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What are the Signs of Colic in Adults?

By Erica Stratton
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Adult colic is a broad range of gastrointestinal disorders in which the main symptom is abdominal pain. This common symptom is used as a platform to make a more specific diagnosis as the patient and healthcare practitioner discover and connect more symptoms to it. While the more commonly known version of this condition seen in babies is generally continuously painful, adult colic comes and goes throughout the day and night. While colic in adults can be associated with serious conditions, like kidney stones, colic in babies generally clears up by the child's first birthday, and may not have a clear cause.

Classification of Pain

A healthcare practitioner generally diagnoses colic in adults is when a person comes in complaining of varying degrees of gastrointestinal pain. The pain may last anywhere from a few minutes to several hours; or in some cases, several days. The level of pain varies as well. Some people may feel like they're having muscle cramps, while others have so much pain that their daily life is interrupted. Healthcare practitioners usually try to observe and classify patients' pain to make a full diagnosis.

For example, if the pain is in the lower part of the stomach and goes out towards the groin area, healthcare practitioners may test for biliary colic, a condition commonly caused by gallstones. Appendicitis may also cause gastrointestinal discomfort, especially if the person feels pain around his or her belly button that gets worse with pressure.

Presence of Other Symptoms

Healthcare practitioners also look for other symptoms to try to determine what's causing the colic. For instance, if a person has a fever along with abdominal discomfort, he or she may have appendicitis or diverticulitis. Likewise, if a pregnant woman has stomach pain, she may have an ectopic pregnancy. If a healthcare practitioner can feel a mass around the lower stomach, a person might have an instestinal blockage. Other symptoms that often come along with colic in adults are vomiting, anorexia, loose stools and constipation.

Eating Habits and Medication

Colic may remain the primary diagnosis if things like kidney stones, appendicitis, abdominal aortic aneurisms, or ectopic pregnancy are ruled out. In these cases, a person's eating habits may be to blame. Eating mostly processed foods can lead to poor digestion, which in turn can lead to intermittent pain. Mild food allergies can also cause stomach discomfort, while constipation can cause pain lower down in the abdomen. Sometimes certain medications, particularly antibiotics, can disrupt the bacteria in the intestines and lead to colic as well.


The home remedies that are often used for infant colic usually aren't recommended for colic in adults, since it usually has an underlying cause. Changes in eating habits can often help with this condition, though surgery may be required for things like a bowel obstruction or an ectopic pregnancy. In cases where the underlying cause isn't clear, the pain may clear up on its own in time, especially if the person exercises regularly and maintains a healthy diet. There are also treatments available for this condition in Ayurvedic and traditional Chinese medicine.

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Discussion Comments

By anon957735 — On Jun 22, 2014

I have had these attacks which have been diagnosed as colic. I have had a gastric bypass and have my stomach cut to a third of its size. I am vitamin B, D, magnesium, calcium and iron deficient. I have no gallbladder, have had several hernias and have diabetes, hypertension, osteoporosis and arthritis, four vertebrae fractures, sciatica, neuropathy associated with it and am addicted to pain medications and on antidepressants.

I have had liver interferon treatment and recurring cellulitis. First of all, I was collapsing with a low pulse, was unresponsive and heart slowed right down and my oxygen saturation was low. After three times of this and having diabetic readings of 24 to 21 with no control, I found out it was all due to the tablets as I wasn't eating enough to warrant the high readings.

I was taken off those drugs. I was overdosing from the medications and then have none in me for three, as the absorption is weird. Since then, I have had these new pains. Now I have been ringing the ambulance and the last time I was taken from my doctor’s office in an ambulance. It felt great to be off the tablets and to feel and function better was amazing. Then I had these huge painful episodes.

Well, after a lot of tests, etc., they determined it was colic and the specialist gave me a colonoscopy and an enema. Now I have to have four movicol sachets, and six durolax a day for the rest of my life. I had an obstruction as well, and when that passed, I felt like a new person. I actually had a twisted spiral feces from my bowel contorting.

Wow, what a life I have had with the medical wards and emergency rooms. But I actually still live in fear of that dreaded pain. I wouldn't have lived much longer without the gastric bypass and I fought for this life, which can be depressing at times, but is wonderful when I see my family and that’s what holds me together when I think of the cruel world we live in.

By anon948044 — On Apr 28, 2014

This May will make one year of me having stomach issues. I have already had my appendix taken out and I have acid reflux which I take medicine for.

When my symptoms started, I had stomach pains, I was throwing up, and I could not eat anything. My doctor gave me a round of antibiotics which cleared up the symptoms for a couple of days. I continued to have stomach pains and had a upper and lower GI, CT scans, blood work and nothing was showing up.

After taking steroids to control my stomach pains, I suggested my gallbladder to my doctor and come to find out, it was not functioning properly. I had my gallbladder removed but I am still having pains. I haven't been diagnosed with colic but after reading posts on this site, I am pretty sure that is what I have. I'm taking probiotics and enzymes but my abdominal pain is getting worse and I do not know what to do. Any tips?

By anniesudbury — On Dec 10, 2013

My abdominal pain began in August of 2013. I went to the ER as I had a friend in school who almost died from an appendicitis. The ER doc's diagnosis was possible appendix and he sent me to a Gastro doc. After having upper and lower scopes, a HIDA scan, CT scan, and an ultrasound, it was determined that I was actually experiencing Diverticulits. After taking medicine and changing my eating habits I continued having abdominal pain.

After another ER visit I was referred to a surgeon. The surgeon diagnosed me with H Pylori and gave me an antibiotic and pain meds. After the antibiotics I felt better but it was short lived. Another bout hit me, but this time the abdominal pain was even more severe than before. I have given birth naturally to a 9 pound, 12 ounce, 24 inch long child and I have never experienced this much pain. This time the ER doctor said that it is possible that I am experiencing an appendicitis but none of the tests are confirming it. He also informed me that it is practically impossible to get an insurance company to approve a surgical removal because all testing has come back basically normal with the exception of my blood work showing a mild infection. Really?

So, it has been suggested that I have what is called Abdominal Migraines or Abdominal Colic. I'm trying to do research on my own and based on all my symptoms it is either appendix or colic. It s a shame that if it is my appendix, it will have to rupture in order for an insurance company to approve surgery.

I guess in the meantime I will just sit and wait for either my appendix to rupture or I find a doctor who cares enough to finally pin down what the problem is. If anyone else has experienced this could you please advise me what I should do? I can't stand another bout and I'm about to my wits' end. Thank you for any input I may get.

By anon356814 — On Nov 28, 2013

I have suffered colic attacks over many years, resulting in crippling, agonizing pains in my lower abdomen which occasionally get so bad that I faint. The two times I have had to receive emergency room treatment were from colic attacks. I tell you this only to demonstrate that colic can be excruciating at the worst end of the spectrum.

I kept a food diary over the years and it turned out that an attack was much more likely if I had a couple of days of bad diet, like over Christmas when everything you eat is rich with dairy and creamy sauces and fried foods. If the attack wasn't too bad it could be soothed with two paracetamol, warm milk - which seems to line and comfort the stomach - and a hot water bottle.

After one particularly bad attack I was prescribed codeine tablets that led to an addiction which was tough to break. I say this just to warn against the overly-prescribed pain killers which aren't clearly labeled as addictive.

By anon276098 — On Jun 21, 2012

I have just come back from the out of hours, and have been diagnosed with 'colic.' All he did was test my urine, blood pressure, temp and felt my stomach along with listening to it.

To me, I don't think I have had a 'clear diagnosis'. I have had this pain in my stomach for 11 days and it almost feels like something is trying to escape from in there. I have felt 'kicks,' 'cramps,' 'pulsating,' etc. The pain is everywhere in my stomach, and when the cramps come, it's from left to right, and ends where your appendix is, and then a shooting pain straight up my stomach. I also have pain in my back in the lumbar area, again on my right side. I must state that my toilet habits are the same, and I also have no problem passing wind.

My diet has not changed because I am a very fussy eater. I am 24 years of age, so surely if I have 'colic,' I would have had it before now. He also gave me an injection and said it will ease the pain within twenty minutes. It's now over an hour and half and the pain is still here. I am going to go to my GP and get further tests as I think this examination was rushed and not thorough enough. So, if you are unhappy with being diagnosed push, for further tests. Too many people are getting wrongly diagnosed.

By anon274902 — On Jun 14, 2012

I have been having severe abdominal pain for two days now. It is so bad that I sit hunched over. This has happened for the past three months. The docs thought it was kidney stones but the tests came back clear. The docs can't find anything wrong. The antibiotics help for that time but the next month the pain comes back worse. Please advise what I can do to ease the pain.

By anon274424 — On Jun 11, 2012

I find that my colic issues kick in when my weight goes up. If I get above around 205, I start having colic issues. 210 and it's a once a week nightmare. Pain and feverishness. When I lose weight, the problem completely disappears like magic.

By anon197099 — On Jul 16, 2011

I went to the doctor for medcert and also to confirm if what I felt last night was a UTI, as even my husband suspected. The symptoms I have are similar to that of UTI.

We are in our honeymoon period and i almost blamed my husband for giving me unbearable abdominal pain which he said might be UTI. After the urinalysis result, I was given diagnosis of abdominal coli, which she said was not UTI as there nothing was seen on my lab test.

I am thankful that I was able to research UTI in advance and find out how to prevent, cure and the symptoms of it without having it. This abdominal coli being unknown as to what actually caused it made me wonder.

By aaaCookie — On Apr 05, 2011

I thought colic was something more serious than this. Knowing it just means stomach pains, I think I have actually suffered from this several times.

In me, the many forms of pain I was suffering turned out to be irritably bowel syndrome. If you do have chronic issues, you might have something else that is at least somewhat treatable.

By cupcake15 — On Mar 18, 2011

When I first heard the phrase colic pain in adults I was a little confused because I thought only a baby had colic symptoms. It does make sense that adult colic is related to abdominal pain and a possible food allergy.

I have had some cramping before and I think it was related to the greasy food I had. It may have been the type of oil that the food was cooked in but it left me cramping and miserable for a few hours later.

It felt a little like stomach ulcer symptoms, but the pain was a little sharper. I usually try to take some antacids in order to reduce the acid in my stomach and that helps a little.

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