Abdominal pain

Abdominal pain

Abdominal pain is any discomfort or pain within the chest and pelvic regions. Abdominal pain comes in 5 different forms: Crampy, Achy, Dull, Intermittent or Sharp. It is commonly known as a stomachache.

Causes of abdominal pain might be inflammation or diseases that affect organs in the abdomen. Major organs located in the abdominal area include:

  • Intestines (small and large)

  • Kidneys

  • Appendix (part of the large intestine)

  • Spleen

  • Stomach

  • Gallbladder

  • Liver

  • Pancreas

Infections affecting the stomach and intestines may be viral, bacterial, or parasitic and cause significant abdominal pain.

Causes of Abdominal pain

A lot of conditions are responsible for abdominal pain. However, the main causes include infections, abnormal growths, inflammation, obstruction or blockage and intestinal disorders.

Bacteria can access the digestive tract through infections in the throat, intestines, and blood, which causes significant pain in the abdomen. These infections may also trigger digestive disorders such as diarrhoea and constipation.
Another potential source of pain in the lower abdominal region is cramps associated with menstruation.

Still, those are mainly known to be the cause of pelvic pain.

Other common causes of Abdominal pain include:

  • Constipation

  • Diarrhoea

  • Gastroenteritis (stomach flu)

  • Acid reflux (when the content of the stomach leaks backwards into the oesophagus, which leads to heartburn and other symptoms)

  • Vomiting

  • Stress

Diseases that cause digestive disorders can also cause chronic Abdominal pain. The primary forms of these are:

  • Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
  • Irritable bowel syndrome is otherwise known as spastic colon (a disorder that leads to abdominal pain, cramping, and disruption of bowel movement)

  • Crohn’s disease (an inflammatory bowel disease)

  • Lactose intolerance (a digestive disorder that causes the inability to digest lactose, the sugar found in milk and dairy products)

Causes of severe Abdominal pain include:

  • Organ rupture or near-rupture (like appendicitis)

  • Gallbladder stones (known as gallstones)

  • Kidney stones

  • Kidney infection

Types of Abdominal pain

Pain in the abdominal region can sometimes be localised, cramp-like or colicky.

Localised abdominal pain is characterised when the pain is restricted to one area of the abdomen, often caused by problems in a particular organ. The most common localised abdominal pain source is stomach ulcers (open sores in the stomach's inner lining).

Cramp-like pain can be associated with diarrhoea, constipation, bloating, or gas accumulation in the alimentary canal. It is commonly associated with menstruation, miscarriage, or complications in the female reproductive organs in females.

This kind of pain isn't permanent; it comes and goes and sometimes completely subsides without treatment.

Colicky abdominal pain is a symptom of a more severe medical condition such as gallstones or kidney stones. This pain is abrupt and may feel like a severe muscle spasm.

Location of pain within the abdomen

Causes of abdominal pain might sometimes be diagnosed according to the location of the pain within the abdomen.

A generalised pain throughout the abdomen (not in one specific area) may be a symptom of:

  • Appendicitis (inflammation of the appendix)

  • Crohn’s disease

  • Traumatic injury

  • Irritable bowel syndrome

  • Urinary tract infection

  • The flu

Pain that is located in the lower Abdomen may indicate:

  • Appendicitis

  • Intestinal obstruction

  • Ectopic pregnancy (pregnancy that is formed outside the womb)

In females, pain in the reproductive organs located in the lower Abdomen can be caused by:

  • Dysmenorrhea (severe menstrual pain)

  • Ovarian cysts

  • Miscarriage

  • Fibroids

  • Endometriosis

  • Pelvic inflammatory disease

  • Ectopic pregnancy

Pain in the upper Abdominal region may be caused by:

  • Gallstones

  • Heart attack

  • Hepatitis (liver inflammation)

  • Pneumonia

Pain felt in the centre of the Abdomen might be as a result of:

  • Appendicitis

  • Gastroenteritis

  • Injury

  • Uremia (when waste products get built up in the blood)

Pain located in the lower-left Abdominal region may be caused by:

  • Crohn’s disease

  • Cancer

  • Kidney infection

  • Ovarian cysts

  • Appendicitis

Pain in the upper left abdominal area can be sometimes caused by:

  • enlarged spleen
  • faecal impaction (hardened mass of stool that is stuck in the colon or rectum)
  • injury
  • kidney infection
  • heart attack
  • cancer

Pain in the lower right Abdominal region may be caused by:

  • Appendicitis

  • Hernia (protrusion of organs through weak spots in the abdominal muscles)

  • Kidney infection

  • Cancer

  • Flu

Pain in the upper right Abdominal region may be from:

  • Hepatitis

  • Injury

  • Pneumonia

  • Appendicitis

When to see the doctor

A mild form of abdominal pain may subside without treatment. However, in some cases, abdominal pain may require medical consultation.

Call the emergency number if your abdominal pain is severe or associated with an accident or injury or when you feel pressure or pain in your chest.

Seek immediate medical care if the pain gets so severe that you cannot sit still or need to curl into a ball to relieve the pain. You need to seek urgent medical attention if you show any of the following symptoms:

  • Bloody stools

  • High body temperature (greater than 101°F)

  • Vomiting up blood (called hematemesis)

  • Persistent nausea or vomiting

  • Jaundice (a condition where the skin or whites eyes turn yellow)

  • Inflammation or severe tenderness in the abdominal region

  • Difficulty breathing

Get in touch with your general practitioner or doctor if you experience any of the following symptoms:

  • Abdominal pain which persists for longer than 24 hours

  • Prolonged constipation

  • Vomiting

  • Burning sensation during urination

  • Fever

  • Loss of appetite

  • Unexplained weight loss

Contact your doctor if you experience abdominal pain while pregnant or breastfeeding.

How can the cause of Abdominal pain be diagnosed?

Diagnosis of the cause of abdominal pain can be made through a series of tests usually carried out after the doctor performs a physical examination which includes gently pressing down on different areas of the abdomen to check for tenderness and swelling.

The result of this physical examination, combined with the severity of the pain and its location within the abdomen, will help your doctor conclude which tests to be carried out.

Imaging tests like MRI scans, ultrasounds, and X-rays can get a detailed view of the abdomen's organs, tissues, and other structures. These tests help diagnose tumours, fractures, ruptures, and inflammation.

Other tests include:

  • Colonoscopy (to have a peek inside the colon and intestines)

  • Endoscopy (to spot inflammation and abnormalities in the oesophagus and stomach)

  • Upper GI (a special X-ray to check for the presence of growths, ulcers, inflammation, blockages, and other abnormalities in the abdomen using contrast dye)

Evidence of bacterial, viral and parasitic infections can be obtained from blood, urine, and stool samples.

How is Abdominal pain prevented?

Some of the forms of abdominal pain cannot be prevented, but you can minimise the risk of developing abdominal pain by doing the following:

  • Eating a healthy diet.

  • Drinking water frequently.

  • Regular exercise.
  • Eat a smaller portion of meals.

For intestinal disorders like Crohn’s disease, follow your doctor's diet to minimise discomfort. If you have GERD, don’t eat within a few hours before sleeping.

Heartburns and abdominal pain may also be triggered if you lie down too soon after eating a meal, wait at least two hours after eating before lying down.