GastroIntestinal / Gastroenterology Urology / Nephrology

Causes of abdominal pain and chills

Many illnesses and infections may cause stomach pain and chills. These can include the common cold, gastroenteritis, urinary tract infections, and prostatitis.

Stomach pain can vary in sensation. Sometimes, the pain may feel dull, while at other times, it can cause cramping or a burning sensation. The pain may also radiate to the back or to other parts of the body.

Abdominal pain can also vary in duration and intensity. The pain may be either intermittent or constant. Symptoms can appear suddenly or get progressively worse.

People who experience stomach pain and chills usually have a bacterial or viral infection. Such infections can cause inflammation and irritation in the gastrointestinal or urinary tracts.

Causes

Here, we list some of the common causes of stomach pain and chills:

1. The common cold

Woman with abdominal pain holding stomach looking worried
A bacterial or viral infection can cause stomach pain and chills.

Most adults can expect to have two or three colds every year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Children usually have more.

The common cold causes symptoms including:

Symptoms typically improve after 7–10 days, though a cough can persist for 2 weeks or more.

Treatment involves home remedies such as resting, staying hydrated, and taking over-the-counter (OTC) medications.

2. Gastroenteritis

Gastroenteritis occurs when the stomach and intestines are inflamed due to a bacterial or viral infection.

Viral gastroenteritis, which some doctors call stomach flu, is the most common form. Other causes include reactions to food or medications.

In the United States, around 179 million cases of acute gastroenteritis each year, according to a study in the journal Emerging Infectious Diseases. This makes it one of the most common illnesses.

Signs and symptoms of gastroenteritis include:

  • diarrhea
  • headache
  • low-grade fever or chills
  • muscle aches
  • nausea
  • stomach cramps
  • vomiting

Symptoms can persist for up to a week. Some treatment options include resting, staying hydrated, eating soft foods, and taking OTC medications.

3. Salmonella infection

Infection with Salmonella bacteria is a common occurrence in the U.S. It causes 1.2 million illnesses annually, according to the CDC. People typically get the infection as a result of consuming contaminated food or water.

Symptoms usually begin within 12–72 hours of infection and may include:

  • diarrhea
  • fever or chills
  • headache
  • nausea
  • stomach cramps
  • vomiting

Treatment is typically unnecessary, and most people recover within a few days. During this time, self-care measures can reduce discomfort. People with severe symptoms may require medication or even hospitalization.

4. Urinary tract infection

A urinary tract infection (UTI) occurs when bacteria or other microbes infect the urinary tract. Females have a higher risk of developing UTIs than males do, with 40–60 percent of females experiencing one in their lifetime.

Symptoms may include:

  • an increase in urinary frequency
  • an increase in urinary urgency
  • burning pain when urinating
  • cloudy, strong-smelling, or pink urine
  • fever or chills
  • pain in the pelvis or back, which may radiate to the abdomen
  • passing small amounts of urine regularly

Most UTIs will require antibiotic treatment, but some home remedies can reduce discomfort until the infection clears up. Home remedies include drinking plenty of water, avoiding caffeine, and using a heating pad on the abdomen.

5. Kidney stones

Drinking fluids can help kidney stones pass through the urinary tract.
Drinking fluids can help small kidney stones pass through the urinary tract.

When minerals and salts build up in the kidneys, they can form hard deposits called kidney stones.

A 2018 review in the journal Advances in Urology suggests that 1 in 11 people in the U.S. develop kidney stones.

These hard deposits may not cause any symptoms until they change positions in the kidney or urinary tract.

Kidney stones can then result in:

  • changes in urinary habits and amount
  • cloudy, strong-smelling, or pink urine
  • fever and chills, in the case of an infection
  • nausea
  • pain in the abdomen, groin, sides, and back
  • painful urination
  • vomiting

Small kidney stones can pass through the urinary tract on their own. It is helpful to drink fluids and take pain relivers until the stone passes.

At other times, it is necessary to undergo surgery or another type of medical procedure to remove the stone.

6. Prostatitis

Prostatitis is inflammation of the prostate gland, which is just below the bladder in males.

Prostatitis has a prevalence rate of 8.2 percent and is “the most common urological diagnosis” in males aged 50 and under.

Bacterial prostatitis, which results from bacterial infection, causes:

  • difficulty urinating
  • flu-like symptoms, such as chills
  • cloudy or bloody urine
  • frequent urination
  • pain in the abdomen, lower back, genitals, or groin
  • painful urination and ejaculation

Treatment may include taking antibiotics and other medications. Using heating pads, making dietary changes, and making lifestyle changes may provide some symptom relief.

7. Mononucleosis

Infectious mononucleosis, or the kissing disease or mono, passes between people through saliva. Along with stomach pain and chills, symptoms include:

  • fatigue
  • fever
  • headache
  • a sore throat
  • skin rash
  • swollen lymph nodes in the neck and armpits
  • swollen tonsils

Symptoms usually do not appear until 4–6 weeks after infection and last for up to 2 months.

Treatment includes resting, staying hydrated, and taking OTC pain relievers. Some people may require medications for secondary infections.

8. Pneumonia

Pneumonia is a lung infection that causes inflammation of the air sacs. In the U.S., it is “a leading cause of hospitalization” in both adults and children.

Pneumonia symptoms, which range in severity, include:

  • chest pain
  • chills
  • coughing up phlegm
  • diarrhea
  • difficulty breathing
  • fatigue
  • fever
  • nausea
  • stomach pain
  • vomiting

Pneumonia can be life-threatening for older adults, children, and those who have a compromised immune system. People who have symptoms should always speak with a doctor.

Treatment includes taking medication, resting, and other home remedies. Some people may require hospitalization.

9. Gallbladder inflammation

Gallbladder inflammation, or cholecystitis, is swelling of the gallbladder, which is a pear-shaped organ in the abdomen.

Gallstones are the most common cause of gallbladder inflammation. According to a 2012 study in the journal Gut and Liver, around 10–15 percent of adults will develop gallstones. Other causes include tumors and infections.

Cholecystitis symptoms, which often get worse after eating large or fatty meals, include:

  • abdominal pain and tenderness, usually in the upper right or center
  • fever or chills
  • nausea
  • pain in the back or right shoulder

If left untreated, gallbladder inflammation can cause severe complications. Some treatment options include hospitalization, fasting, intravenous fluids, and taking pain relievers. Surgery may be necessary to remove the gallstones or the entire gallbladder.

10. Pelvic inflammatory disease

Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) occurs when sexually transmitted bacteria, including chlamydia or gonorrhea, spread to the fallopian tubes, uterus, or ovaries.

Research from 2017, which appeared in Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, suggests that 4.4 percent of sexually experienced females of reproductive age have PID.

PID does not always cause symptoms. Sometimes, people only realize that they have the condition when they experience difficulty getting pregnant.

If symptoms do occur, they include:

  • bleeding between periods
  • bleeding during or after sex
  • chills
  • difficult or painful urination
  • fever
  • heavy and foul-smelling vaginal discharge
  • pain in the lower abdomen and pelvis

Doctors usually prescribe antibiotics to people with PID. Sexual partners also require treatment.

Without treatment, the infection can cause chronic pelvic pain, ectopic pregnancy, and infertility.

11. Appendicitis

Appendicitis is inflammation of the appendix, which is a piece of tissue attached to the large intestine.

Appendicitis affects 1 in 1,000 people in the U.S., usually those aged 10–30 years old.

The condition causes pain on the lower right-hand side of the abdomen. This tends to get worse over time and may occur alongside:

  • constipation
  • diarrhea
  • fever or chills
  • loss of appetite
  • nausea

Surgery is usually necessary to remove the appendix.

12. Diverticulitis

Diverticulitis occurs when diverticula, which are bulging pouches that form in the gut’s lining, develop an infection or inflammation.

According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, these pouches may form in 35 percent of U.S. adults aged 50 and below, and in 58 percent of all people over the age of 60. However, most cases do not progress to diverticulitis.

Symptoms include:

  • constipation or diarrhea
  • fever or chills
  • nausea
  • stomach pain, which may be severe and persistent
  • vomiting

Mild cases typically clear up by taking antibiotics, resting, and making dietary changes. Severe cases may require surgical intervention.

Other causes

Stomach pain and chills may have other less common symptoms, including:

  • cystic fibrosis, a genetic disorder that causes organ damage
  • epididymitis, or inflammation of the epididymis, which is a coiled tube at the back of the testicles
  • heart attack, but only in rare cases
  • leukemia, a cancer of the blood and bone marrow
  • malaria, an infectious disease that mosquitoes carry
  • meningitis, or inflammation of membranes that cover the brain and spinal cord
  • pancreatitis, or inflammation of the pancreas
  • peritonitis, or inflammation of the peritoneum tissue in the abdomen
  • scarlet fever, a bacterial illness
  • shingles, a viral infection similar to chickenpox
  • tuberculosis, a bacterial infection of the lungs
  • Weil’s disease, a bacterial infection often transmitted by rodents
  • yellow fever, an infection that mosquitoes carry

When to see a doctor

A person experiencing stomach pain and chills with a fever should speak to a doctor.
A person experiencing stomach pain and chills with a fever should speak to a doctor.

See a doctor if stomach pain and chills persist for more than a few days, or if they occur alongside:

  • diarrhea or vomiting
  • fever
  • muscle aches and pains
  • fatigue with no obvious cause

People who experience any of the following alongside stomach pain and chills require immediate medical attention:

  • breathing difficulties
  • chest pain
  • fever of 101°F (38.3°C) or higher
  • loss of consciousness
  • neck stiffness
  • severe headache
  • severe vomiting or diarrhea
  • stomach pain that radiates to the shoulder
  • vision problems
  • weakness

Prevention

Many cases of chills and stomach pain result from a bacterial or viral infection.

Try the following to prevent infection:

  • Wash the hands frequently with soap and water or use an alcohol-based sanitizer.
  • Maintain a distance from people with infectious illnesses.
  • Avoid touching the eyes or face with unclean hands.
  • Disinfect kitchen and bathroom surfaces frequently and clean toys, doorknobs, and remote controls regularly.
  • Consider vaccinations where possible, such as those against some forms of pneumonia and gastroenteritis.
  • Do not share utensils, towels, or other personal items.
  • Take precautions when traveling to other countries to avoid food-borne illness.
  • When abroad, drink bottled water, avoid ice cubes, and do not eat raw or peeled vegetables or fruits.
  • Practice hygienic food storage and preparation techniques in the home.
  • Do not eat raw eggs.

Other methods of prevention and risk reduction include:

  • Drinking plenty of water and other fluids every day.
  • Exercising regularly.
  • Eating a balanced diet, with an emphasis on fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains, pulses, lean meats, fish, nuts, and seeds.
  • Using condoms during sexual activities.
  • Discussing any health concerns with a healthcare professional.

Outlook

The outlook for a person with stomach pain and chills depends on the cause of the symptoms. They are not usually a cause for concern if they result from the common cold, stomach flu, or another easily treatable infection.

Most of these conditions will clear up within a few days with home remedies, medications, or a combination of both.

However, these symptoms could also suggest a more serious condition, such as pneumonia or appendicitis, but this is rarer. People who experience severe or persistent stomach pain and chills should see their doctor.

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