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Stomach pain in pregnancy
Stomach (abdominal) pains or cramps are common in pregnancy. They’re usually nothing to worry about, but they can sometimes be a sign of something more serious that needs to be checked.
It’s probably nothing to worry about if the pain is mild and goes away when you change position, have a rest, do a poo or pass wind. But if you have stomach pains and are worried, call your midwife or maternity hospital.
Harmless stomach pains, which can be dull or sharp, may be caused by:
- ligament pain (often called “growing pains” as the ligaments stretch to support your growing bump) – this can feel like a sharp cramp on one side of your lower tummy
- constipation – which is common in pregnancy
- trapped wind
Possible causes of serious stomach pain
Some conditions that can cause stomach pain need to be checked urgently.
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This is when a fertilised egg implants outside the womb, for example in a fallopian tube. The pregnancy cannot survive and needs to be removed with medicine or surgery.
Symptoms typically appear between 4 and 12 weeks of pregnancy and can include:
- tummy pain and bleeding
- pain in the tip of your shoulder
- discomfort when pooing or peeing
Cramping pains and bleeding before 24 weeks of pregnancy can sometimes be a sign of miscarriage or threatened miscarriage (when you bleed but the pregnancy normally continues).
Pain just under the ribs is common in later pregnancy due to the growing baby and uterus pushing up under the ribs.
But if this pain is bad or persistent, particularly on the right side, it can be a sign of pre-eclampsia (high blood pressure in pregnancy) which affects some pregnant women. It usually starts after 20 weeks or just after the baby is born.
Other symptoms of pre-eclampsia include:
- severe headache
- vision problems
- swollen feet, hands and face
You’ll need to be monitored in hospital.
Causes of left side pain during pregnancy
Left side pain in the first trimester is usually caused by normal bodily changes from pregnancy. It may also be related to digestive issues that tend to be worse during pregnancy, such as GERD. Left side pain in early pregnancy may also be caused by miscarriage. The most serious cause of left side pain in early pregnancy is an ectopic pregnancy, which needs emergency treatment. UTIs and kidney infections can cause left side pain at any point during pregnancy.
Round ligament pain is the most common cause of pain on either side during the second trimester. The round ligaments support the uterus. They stretch during pregnancy to accommodate your growing baby. This is a sharp pain that’s felt in the abdomen or in the hip area, on either side. Any sudden movement that makes these ligaments retract quickly can cause pain. It only lasts for a few seconds and generally gets better in the third trimester.
Pelvic girdle pain (PGP), sometimes called symphysis pubis dysfunction (SPD), can occur at any stage in pregnancy but is more common late in pregnancy. The pain may occur in your pubic bone, at approximately the level of your hips, on either side of your lower back, or in the perineum, which is the area between your vagina and anus. It may spread to your thighs as well. You may also have a grinding or clicking feeling in your pubic area. PGP is not harmful to your baby, but it can be very uncomfortable for you.
What are the most common causes of left lower quadrant pain in pregnancy?
- Constipation is very common in pregnancy.
- It gives you crampy lower tummy (lower abdominal) pains, often in the left lower quadrant (LLQ).
- You will open your bowels less often than you usually do and typically you pass hard, pellet-like stools (faeces).
Pelvic ligament pain
- Typically it starts around 14 weeks and goes on into late pregnancy.
- It is due to the growing womb (uterus) pulling on the structures (round ligaments and broad ligament) which hold it in place.
- Usually causes a stabbing pain down one or both sides of the tummy (abdomen) and sometimes down into the hips and genital area.
- Pain can be quite marked.
- Urine infection is more common in pregnancy.
- Usual symptoms are of pain when you pass urine and passing urine more often.
- You may also get tummy pain and a high temperature (fever) and notice blood in your pee.
- If you do get pain, it’s usually across the lower tummy but can be on one side if you are developing a kidney infection (pyelonephritis).
- An ectopic pregnancy is a pregnancy that is not in the normal place.
- Pain is often sudden and can be severe, but it can come on over a few days.
- You may have missed your period but you can still have an ectopic pregnancy even if you think you have had a period.
- Vaginal bleeding often happens but not always.
- Occasionally you can get pain over the tip of your shoulder.
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