8 Causes of Severe Stomach Cramps and How to Heal Them

Masthead Image
Author Name: Mia Barnes
Date: Friday June 25, 2021

Body + Mind is reader-supported. We may earn an affiliate commission when you buy through some of the links on our site. 

You have to get to work, but your stomach has you doubled over in agony. It’s one thing if you just ran a marathon, but cramps sometimes strike without warning. What causes them? 

Abdominal pain can strike for various reasons — or seemingly none at all. However, that doesn’t mean it won’t disrupt your life. Here are eight causes of severe stomach cramps and how to heal them so that you can get back to life. 

1. Irritable Bowel Syndrome

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a type of inflammatory bowel condition that doesn’t result from autoimmune disease. Fortunately, unlike Crohn’s and ulcerative colitis, the disorder doesn’t cause changes in bowel tissue or increase your colorectal cancer risk. However, that doesn’t mean it can’t make you miserable. 

IBS can cause severe abdominal cramping that usually strikes when you need to have a bowel movement. However, rather than feeling relieved afterward, you may experience diarrhea or constipation. 

Most people can manage IBS through a combination of diet and lifestyle changes. Try an elimination diet to discover which foods prove troublesome for your tummy. Do your best to relieve stress through practices like yoga and meditation 

2. Crohn’s or Ulcerative Colitis

Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis (UC) both stem from autoimmune disorders. These conditions occur when your body’s immune system attacks healthy tissue as if it were an invading pathogen. While Crohn’s can strike any portion of your digestive tract, UC confines itself to your intestines. 

If left untreated, both conditions can lead to scarring on intestinal walls and increase your colon cancer risk. Treatment previously dealt primarily with symptom management, although newer drugs like biologics helped many patients. Today, a new class of therapies called sphingolipids currently awaits FDA approval and offer hope to many who suffer from UC. 


If your severe stomach cramps occur after eating, you might suspect gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). This digestive disorder occurs when acidic stomach juices back up in your esophagus instead of staying where they belong. Even babies can get the condition. 

If you have GERD, you can choose from a wide array of over-the-counter medications. Do use caution — the FDA recently recalled all ranitidine products (Zantac), as they contain a substance called nitrosodimethylamine, which may cause cancer. However, you have many other options. 

If your GERD interferes with daily life, talk to your physician. Some prescription medications may be able to help. 

4. Celiac Disease 

Celiac disease results from an autoimmune condition that makes it impossible for your body to process gluten, a protein found in wheat. The disease has a genetic component — anywhere from 5% to 10% of family members of those afflicted also develop it. 

The cure for this cause of severe stomach cramps is to avoid products containing the problematic ingredient. However, this process sounds less complicated than it is. Many products contain hidden gluten, even those you think would be grain-free, like some popcorn brands. 

Those with celiac disease can sometimes tolerate ancient grains like quinoa or amaranth. You have to read labels carefully, though, to ensure your purchases weren’t manufactured on equipment that also processes wheat or risk contamination. 

5. Diarrhea or Constipation

Sometimes, diarrhea and constipation occur with no known cause. You might have eaten something that didn’t agree with you or contracted an infection. 

When treating constipation, use caution not to go overboard with remedies, even natural ones. Some teas, like senna, can cause the opposite problem if used to excess. 

Make sure you stay hydrated if diarrhea strikes. While running to the bathroom is an inconvenience, dehydration can lead to severe health problems. 

6. Ovarian Cysts 

Sometimes, your ovaries try to release an egg, but none emerges. When this occurs, a cyst forms, which can cause considerable pain and cramping. 

Some women have a disorder called polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS). In this condition, a hormonal imbalance such as excess testosterone, genetics or insulin resistance interferes with the follicles needed to develop and release eggs. While medications can help, doctors usually recommend lifestyle changes to restore balance before attempting other remedies. 

7. Endometriosis or Fibroids

Endometriosis occurs when uterine tissue grows on organs outside of where intended. Fibroids are painful uterine growths that can cause clotting. Both conditions can cause severe abdominal cramps. 

Unfortunately, both disorders also increase your risk of fertility problems. Please see your doctor if you have unusually heavy periods accompanied by severe cramping and discomfort. Treatments can protect your ability to give birth. 

8. Kidney Stones

Kidney stones occur in both men and women and can cause severe pain. They form from deposits of minerals and salts that build up in these organs. 

The best way to treat kidney stones is to prevent them by drinking plenty of water — dehydration ups your risk. Pain medications can help you pass stones that become lodged in your urinary tract. In extreme cases, you may need surgery to dislodge an obstruction. 

Understand These 8 Causes of Severe Stomach Cramps and How to Heal Them

Now that you know eight potential causes of severe stomach cramps, talk to your doctor about ongoing issues. The sooner you seek treatment, the more quickly you’ll find relief. Until then, here is a list of more possible causes of severe stomach cramps and some possible treatments.

Previous Article8 Common Causes of Chest Pain That Have Nothing to Do With Your Heart Next Article8 Causes of Leg Cramps and How to Kick the Ache
Subscribe CTA Image

Subscribers get even more tailored tips & deets delivered directly to their inboxes!