Abdominal pain is pain that occurs between the chest and pelvic area. It can be cramping, aching, blunt, intermittent, or acute.
Almost everyone has abdominal pain at some point. Most of the time, it is not serious.
Inflammation or disease that affects the abdominal organs can cause abdominal pain. The main organs in the stomach are: intestines (small and large), kidneys, appendix (a part of the large intestine), spleen, stomach, gallbladder, liver and pancreas.
Viral, parasitic, or bacterial infections that affect the stomach and intestines can also cause significant pain in the abdomen.
Common Causes of Abdominal Pain
Abdominal pain can be caused by many diseases, including infection, abnormal growth, inflammation, blockage and intestinal disease.
Throat, intestinal, and blood infections can cause bacteria to enter the digestive tract and cause abdominal pain. This infection can also cause digestive disorders such as diarrhea or constipation.
Menstrual cramps are also a potential source of pain in the lower abdomen but are more commonly known to cause pelvic pain.
Other common causes of abdominal pain are: constipation, diarrhea, gastroenteritis (stomach flu), ulcer, acid reflux (when stomach contents leak backwards into the oesophagus, causing heartburn and other symptoms), Endometriosis, vomiting, food poisoning, food allergies, and stress.
Causes of lower abdominal pain
Pain that focuses on the lower abdomen can indicate the following:
- Intestinal obstruction
- Ectopic pregnancy (a pregnancy that occurs outside the womb)
Causes of lower abdominal pain in women
In women, pain in the reproductive organs of the lower abdomen can be caused by:
- Severe menstrual pain (called dysmenorrhea)
- Ovarian cysts
- Pelvic Inflammatory Disease
- Ectopic pregnancy
Causes of Upper abdominal pain
Upper abdominal pain may be caused by:
- Heart attack
- Hepatitis (liver inflammation)
Causes of centre abdominal pain
Pain in the center of the abdomen might be from:
- Uremia (buildup of waste products in your blood)
Causes of lower left abdominal pain
Lower left abdominal pain may be caused by:
- Crohn’s disease
- Kidney infection
- Ovarian cysts
Causes of upper left abdominal pain
Upper left abdominal pain is sometimes caused by:
- Enlarged spleen
- Faecal impaction (hardened stool that can’t be eliminated)
- Kidney infection
- Heart attack
Causes of lower right abdominal pain
Causes of lower right abdominal pain include:
- Hernia (when an organ protrudes through a weak spot in the abdominal muscles)
- Kidney infection
Causes of upper right abdominal pain
Upper right abdominal pain may be from:
digestive system diseases causing chronic abdominal pain
Diseases that affect the digestive system can also cause chronic abdominal pain. The most common are: Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD), Irritable Bowel Syndrome or Spasticity (a disorder that causes abdominal pain, cramps and changes in bowel movements), Crohn’s Disease (Inflammatory Bowel Disease), Lactose intolerance (inability to digest lactose, the sugar contained in milk and milk products).
Causes of severe abdominal pain
The common causes of severe stomach pain are Organ rupture or near rupture (such as appendicitis), Hernia, Gallbladder stones (called gallstones), kidney stones, Diverticulitis, and kidney infection.
If your abdominal pain is severe, doesn’t go away, or keeps coming back, talk to your doctor.
Symptoms of abdominal pain
Common symptoms with abdominal pain include back pain, chest pain, constipation, diarrhea, fever, nausea, vomiting, coughing, and difficulty breathing. Characteristics of pain (such as acute, spasmodic, spread), location of abdominal pain, and its relationship to diet, vomiting, constipation, or diarrhea are all factors associated with symptoms.
Abdominal pain diagnosis
The cause of stomach pain can be diagnosed through a number of tests. Your doctor will do a physical examination before ordering a test. This involves a bit of pressure on different abdominal areas to check for sensitivity and swelling.
This information, combined with the severity of the pain and its position in the abdomen, helps your doctor determine which tests should be ordered.
Imaging procedures such as MRI examination, ultrasound examination and X-ray examination serve a thorough examination of organs, tissues, and other structures in the abdominal cavity. These tests can be used to diagnose tumours, fractures, cracks and inflammation.
Blood, urine, and stool samples may also be collected to look for evidence of bacterial, viral, and parasitic infections.
Types of abdominal pain
Abdominal pain can be described as:
- Localized Pain
- Cramp-like Pain
- Colicky Pain
Localized pain is confined to one abdominal area. This type of pain is often caused by problems with certain organs. The most common cause of localized pain is peptic ulcers (open sores on the inner wall of the stomach).
Cramp-like pain can be associated with diarrhea, constipation or bloating. In women, this can be associated with menstruation, miscarriage, or complications in the female reproductive system. This pain comes and goes and can go away on its own without treatment.
Colicky pain is a symptom of a more serious ailment such as gallstones or kidney stones. This pain occurs suddenly and can feel like strong muscle spasms.
Abdominal pain prevention
Not all forms of abdominal pain can be prevented. However, you can minimize the risk of abdominal pain by doing the following:
- Eat healthily.
- Drink water often.
- Exercise regularly.
- Eat less.
If you have intestinal disorders such as Crohn’s disease, follow a diet prescribed by a doctor to minimize discomfort. If you have GERD, do not eat within two hours before bedtime.
Lying too early after eating can cause heartburn and abdominal pain. Try to wait at least two hours after eating before going to bed.
Treatment of abdominal pain
Treatment for stomach pain depends on the cause. Treatment can range from inflammatory medications, GERD or ulcers, antibiotics for the infection, to changes in personal behaviour for stomachaches caused by certain foods or drinks. In some cases, for example, appendicitis and hernias, diagnostic tests such as blood, urine and faeces, CT scans, and endoscopy may be needed to rule out or confirm certain diagnoses, and surgery may be needed. Possible treatments include:
- Pain reliever
- Prescription drugs for inflammation, GERD, boils, or general illness
- Low-dose antidepressants
- Changes in behaviour, including removing certain foods or drinks that can cause stomach pain
- Surgery to remove intestinal blocks, hernias or infected organs.