What Stomach Pain in Older Adults May Mean

Digestive or gastrointestinal (GI) disorders can cause a variety of stomachaches and are common occurrences—especially among those over the age of 50.

Although the GI system usually does its job without any glitches, as you get older, the risk for digestive disorders that affect the stomach and small or large intestine can increase. Coexisting health problems such as hardened arteries and diabetes as well as medications often taken by older adults can also cause digestive upsets.

Abdominal pain can be the result of a problem with any of the organs in the lower chest, abdomen, or pelvis. And while stomach pains can be caused by a minor problem, they can also be the sign of a serious illness. Additionally, abdominal pain in older adults could be caused by conditions outside the GI system including heart attack, shingles, or kidney infection. If your stomach pain lasts longer than a few days, the pain worsens, or you experience stomach pain coupled with bleeding, fever, substantial constipation, or difficulty swallowing, see your doctor immediately.

Problems that affect the stomach often cause pain in the middle of the upper abdomen. A sharp pain that comes and goes may be a signal for a bowel or gallbladder problem. Pain that gets worse may be caused by:

  • A gallbladder attack
  • An infection of the gallbladder or liver
  • An obstruction (blockage) of the bowel
  • Twisting of the bowel
  • An infection within the abdominal cavity from a hole or tear in the large intestine
  • Not enough blood being circulated in the bowel or other areas of the GI tract

A stomachache in the upper abdomen of an older adult may the result of a peptic ulcer, acid reflux, or even stomach cancer. If your doctor suspects any of these problems, she will likely prescribe an endoscopy procedure to determine the cause of the pain and take a biopsy to make an accurate diagnosis.

Appendicitis is another problem in older adults. Although the condition is most often seen in younger people, about five percent of appendicitis cases are in adults 60 years and older. The condition can also be more difficult to diagnose in older adults because the symptoms are often different from those in younger people and may only include fever or chills.




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Disorders of the Digestive System