between your chest and groin, often referred to as the stomach region or belly. See abdominal pain, abdominal bloating, and excessive gas.

Diseases or problems with any of the organs that lie inside the abdominal cavity can lead to pain as well as other symptoms like change in bowel habits, nausea, or vomiting. The pain may be chronic or acute, crampy or sharp, and associated with abdominal rigidity (board-like stiffness). The latter suggests peritonitis (inflammation of the peritoneum, the thin membrane that lines the abdominal cavity) and may represent a ruptured organ.

Pain in the abdomen may also originate from somewhere else - like your chest, pelvic region (the area just below the abdomen that houses the reproductive organs), or a generalized infection affecting many parts of your body (like the flu or strep throat).

Any sudden onset of abdominal pain should be evaluated right away by your doctor or an emergency room physician.

Reasons to call 911 or get safely to an emergency room include:

  • You have sudden, sharp abdominal pain  
  • You have a fever (over 100 degrees Fahrenheit for adults or 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit for children) along with your pain  
  • You also have chest, neck, or shoulder pain  
  • You are vomiting blood or have blood in your stool (especially if maroon or dark, tarry black)  
  • Your abdomen is tender and hard to the touch.  
  • You are unable to pass stool, especially if you are also vomiting

Johns Hopkins patient information

Last revised:

Diseases and Conditions Center

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All ArmMed Media material is provided for information only and is neither advice nor a substitute for proper medical care. Consult a qualified healthcare professional who understands your particular history for individual concerns.