What is Abdominal Pain?
Abdominal pain is a symptom affecting the area from the base of your ribs down to the pelvic region.
It can be brought on by a number of reasons varying from minor complaints to the serious and life threatening.
The same applies to severity of abdominal pain, it can be mild and tolerable across the board to excruciating and unbearable.
Your abdomen region includes many of your vital organs such as: liver, kidneys, pancreas, appendix and also your digestive system which includes the stomach, large and small intestine.
This means the causes are both abundant and diverse. We will now look at a range of possible causes of abdominal pain.
Flatulence is a minor issue and a normal part of everyday life. In fact an average man can pass gas 14 times per day. (1)
A number of reasons cause excess gas in healthy men and women. For example: a change in diet or eating gas provoking foods like beans or certain vegetables.
Gas becomes a problem if it cannot pass through the system properly.
Trapped wind can cause a sharp stabbing pain and also bloating in the abdomen if means of escape is hindered.
Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
It’s a chronic condition of the large intestine which impacts upon the lives of up to 21 percent of the population. (2)
The abdominal pain flares up when muscles in the digestive tract move with too much force.
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is still not fully understood, yet it’s clear there isn’t one definitive cause. Research has identified triggers including: inflammation, genetics, stress or food allergies.(3)
Also known as stomach flu, gastroenteritis is a result of germs or viral infections causing the digestive lining to become inflamed. In fact, the norovirus is one of the most common causes of gastroenteritis. (4)
It’s highly contagious and can last for up to 3 days. Along with abdominal pains and cramps, you will experience diarrhea, vomiting and flu like symptoms. (5)
For women, their monthly period can provide a rollercoaster ride of symptoms.
As the end of the cycle approaches pre-menstrual pains will begin. This is caused by contractions in the womb removing the lining.
Many females will experience mild discomfort which is manageable with over the counter pain medication. However, for some the abdominal pain and cramps can be harsh – this is known as dysmenorrhea. (6)
Stomach ulcers are very much like the common mouth variety, except it’s the lining of your gut which corrodes.
The reasons ulcers form can be down to prolonged use of pain medication, a bacterial imbalance in the stomach or even cancer. (7)
Whatever the cause abdominal pain is one of the symptoms. (8)
The appendix is connected to the large intestine. It’s a tube like sac with no real purpose in the body. However, when the appendix becomes inflamed it can lead to serious consequences. (9)
The swelling is brought on mostly because the appendix gets blocked up. This creates a build up of pressure which can cause detrimental consequences if medical attention is not sought.
If the appendix bursts it can lead to peritonitis – a very severe infection. It’s also very common for appendicitis to lead to surgery. (10)
Abdominal pain is the primary tell tale sign of appendicitis.(11)
Hepatitis affects the liver. There are several different forms of this disease which can impact upon this vital organ in different ways.
Factors which lead to hepatitis include: excessive alcoholism, viral infections and even autoimmune diseases attacking the organ. (12)
In fact, in some cases it can be very serious indeed. Hepatitis can lead to liver failure.
Upper abdominal pain is a known symptom of this disease. (13)
Cancer is the number one cause of death worldwide. However, the good news is many forms are curable – although early diagnosis is vital. (14)
To give you an idea, studies show 23 percent of patients spanning almost 30 different types of cancer reported abdominal symptoms (including pain) before a confirmed diagnosis. (15)
In fact, abdominal pain is one of the most common symptoms of pancreatic cancer. (16)
Stomach cancer is another serious disease with constant pain in the abdomen area being a major warning sign. (17)
Abdominal pain itself is a symptom of other complications. However different terminology can be used to define the variations. These can be explained by the following:
This type of pain literally means it’s focused in one specific area of the abdomen.
If you have the feeling of total discomfort all over your abdomen then it can be typically classed as generalized pain.
This type of pain could also be described as “colic” pain, which is just like what babies suffer with in their early years. It’s a intermittent sensation, but can also be very severe. Gallbladder and kidney stones are related to this type. (18)
The definition of acute pain can be explained as short lived. Yet it can also mean sudden or sharp. (19)
Causes of acute abdominal pain include: appendicitis and gastroenteritis.
Chronic pain is long term. It can be continuous and persistent, yet also be recurring (comes and goes). (20)
Causes of chronic abdominal pain include: celiac disease, gastritis (inflamed stomach lining) and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
When it comes to exact diagnosis abdominal pain proves a big challenge for doctors. This is all because it can be an underlying factor of so many different and diverse medical problems.
Typically any doctor will perform a physical examination and focus his questions around the following: (21)
Onset and Progression
One of the first questions your doctor will want to know is when your abdominal pain first started. The next step will be to establish whether the pain has increased or remained level.
If your abdominal pain has worsened, he will also want to know the speed – gradually or rapidly.
Another key piece of information will be whether the pain has moved or spread from its original location.
You will need to describe the sensation of pain as accurately as possible.
As we have seen there are various types and how they are perceived from one person to another can be a very personal point of view.
Everyone’s pain threshold is also different, therefore it’s very difficult to ascertain this without a physical examination.
How extreme the abdominal pain has to be carefully assessed. Therefore your doctor will do some short tests to see how you respond to the pain.
Knowing where the pain is coming from will help your doctor eliminate many possibilities.
In medical situations the abdomen is split into four areas: upper and lower sections as well as left and right side.
Based upon the questions, physical examination and previous medical history your doctor will be able to decide the next course of action.
Further medical tests can be performed to rule out or confirm the exact cause.
General exploratory tests include: ultrasounds, x-rays, MRI scans. Also blood tests and stool and urine samples could be taken to build a better picture.
What is abdominal pain? Abdominal pain can be defined as any type of discomfort ranging from mild to severe within the region of lower ribs to the pelvis area. Abdominal pain can also vary in duration, it can both be prolonged (chronic) or in short bursts (acute).
What causes abdominal pain? There are many different underlying causes to abdominal pain, milder conditions include: gas, constipation, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), food poisoning, food allergies. Serious conditions include: cancer, appendicitis and hepatitis
How do doctors test for stomach related problems? A doctor will initially perform a physical examination to establish the cause. The outcome will form the basis of whether further tests are required to confirm diagnosis.
When should you go to the doctors with abdominal pain? Contact your doctor if symptoms persist and still continue to be a cause for concern after a few days. However, if symptoms of abdominal pain are so serious that you are unable to function properly without experiencing any kind of discomfort – seek medical attention directly.
What is considered your abdomen? The abdomen is the area from your chest down to your pelvis which also includes the following vital organs: stomach, spleen, liver, appendix, pancreas, spleen, large and small intestines. (22)
Can you prevent abdominal pain? This really all depends on the cause of the pain. However, abdominal pain caused by food allergies or intolerances can be avoided if you cut out the offending foods.
What can relieve stomach pain? Providing your symptoms are not serious to warrant a doctor or hospital visit, there are natural ways to relieve abdominal pain. Heat pads can be useful for soothing period pain, whereas peppermint tea can alleviate indigestion and help with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). (23)
What could cause pain in your upper stomach? There is a vast contrast of causes relating to the upper abdomen for example: indigestion, hepatitis (liver inflammation) and stomach ulcers (24,25,26)
We have seen abdominal pain is a major symptom of many different causes.
From minor complaints like gas and heartburn to the life threatening illnesses of appendicitis and cancer, it’s clear abdominal pain covers the entire spectrum,
The same principle applies to the symptoms of the pain, it can be both short lived or long term, mild or severe.
Doctors are fully aware of the challenges they face to make sure your diagnosis is accurate.
However a key part is knowing when to treat it yourself and when to seek medical attention.