Abdominal Pain : Symptoms, Causes & Treatment
Abdominal pain is something that we experience once in a while. It is caused due to various reasons. The symptoms, diagnosis and prevention are mentioned below. This is felt in the abdomen. Abdomen is an anatomical area that is bounded by the lower margin of the ribs and diaphragm above, the pelvic bone (pubic ramus) below, and the flanks on each side. Pain can arise from the tissues of the abdominal wall that surround the abdominal cavity but the term abdominal pain refers to describe discomfort arising from organs within the abdominal cavity. Organs of the abdomen include the stomach, small intestine, colon, liver, gallbladder, spleen, and pancreas.
The pelvis is the lowermost portion which contains the urinary bladder, rectum, prostate gland in men, and the uterus, Fallopian tubes, and ovaries in women.It is hard to know whether pain is coming from lower abdomen or pelvis (pelvicpain).
Sometimes pain is felt in the belly despite it arising from organs that are close by but not within the abdominal cavity(conditions of the lower lungs, kidneys, and the uterus or ovaries) Not only this, pain from organs within the belly is felt outside too(pancreatic inflammation pain is felt in the back.): These types of pain are described as referred as it does not arise in the location that it is felt but away from it.
What are the Causes of Abdominal pain?
Abdominal pain can be caused by many conditions. The main causesare infection, abnormal growths, inflammation, obstruction (blockage), and intestinal disorders.
Infections in the throat, intestines, and blood can cause bacteria to enter your digestive tract, resulting in abdominal pain. These infections may also cause changes in digestion, such as diarrhea or constipation.
Cramps associated with menstruation are also a potential source of lower abdominal pain, but these are more commonly known to cause pelvic pain.
1. Other common causes include:
- Gastroenteritis (stomach flu)
- acid reflux (when stomach contents leak backward into the esophagus)
2. Diseases that affect the digestive system can also cause chronic abdominal pain. They are:
- Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
- Irritable bowel syndrome/spastic colon (a disorder that causes abdominal pain, cramping, and changes in bowel movements)
- Crohn’s disease (inflammatory bowel disease)
- lactose intolerance (inability to digest lactose, the sugar found in milk and milk products)
3. Severe abdominal pain arises due to:
- organ rupture or near-rupture (such as a burst appendix, or appendicitis)
- gallbladder stones (known as gallstones)
- kidney stones
- kidney infection
What are the types of Abdominal Pain:
Abdominal pain is divided as localized, cramp-like, or colicky.
Localized pain is limited to one area of the abdomen. Caused by problems in a particular organ. The most common reason is stomach ulcers.
Cramp-like pain may be caused by diarrhea, constipation, bloating, or flatulence(fart). In women, it can be caused due to menstruation, miscarriage, or reproductive complications. May not require treatment.
Colicky pain is a symptom of more severe conditions, such as gallstones or kidney stones. Occurs suddenly and may feel like a severe muscle spasm.
What are the Symptoms?
Doctors will ask many types of questions about your belly pain in order to diagnose like:
1. How did the pain begin?
If it arises suddenly there may be a problem with an organ within the belly.
Location of the pain:
- Appendicitis-causes discomfort in the middle of the abdomen, and then moves to the right lower abdomen(the location of the appendix.)
- Diverticulitis typically causes discomfort in the left lower abdomen where most colonic diverticula are located.
- Discomfort from the gallbladder (biliary colic/cholecystitis) typically is felt in the middle, upper abdomen, or the right upper abdomen near where the gallbladder is located.
2. What is the type and pattern of the pain?
Is it severe, crampy, steady or does it increase and decrease.
- Obstruction of the intestine initially causes waves of crampy pain due to contractions of the intestinal muscles and distention of the intestine.
- Obstruction of the bile ducts by gallstones typically causes constant upper belly pain that lasts between 30 minutes and several hours.
- Acute pancreatitis causes severe, unstoppable, steady pain in the upper abdomen back.The pain of may start near the umbilicus, but as the inflammation progresses, it moves to the right lower abdomen.
The character of pain may change over time.
3. How long does the pain last?
- The discomfort of IBS(Irritable Bowel Syndrome) typically increases & decreases over months or years and may last for years or decades.
- Biliary colic lasts no more than several hours.
- The pain of pancreatitis lasts one or more days.
- The pain of acid-related diseases – gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) or duodenal ulcers – occurs over a period of weeks or months that is worse followed by periods of weeks or months during which it is better.
- Functional pain may show this same pattern of periodicity.
4. What makes the pain worse?
Pain due to inflammation (appendicitis, diverticulitis, cholecystitis, and pancreatitis) typically is aggravated by sneezing, coughing, or any motion. Individuals with inflammation prefer to lie still.
5. When to see the doctor?
Mild abdominal pain goes away without treatment. But in some cases, abdominal pain may require a trip to the doctor.
Call emergency if your abdominal pain is severe and associated with trauma (from an accident or injury) or pressure or pain in your chest.You require immediate medical attention if the pain is so severe that you can’t sit still or need to curl into a ball to get comfortable, or if you have any of the following symptoms:
- bloody stools
- fever greater than 101°F (38.33°C)
- vomiting up blood (hematemesis)
- persistent nausea or vomiting
- yellowing of the skin/eyes
- swelling or severe tenderness of the abdomen
- difficulty breathing
Make an appointment if you experience any of the following symptoms:
- abdominal pain lasting longer than 24 hours
- prolonged constipation
- a burning sensation when you urinate
- loss of appetite
- unexplained weight loss
Call your doctor if you’re pregnant or breastfeeding and you experience abdominal pain.
Diagnosis of Abdominal Pain:
The cause of abdominal pain can be diagnosed through tests. Before the tests, your doctor will do a physical examination. This includes gently pressing on various areas of your abdomen to check for tenderness and swelling. This information along with the severity of the pain and location within the abdomen, will help your doctor determine which tests to order. Imaging tests, such as MRI scans, ultrasounds, and X-rays these tests can help diagnose tumors, fractures, ruptures, and inflammation.
Other tests for Abdominal pain include:
- colonoscopy (to look inside the colon and intestines)
- endoscopy (to detect inflammation and abnormalities in the esophagus and stomach)
- upper GI (a special X-ray test that checks for the presence of growths, ulcers, inflammation, blockages, and other abnormalities in the stomach)
- Blood, urine, and stool samples may also be collected to look for evidence of bacterial, viral, and parasitic infections.
How can I prevent pain in the abdomen?
All forms of abdominal pain are not avoidable.But you can minimize the risk of developing abdominal pain by following the steps given below: Eat a healthy diet
- Drink water frequently.
- Exercise regularly.
- Eat smaller meals.
If you have an intestinal disorder, like Crohn’s disease, follow the diet your doctor has assigned you to minimize discomfort. If you have GERD, do not eat within 2 hours of bedtime. Lying down too soon after eating causes heartburn and abdominal pain. Wait at least 2 hours after eating before lying down.
To sum up abdominal pain is caused because of many conditions both simple and severe. Some abdominal pain may go away but some do not. Be vary of the symptoms mentioned and make an appointment without delay. Many serious conditions can be cured if diagnosed and treated in the starting stage itself. For these conditions to get better regular intake of medication is a must so do not skip it. Eat healthy food and have regular check ups with your doctor.
- Hi there, my name is Subin Joshua, and I am a Medical student. I grew up in a family of teachers and know that being a social worker is my calling. My passion for helping others has been evident in my involvement in helping the poor and needy for the last three years. Through those experiences, I have learned to interact with a diverse group of people, which has increased my ability to relate to others.