Why Do I Have a Stabbing Pain In My Upper Stomach?

Everyone experiences stomach pain at least once. The good thing about stomach pain is that it disappears on its own and usually requires no further medical intervention. On the other hand, severe cases of stomach ache pertaining to infections and disorders require immediate medical assistance.

So, what are the causes of upper stomach pain? It can be anything from a ruptured spleen to excess gas in the intestine. Knowing the location, trigger, and kind of pain will help doctors accurately identify the cause of upper stomach pain. 

Understanding the Upper Abdomen 

Stomach pain is usually caused by gas, indigestion, and excessive stomach acid. Various home remedies can be applied to alleviate discomfort in this area. 

On the other hand, this common discomfort can also be attributed to reasons not concerning the stomach. The upper stomach, or more accurately the upper abdomen, houses numerous organs that could easily be the real reason for stomach pain. 

These organs include:

  • The actual stomach
  • Pancreas: Converts food into energy. Also helps regulate blood sugar and digestion. 
  • Gallbladder: Stores bile, a liquid enzyme that aids in digestion. 
  • Liver: Filters out blood before distributing it throughout the body. 
  • Adrenal gland: Produces cortisol and aldosterone, two of the body’s most important hormones
  • Kidneys: Regulates fluids throughout the body and filters out toxins
  • Spleen: Wards off infection and helps filter blood

These vital organs can be subjected to infections, inflammation, and other disorders that could result to pain. Understanding the different parts of the upper abdomen makes it easier to diagnose the real cause behind stomach pain. 

Causes of Upper Abdominal Pain

Muscle Pain

Muscle pain is one of the most common sources of abdominal pain. Also known as muscle soreness, this type of pain is caused by strenuous or sudden activities that may result in a sore or pulled muscle.

Stiffness, cramps, weakness, and limited mobility are signs of muscle soreness. Pain heals naturally in a matter of days or weeks, depending on the severity of the trauma. 


Dyspepsia, more commonly known as indigestion, is characterized as a burning sensation in the upper stomach. This pain can radiate to the chest, typically described as a lingering “fullness”. Dyspepsia is triggered by highly acidic and spicy foods, as well as stomach ulcer. Overeating is also a known cause of acute indigestion. 

Dyspepsia is a common condition and isn’t considered a disease. On the other hand, chronic indigestion is typically caused by other gastrointestinal conditions such as infection, liver diseases, peptic ulcer, gastric cancer, and inflammatory bowel disease, to name a few. 


Pain that is accompanied by burping, passing gas, and bloating are all common signs of excess gas in the intestine. Gassiness can also result to pain that feels like something is moving in the stomach. Episodes are sporadic and heal over time. 

However, persistent gassiness can point to more serious problems relating to a virus or infection in the digestive tract. In this case, immediate medical intervention is recommended. 


Gallstones are one of the most common causes of upper stomach pain for patients thirty years old and above. There are two types of gallstones: cholesterol stones caused by high levels of cholesterol in the bile; and pigment stones caused by excessive levels of bilirubin in the bile. 

Gallstones may pass on their own, but blockage caused by the build-up may result in strong intense pain in the upper right part of the abdomen. 

Fatigue, exhaustion, vomiting, and jaundice are telling signs of gallstone blockage. In minor cases, doctors will recommend medication that will help break down the gallstones. Gallbladder removal may be prescribed to completely alleviate a patient’s pain and discomfort. 

Peptic Ulcer

peptic ulcer 3d illustration

Stomach acids and bacterial infection can result in the development of sores along the stomach lining, known as peptic ulcer. There are three known types of peptic ulcers:

  • Duodenal ulcers: Develops in the upper part of the small intestine
  • Esophageal ulcers: Develops inside the esophagus
  • Gastric ulcers: Develops inside the stomach

Pain from peptic ulcer is characterized as pain that travels from the chest to the bottom of the abdomen. Pain can also be caused by hyperactive stomach acids, which is why patients suffering from peptic ulcer are recommended to always have a full stomach. Changes in appetite, indigestion, and vomiting are common signs of peptic ulcer. 

Spleen Problems

The two most common spleen problems are splenomegaly and a ruptured spleen. Splenomegaly, known as an enlarged spleen, is caused by liver diseases and infections. On the other hand, a ruptured spleen is caused by trauma on the abdomen, usually through sports or a car accident. 

An enlarged spleen can press on the stomach, resulting in a “heavy” pain in the abdomen that often radiates through the shoulders. Discomfort on the ribs is also characteristic of splenomegaly. 

Abdominal pain is not a common symptom of a ruptured spleen and only occurs in rare cases. When experienced, alongside pain in the left shoulder, patients are recommended to immediately seek medical help. 


Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is a chronic condition caused by a faulty lower esophageal sphincter (LES). The LES serves as a valve between the esophagus and stomach. When it relaxes, stomach juices are regurgitated up the esophagus, creating a burning sensation accompanied by a sour or bitter taste. 

Pain from GERD is described as a sharp, acidic pain that radiates from the stomach to the esophagus. Bad breath is a common symptom of GERD. Other symptoms include chest pain and heartburn. 


Excessive alcohol use and the presence of bacteria are leading causes of an inflamed stomach lining, leading to gastritis. Other causes include the body’s natural interaction with medication, long periods of stress, and inflammatory problems concerning the immune system. 

Chronic gastritis has been characterized into three distinct types:

  • Type A: Caused by immune system reacting with stomach cells
  • Type B: Caused by bacteria Helicobater pylori
  • Type C: Caused by chemical interactions with drugs (specifically nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs), excessive bile production, and alcohol abuse

Pain that can be described as a gnawing sensation, one that typically worsens after meals or at night, is a telling sign of gastritis. Nausea, loss of appetite, and bloating are other symptoms of gastritis. Pain is usually located in the upper left area of the stomach or the center of the abdomen. 


Pain from pancreatitis is often situated in the middle or upper left side of the abdomen, and is described by patients as a pain that radiates towards the back. Eating excessive amounts of food, especially foods with high-fat content, and alcohol abuse are known triggers of pancreatitis. Excessive alcohol consumption and the presence of gallstones cause 80% of pancreatitis cases. 

Pancreatitis occurs when digestive juices are activated in the pancreas. The small intestine is responsible for breaking down fat with the use of digestive enzymes. However, these enzymes can be activated while in the pancreas, leading to inflammation and possibly infection. 


hepatitis 3d illustration

Hepatitis describes five types of liver inflammation caused by different viruses. Hepatitis is a viral disease that can be transmitted through blood transmission, sexual contact, and hereditation. 

The five different types of hepatitis are:

  • Hepatitis A: Contracted through the consumption of unclean food and water. Hepatitis A is curable through medication and immunization, which helps prevent the spread of hepatitis A. Poor sanitation is the primary cause of hepatitis A.
  • Hepatitis B: Contracted through infective bodily fluids including blood and semen. Can also be acquired through hereditation, from mother to child during birth. Blood products contaminated with Hepatitis B, from needles to blood samples, can spread the virus. 
  • Hepatitis C: Commonly contracted through faulty blood transmission. Needles, blood samples, and injections can spread the virus. There are no known vaccines for Hepatitis C. 
  • Hepatitis D: Can only be contracted by patients with Hepatitis B. The simultaneous infection of HDV and HBV result in symptoms similar to hepatitis B. Considered a super-infection, patients with hepatitis B are recommended to get vaccinated for HDV. 
  • Hepatitis E: Contracted through the consumption of unclean food and water, particularly organs such as the liver. Like hepatitis A, hepatitis E can be treated through medical intervention. 

Pain caused by hepatitis is often described as a stretching, likely associated with the expanding of the liver due to inflammation. This discomfort is more characteristic of hepatitis C and is rarely experienced in other types of hepatitis. 

Upper Stomach Pain: When Is It Serious?

Stomach pain passes on its own in a matter of days. However, persistent pain or additional symptoms may signal something serious and urgent. Seek immediate medical attention if the patient is experiencing the following: 

  • Stools are bloody, pale, black and tarry, or white
  • Persistent vomiting, with blood
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Change in appetite
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Pain so severe that the patient can’t move
  • Abdominal pain is accompanied by fever 
  • Pain is severe in the upper right abdomen 
  • Signs of dehydration (dry skin, sunken eyes, migraines) are apparent
  • Pain that occurs frequently in short, sharp bursts

Treat Stomach Pain For Good

Learn more about the various causes of abdominal pain in general by getting in touch with us. At the Gastro Center in New Jersey, we are always ready to help patients learn more about their concerns.

Book an appointment today and let us diagnose and treat your pain.