Like all cramps, those in the abdomen are intermittent, caused by involuntary muscle tightening. Many women have abdominal cramps before or during menstruation. Cramps can also occur in the leg or arm muscles or as a result of overactivity in hot weather.
Without other indications, abdominal cramps are usually a symptom of acute gastroenteritis, an inflammation of the lining of the stomach and intestines that has many possible causes, among them food poisoning, food allergy, flu, constipation, or over-indulgence in alcohol.
Treatment is bed rest and no solid foods until the cramps have subsided and any other symptoms such as nausea or vomiting have passed. Usually this takes 24 to 48 hours. Meanwhile, nibble on ice chips; take frequent but small amounts of clear liquids: tea, bouillon, ginger ale, or water.
Get prompt medical help if cramps persist more than 3 or 4 hours or are accompanied by such symptoms as high fever, rigid abdomen, continuous vomiting, blood in stools or vomitus, or pain radiating to the right hip to either shoulder.