Causes of Periumbilical Pain and When to Seek Emergency Help

What is periumbilical pain?

Periumbilical pain is a type of abdominal pain that is localized in the region around or behind your belly button. This part of your abdomen is referred to as the umbilical region. It contains parts of your stomach, small and large intestine, and your pancreas.

There are many conditions that can cause periumbilical pain. Some of them are quite common while others are rarer.

Read on to learn the possible causes for periumbilical pain and when you should seek medical attention.

What causes periumbilical pain?

1. Gastroenteritis

Gastroenteritis is an inflammation of your digestive tract. You may also have heard it referred to as the “stomach flu.” It can be caused by a viral, bacterial, or parasitic infection.

In addition to abdominal cramps, you may experience the following symptoms:

  • diarrhea
  • nausea or vomiting
  • fever
  • clammy skin or sweating

Gastroenteritis usually doesn’t require medical treatment. Symptoms should resolve within a few days. However, dehydration can be a complication with gastroenteritis due to water lost through diarrhea and vomiting. Dehydration can be serious and require treatment, especially in children, older adults, and in people with a weakened immune system.

2. Appendicitis

Periumbilical pain can be an early sign that you have appendicitis. Appendicitis is inflammation of your appendix.

If you have appendicitis, you may feel sharp pain around your navel that eventually shifts to the lower right side of your abdomen. Additional symptoms can include:

  • abdominal bloating
  • nausea or vomiting
  • pain that becomes worse when you cough or make certain movements
  • digestive disturbances, such as constipation or diarrhea
  • fever
  • loss of appetite

Appendicitis is a medical emergency. If it’s not treated quickly, your appendix can rupture. A ruptured appendix can cause potentially life- threatening complications. Learn more about the emergency signs and symptoms of appendicitis.

Treatment for appendicitis is surgical removal of your appendix.

3. Peptic ulcer

A peptic ulcer is a type of sore that can form in your stomach or upper small intestine (duodenum).

Peptic ulcers can be caused by a variety of things, such as infection with Helicobacter pylori bacteria or long-term use of drugs like ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) or aspirin.

If you have a peptic ulcer, you may feel a burning pain around your belly button or even up to your breastbone. Further symptoms include:

  • stomach upset
  • feeling bloated
  • nausea or vomiting
  • loss of appetite
  • burping

Your doctor will work with you to determine the right treatment for your peptic ulcers. Medications may include:

  • proton pump inhibitors
  • histamine receptor blockers
  • protectants, such as sucralfate (Carafate)
4. Acute pancreatitis

Pancreatitis can cause periumbilical pain in some cases. Pancreatitis is an inflammation of your pancreas.

Acute pancreatitis can come on suddenly. It can be caused by various things, including alcohol, infection, medications, and gallstones.

In addition to slowly worsening abdominal pain, symptoms of pancreatitis can include:

  • nausea or vomiting
  • fever
  • an increase in heart rate

A mild case of pancreatitis can be treated with bowel rest, intravenous (IV) fluids, and pain medication.

More severe cases typically require hospitalization.

If the pancreatitis is due to gallstones, surgery may be required to remove the gallstones or the gallbladder itself.

5. Umbilical hernia

An umbilical hernia is when abdominal tissue bulges out through an opening in the abdominal muscles around your belly button.

Umbilical hernias most often occur in infants, but they can also occur in adults.

An umbilical hernia can cause a feeling of pain or pressure at the site of the hernia. You may see a bulge or bump.

In infants, most umbilical hernias will close up by the age of 2. In adults with an umbilical hernia, surgery is typically recommended in order to avoid complications such as intestinal obstruction.

6. Small bowel obstruction

Small bowel obstruction is a partial or complete block of your small intestine. This blockage can prevent the contents of your small intestine from passing further into your digestive tract. Left untreated, it can become a serious condition.

Several things can cause small bowel obstruction, including:

  • infections
  • hernias
  • tumors
  • inflammatory bowel disease
  • scar tissue from previous abdominal surgery (adhesions)

In addition to abdominal pain or cramps, you may experience:

  • nausea and vomiting
  • abdominal bloating
  • dehydration
  • loss of appetite
  • severe constipation or inability to pass stool
  • fever
  • an increase in heart rate

If you have a small bowl obstruction, you will need to be hospitalized.

While at the hospital your doctor will give you IV fluids and medications to relieve your nausea and vomiting. Bowel decompression may also be performed. Bowel decompression is a procedure that helps reduce pressure within your intestine.

Surgery may be needed in order to repair the obstruction, especially if it’s caused by a previous abdominal surgery.

7. Abdominal aortic aneurysm

Aortic aneurysm is a serious condition caused by the weakening or bulging of the walls of your aorta. Life-threatening problems can occur if the aortic aneurysm ruptures. That can allow blood from the aorta to leak into your body.

As an abdominal aortic aneurysm gets larger, you may feel a steady, pulsing pain in your abdomen.

If an abdominal aortic aneurysm ruptures, you’ll feel sudden and stabbing pain. The pain may radiate to other parts of your body.

Additional symptoms include:

  • difficulty breathing
  • low blood pressure
  • an increase in heart rate
  • fainting
  • a sudden weakness on one side

Treatment for abdominal aortic aneurysm may include lifestyle changes such as controlling your blood pressure and quitting smoking. Surgery or placement of a stent may also be recommended.

A ruptured abdominal aortic aneurysm is a medical emergency and requires immediate surgical intervention.

8. Mesenteric ischemia

Mesenteric ischemia is when blood flow to your intestines is interrupted. It’s typically caused by a blood clot or embolism.

If you have mesenteric ischemia, you may initially feel severe abdominal pain or tenderness. As the condition progresses, you may also experience:

  • an increase in heart rate
  • blood in your stool

If you suspect mesenteric ischemia, seek immediate medical attention. Treatments can include surgery and anticoagulation therapy.

Should I seek medical attention?

If you’re experiencing periumbilical pain that lasts more than a few days, you should make an appointment with your doctor to discuss your symptoms.

Seek immediate medical attention if you are experiencing the following symptoms in addition to periumbilical pain:

  • severe abdominal pains
  • fever
  • nausea and vomiting that doesn’t go away
  • blood in your stool
  • swelling or tenderness of your abdomen
  • unexplained weight loss
  • yellowish skin (jaundice)

How is periumbilical pain diagnosed?

To determine the cause of your pain, your doctor will first take your medical history and perform a physical examination.

Depending on your medical history, symptoms, and physical examination, your doctor may perform additional tests to help reach a diagnosis. These tests may include:

  • blood tests to assess your blood cell counts and electrolyte levels
  • urine analysis to rule out a urinary tract infection (UTI) or kidney stones
  • stool sampling to check for pathogens in your stool
  • endoscopy to evaluate your stomach or duodenum for ulcers
  • imaging tests, such as X-ray or CT scans, to help visualize the organs of your abdomen


There are many possible causes of periumbilical pain. Some of them, such as gastroenteritis, are common and typically go away in a few days. Others, such as mesenteric ischemia, are medical emergencies and need to be addressed right away.

If you’ve experienced periumbilical pain for several days or have concerns about your periumbilical pain, make an appointment with your doctor to discuss your symptoms and treatment options.

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