Just about everybody at one point or another will experience abdominal pain. Learn about the causes and symptoms, including those that you shouldn't ignore.
How common is abdominal pain?
Just about everybody at one point or another will experience abdominal pain. Most causes of abdominal pain are not serious and can be readily diagnosed and treated. However, abdominal pain can also be the sign of a serious illness, and it is important that you recognise which symptoms are severe and when to call a doctor.
How is the cause of abdominal pain determined?
Because there are so many potential causes of abdominal pain, your doctor will perform a thorough history and physical examination. These questions could include the following:
- What type of pain are you experiencing? Is the pain throughout your abdomen or is it confined to a particular area?
- Where in your abdomen does the pain seem to be located?
- Does the pain also radiate (branch out) into your lower back, shoulder, groin, or buttocks?
- What type of pain are you experiencing? Is it stabbing and severe? Is it a dull ache?
- When does the pain occur? Always? More often in the morning or at night? If the pain comes and goes, about how long does it last each time? Does it occur after eating certain types of foods or after drinking alcohol? During menstruation?
- Does any activity such as eating or lying on one side relieve the pain?
- How long have you had this pain?
- Are you currently taking any medications or herbal supplements?
- Have you been injured recently?
Once this initial evaluation has been completed, your doctor may have you undergo some tests to help him or her make the diagnosis. These may include blood or urine tests, a gastoscopy or colonoscopy, or X-ray/ultrasound.
What are the most common causes of abdominal pain?
Abdominal pain has numerous causes. These include:
- Stomach flu
- Food poisoning
- Food allergies
- Lactose intolerance
- Crohn’s disease
- Menstrual cramps
- Pelvic inflammatory disease
- Kidney stones
- Urinary tract infections
Which symptoms of abdominal pain are cause for concern?
If your abdominal pain is severe or if it is accompanied by any of the following symptoms, contact your doctor as soon as possible:
- Nausea, fever, or the inability to keep food down for several days.
- Bloody stools
- Vomiting blood
- The abdomen is tender to the touch
- Pain is the result of an injury to the abdomen in the previous days
- Pain lasts for several days
These symptoms may be an indication of an internal inflammation, infection, or bleeding that requires treatment as soon as possible.
How is abdominal pain treated?
Treating abdominal pain depends on its cause. Options include:
- Medications for inflammation, gastroesophageal reflux disease or ulcers
- Antibiotics for infection
- Changes in personal behaviour for abdominal pain caused by certain foods or beverages
- Local or spinal injections of numbing agents or corticosteroids by pain management physicians
In more severe cases like appendicitis and hernia, surgery is necessary.