Why Does My Stomach Hurt When I Cough?

When you have an irritant in your throat, your body naturally reacts by coughing, trying to remove it. However, some coughs can be pretty forceful, hurting your chest and abdomen. Even more, coughing can cause already existing conditions to become more painful. 

There are many health conditions that cause abdominal pain as one of the symptoms, and when coughing, this pain can become worse. However, if the cause of abdominal pain is something serious, there are often other symptoms present in addition to the abdominal pain. By considering these additional symptoms, the cause of your abdominal pain can be narrowed down.   

Can Severe Coughing Cause Abdominal Pain?

Coughing is a forceful action that can cause pain in the abdomen. Severe or frequent coughs, in particular, may cause pain in the stomach due to straining the stomach muscles. 

However, if you frequently experience pain in the abdomen when coughing, the cause may be from another condition, and coughing is only exacerbating it. 

Other similar actions, such as sneezing or laughing, may also result in abdominal pain. However, if the pain is severe or delegated to a specific part of the abdomen, there may be another cause. 

Where Does It Hurt?

When considering the cause of stomach pain, it is important to note where the pain occurs. Equally important is noting if the pain does not remain in one spot or if it encompasses a more extensive spread of the abdomen. 

There are often four ways to categorize abdominal pain: left side, right side, lower abdomen, and upper abdomen. There can also be some overlap between these categories; for example, appendicitis typically causes pain in the lower right side of the abdomen. 

Noting the pain’s location can help narrow down what is causing the pain, whether an inflamed organ, a cyst, or a hernia. The abdomen comprises a large amount of the body and many organs, so considering the location can help a doctor determine the cause. 

Common Reasons for Stomach Pain When Coughing

The following are some common reasons for stomach pain when coughing.

Appendicitis

Appendicitis is a condition that occurs when the appendix is inflamed. While those with appendicitis often feel pain at all times, this pain in the abdomen can worsen when coughing or performing other strenuous actions such as sneezing and exercising. 

Appendicitis usually begins with pain in the middle of the abdomen that then spreads to the lower right side. 

The symptoms of appendicitis include:

  • abdominal swelling or bloating
  • nausea or vomiting
  • fever
  • decreased appetite
  • diarrhea or constipation

Appendicitis is a medical emergency, so if you experience any of the above symptoms, be sure to seek immediate medical services. 

Gallstones

Gallstones result from a buildup of bile, bilirubin, or cholesterol in the gallbladder. Gallstones are typically asymptomatic at first, but they can lead to a gallbladder attack as they get bigger. 

Symptoms of gallstones include:

  • abdominal bloating
  • severe abdominal pain lasting for at least 30 minutes at a time
  • fever or chills
  • pain in the upper back or right shoulder
  • jaundice
  • nausea or vomiting
  • gas or indigestion (especially after consuming fatty foods)

Treatment for gallstones may include medication to dissolve the gallstones or surgical removal. 

Kidney Stones

Kidney stones are hardened deposits typically found in the urine. However, when a kidney stone passes through the bladder and urethra, it can cause severe abdominal pain. Others may instead experience a persistent stomachache. 

Additional symptoms of kidney stones include:

  • severe pain on one or both sides of your back
  • bloody urine
  • cloudy or foul-smelling urine
  • nausea or vomiting
  • fever or chills

Kidney stones do not always require treatment because they sometimes resolve on their own, and drinking extra water can help with this. In cases where the stone is too large to pass on its own, a doctor may recommend surgery to remove the stone. Other instances where surgery is recommended include when the stone blocks the ability to pass urine or if there is an infection. 

Diverticular Disease

Those with diverticular disease have small sacs that push out against weak spots on their colon.

Mild cases often do not have any symptoms, but more severe cases can produce symptoms such as:

  • bloating
  • abdominal pain
  • fever or chills
  • nausea or vomiting
  • constipation or diarrhea

It is very rare for those with diverticular disease to have blood in their stool, but if this occurs, it is a medical emergency and requires immediate attention. 

Treatment for diverticular disease can vary between medications, probiotics, or a high fiber diet. 

Cystitis

Pain in the lower abdomen is one of the symptoms of cystitis, which is a common urinary tract infection that affects women more often than men.

Symptoms of cystitis include:

  • cloudy or dark urine that is foul-smelling
  • frequent urination
  • blood in your urine
  • feeling unwell

While mild cases typically resolve within three days, symptoms that get worse may require an antibiotic prescription from a doctor. 

Pancreatitis

Pancreatitis is a condition that occurs when the pancreas becomes inflamed, and this inflammation can be either acute or chronic. Acute pancreatitis causes more severe symptoms (initially), while chronic pancreatitis can permanently damage the pancreas. 

Symptoms of pancreatitis include:

  • pain in the abdomen that spreads to the lower back
  • abdominal pain that gets worse over time
  • loose or foul-smelling stools
  • abdominal swelling
  • unintentional weight loss

Severe pancreatitis typically requires emergency medical treatment and can be fatal if left untreated. 

It is crucial to seek immediate medical attention if any of the following symptoms are present:

  • increased heart rate
  • severe abdominal pain that worsens (especially with movement)
  • shortness of breath
  • fever
  • jaundice
  • nausea or vomiting

Endometriosis

With endometriosis, tissues similar to the uterine lining grow outside the uterus, leading to significant pain in the pelvis, lower back, and lower abdominal areas. This pain worsens during sex, periods, urination, and bowel movements. 

There is currently no cure for endometriosis, but treatments for pain include hormone therapy, pain medications, or surgery. 

Hernia

A hernia occurs when an organ pushes through a gap in the muscles surrounding it, with hernias in the abdomen being the most common. Sometimes, you can see or feel the bulging in your belly or groin area. 

The pain caused by a hernia can worsen when:

  • coughing
  • running
  • sneezing
  • passing a bowel movement
  • lifting heavy things

If the bowel becomes stuck, the hernia becomes an emergency. Symptoms of an emergency include:

  • significant abdominal bloating or bulging
  • severe pain that does not get better with rest
  • fever
  • increased heart rate
  • inability to pass a bowel movement
  • nausea or vomiting

Ovarian Cysts

Ovarian cysts are fluid-filled sacs (cysts) that develop in the ovaries. In most cases, there is no need to be concerned about ovarian cysts, even if they burst, because the body naturally manages them during the menstrual cycle. 

However, some women may have large ovarian cysts requiring treatment. If an ovarian cyst is problematic, a woman may have symptoms such as:

  • lower abdominal pain
  • abdominal bloating or swelling
  • sharp pain in the side of your stomach

Doctors typically treat mild cysts with birth control pills, reserving surgery only for large cysts that do not respond to medication or are considered cancerous. 

If a cyst ruptures, it may cause symptoms such as:

  • nausea or vomiting
  • heavy bleeding
  • rapid breathing
  • fever
  • dizziness or fainting

If you experience any of these symptoms, see a doctor immediately. 

When To See a Doctor?

In most cases, stomach pain when coughing is not a cause of concern and may occur because of the forceful nature of coughing. 

However, if the pain is severe, persistent, or accompanied by any concerning symptoms such as fever, nausea, vomiting, or changes in urine or bowel movements, it is crucial to visit a doctor. Most of the conditions described above require medical treatment, whether in the form of medications or surgery. 

Get Help from An Online Doctor

For those who are unsure if their stomach pain is a cause of concern, an online doctor is a convenient way to discuss your symptoms with a doctor. The DrHouse app connects you with a doctor in only 15 minutes, allowing you to quickly relay your symptoms and determine which treatment will help provide relief. 

Key Takeaways

Coughing is your body’s natural way to remove irritants from the throat, yet some coughs can be excessively forceful. This may cause pain in the abdomen because the cough has caused you to strain your abdominal muscles. However, in some cases, coughing worsens existing conditions, causing abdominal pain or making existing abdominal pain more severe. 

When determining the cause of your abdominal pain, one of the most important pieces of information you can provide to your doctor is the location of the pain. Because of the many organs in the abdomen, providing a location can help your doctor narrow down the cause. 

An online doctor is an excellent resource to discuss your abdominal pain, including its location and how it feels, to determine its cause and start treatment. If you have any concerning symptoms, though, such as fever, vomiting, and blood in the urine or stool, be sure to seek immediate medical services.

Sources: 

DrHouse articles are written by MDs, NPs, nutritionists and other healthcare professionals. The contents of the DrHouse site are for informational purposes only and are not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you are experiencing high fever (>103F/39.4C), shortness of breath, difficulty breathing, chest pain, heart palpitations, abnormal bruising, abnormal bleeding, extreme fatigue, dizziness, new weakness or paralysis, difficulty with speech, confusion, extreme pain in any body part, or inability to remain hydrated or keep down fluids or feel you may have any other life-threatening condition, please go to the emergency department or call 911 immediately.

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