Abdominal pain is one of the most common medical conditions and it can be chronic or acute. The abdomen is the anatomical part that is primarily bounded by ribs and pelvis in the lower region. You may experience pain in these parts due to several surgical and medical conditions that occur as a result of problems with specific organs. Such organs reside either within the abdominal cavity or are adjacent to it. In most cases, the pain is caused due to some benign. However, it does not mean that you can just ignore it thinking there’s nothing serious about it. No matter what, you should see your doctor in order to eliminate the chances of something sinister.
Doctors evaluate abdominal pain depending on several factors such as the location of the pain, duration, frequency, severity, and more. They also conduct required diagnostic tests and you may have to undergo a physical examination to get a clear view of your pain. As many symptoms mimic each other, finding the exact cause of abdominal pain is not as easy as it seems.
In this blog, our pain management experts share some must-know facts about this unique medical condition. This information will help readers to understand different aspects of abdominal pain such as its definition, causes, symptoms, types, and prevention.
What Is Abdominal Pain?
When you experience pain between your chest and pelvic part of the body, it is usually termed abdominal pain. In layman’s terms, we call it stomach pain. It can be dull, intense, crampy, intermittent, or achy.
Inflammation and diseases in abdominal organs are the most common causes of it. However, it can arise due to many other causes and some of them can be very serious and life-threatening. Physicians find the complaints of abdominal pain a little challenging as it is difficult to distinguish between benign and life-threatening causes. The reason – both can present themselves similarly.
Moreover, problems associated with organs located in the abdomen and anatomical structures like tissues, muscles, or skin in the abdominal wall can lead to pain. It makes the diagnosis even more difficult. The following are the major organs that reside in our abdomen:
- Small Intestine
- Large intestine
As mentioned earlier, pain in the abdomen can also be the result of issues with organs located adjacent to the abdominal cavity. For example, heart (in case of heart attack), lungs (in case of pneumonia), and pelvic structures like ovaries and uterus. While most of these are rare scenarios, in general cases, the major reason for the pain can be a parasitic, bacterial, or viral infection in the stomach and intestine.
What Are The Symptoms Of Abdominal Pain?
Many people mistake the abdomen with only the stomach and digestive organs like intestine, liver, gallbladder, and pancreas. However, it includes several other parts like kidneys, various blood vessels, appendix, and some parts of the reproductive system. This is why abdominal pain can exhibit numerous symptoms based on the organs involved and underlying conditions. Let us now take a look at all such symptoms of abdominal pain.
Pain in the abdomen can take a toll on the digestive tract. The symptoms may include:
- Poor appetite
- Change in bowel habits
Other Common Symptoms
When non-digestive system parts are involved in pain, it can show the following symptoms:
- Flu-like symptoms
- Racing heart
- Easy bleeding and bruising
- Yellow skin
- Fever and cold
- Difficulties in breathing (shortness of breath or rapid breathing)
- Urinary problems
- Abnormal menstrual cycles
- Tenderness in the stomach when you touch
- Feeling of pressure in the chest
- Mild to moderate pain in the chest
Possibly Life-Threatening Symptoms
Sometimes, abdominal pain may indicate some serious symptoms that can be the matter of life and death. Immediate medical attention is necessary in such cases. If you are someone you love is exhibiting one or more symptoms from the following, rush to the emergency setting right away.
- Racing heart and breathing
- Vomiting blood
- Vomiting black (coffee-like) material
- Severe pain in the abdomen
- Bloody stools
- Black stools
- Extreme weakness
- Pulsating mass in the belly
- Jaundice (pale skin and eyes)
- Loss of consciousness
- Shortness of breath
- High fever (more than 101 degrees Fahrenheit)
What Are The Causes Of Abdominal Pain?
Issues in the digestive system are the most common causes of abdominal pain. It can be anything from constipation, indigestion, and gas. These are gastrointestinal conditions and are comparatively harmless.
Psychological conditions such as stress and anxiety can also contribute to general abdominal pain. It is often a common case with children. They may say that they have an ache in their stomach when trying to avoid something they don’t like. It can be to skip school or stay away from issues with friends and more.
Nevertheless, you have to understand that abdominal pain can also be the result of physical causes and it is highly essential to rule them out. If the pain is sourced from obstruction, malignancy, infection, trauma, or other hazardous processes, you need to see the doctor as soon as possible.
Conditions like bleeding peptic ulcer, abdominal aortic aneurysm, and trauma can be the extremely dangerous causes of abdominal pain and need immediate evaluation in the emergency setting. Furthermore, pain also can be caused by abnormalities in other systems in the body such as the urinary system, reproductive system, nervous system, and endocrine system.
Common Gastrointestinal Causes
When the bowel movements do not occur as normal, constipation takes place and patients struggle to pass the stool. This is one of the most common causes of abdominal pain and if it is mild, you can treat it with some home remedies like drinking stool softener, a lot of water, or prune juice.
Some outward signs of food poisoning include abdominal pain or cramps. It can be extremely severe in some cases and may co-occur with diarrhea, vomiting, weakness, or fever. Thankfully, most of the food poisoning cases can be treated at home, and maintaining the hydration in the body can resolve it. If the poisoning is severe, you may need antibiotics.
While breaking down the food, gases are produced by our stomach and intestine. The level of gas production varies from person to person and food. Patients may experience one of the following in case of abnormalities with gas:
- Feeling of fullness
- Noise in abdomen
Even though gas is pretty normal with most people, you can buy over the counter medicines (Beano or antacids) if it is troubling you. Antacids usually break down the sugar that is causing gas in your stomach.
In some cases, the causes can be life-threatening. You must seek immediate medical help if the abdominal pain is the result of one or more of the following:
- Kidney failure
- Acute congestive heart failure
- Abdominal diseases
- Liver failure
- Portal hypertension
- Bowel obstruction
- Perforated peptic ulcer
- Gastrointestinal hemorrhage
- Pulmonary embolism (pain in the upper right or left side of the abdomen)
- Thrombosis, embolism, or occlusion of the mesenteric artery
- aortic dissection
Facts About The Location Of Abdominal Pain
Pain doctors often evaluate the cause of abdominal pain depending on its location. When pain is concentrated in the specific part of the abdomen, it refers to a certain pain type and source. For instance, if you have pain in the lower right side of your abdomen, it is probably the appendix that is sourcing it. Localized and generalized pain can occur on and off or it can be constant in some cases.
Pain In the Lower Abdomen
Organs like the large intestine, appendix, reproductive system, and some parts of the urinary tract are located in the lower abdomen. Pain in this area can also co-occur with pelvic pain and its major causes can be:
- Menstrual cramps
- Kidney stones
- Uterine fibroids
- Bladder infection
- Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
- Ovarian cysts
- Inflammation or obstruction in the bowel
- Ectopic pregnancy
Pain In The Upper Abdomen
Some parts of the pancreas, liver, stomach, spleen, colon, small intestine are located in the upper part of the abdomen. Pain in this area can be the result of:
- Enlarged spleen
- Celiac disease
- Abdominal mass or abscess
- Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
- Bowel diseases
- Heart attack
- Peptic ulcer
- Gallbladder diseases
- Abdominal aortic aneurysm
- Inflammation in the bowel
General Abdominal Pain
This pain can be felt in more than half of the abdomen. The reasons behind it may include:
- Bowel issues
- Inflammatory bowel disease
- Stomach flu
- Food poisoning
Treatments For Abdominal Pain
Generalized abdominal pain that occurs due to constipation, gas, upset stomach, and indigestion is more likely to go away within a couple of hours even if you do not use any remedy to fix it. If you want quick relief, over the counter medications is the best option. Have a word with your doctor or pharmacist to find the right medicine. Antibiotics, acid reducers, and Electrolyte replacement fluids are necessary in cases of food poisoning, diarrhea, peptic ulcer, or gastritis.
Treatments of abdominal pain heavily depend on the source of pain. Chronic abdominal pain like IBS may need comprehensive treatments including medications and lifestyle changes and even surgery. This is quite similar with acute abdominal conditions like gallstone, appendicitis, and bowel obstruction. However, the chances of surgery are more in this category for the removal of problematic tissue.
How Can You Prevent Abdominal Pain?
Even though not all types of abdominal pains can be prevented, you can lower the risks of developing this pain with the following habits:
- Stay hydrated
- Eat smaller meals
- Eat healthy food
- Exercise regularly
GERD patients should have their meals 2 hours before bedtime. In the case of Crohn’s disease, follow the diet plan your doctor has recommended. Avoid laying down right away after eating. Wait for at least 2 hours after you eat before sleeping.