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Abdominal Pain: Causes, Diagnosis & Treatments

Abdominal pain is the discomfort that occurs anywhere in the stomach area or between the chest and pelvic regions. Also known as stomach ache, this pain can occur in form of cramps, dull ache or sharp pain.

It is usually caused due to various conditions like abnormal growths, inflammation and intestinal disorders. In most cases, abdominal pain does not last for long and can also go away without surgery.

But if the pain starts suddenly then it should be considered an emergency, especially if the pain is intensive in a particular area.

Some of the major organs located in the abdomen include:

  • Kidneys
  • Appendix (a part of the large intestine)
  • Intestines (small and large)
  • Gallbladder
  • Stomach
  • Spleen
  • Liver
  • Pancreas

Types of abdominal pain

Abdominal pain can be classified into three types of pain namely, localized, cramp-like, or colicky.

  • Localized pain : Localized pain occurs only in one part of the body and is mainly caused by problems in a particular organ. The most common cause of such type of pain is stomach ulcers.
  • Cramp-like pain: This type of pain is not serious and may be eased on its own without any treatment. It may be caused due to gas and bloating, and may lead to diarrhea. In women, it may be associated with menstruation, miscarriage or certain issues in the reproductive organs.
  • Colicky pain: This type of pain starts is not constant, but mostly severe. Kidney stones and gallstones are the most common cause of this type of pain.

Common Causes of abdominal pain

There are various reasons why one may face pain in their abdomen. It is not necessary that the origin of abdominal pain is solely the abdomen. It may be caused due to pneumonias and heart attacks, conditions in the pelvis or groin area, and issues with stomach muscles like a strain.

The pain may also occur while urinating or during bowel motions, or while a woman is menstruating. Throat and gastrointestinal infection can cause the bacteria to enter the digestive tract that causes abdominal pain.

Women mostly face cramps that are associated with menstruation that gives rise to lower abdominal pain.

Some of the common causes of abdominal pain are:

- Diarrhea

-  Gastroenteritis

- Constipation

-  Stress

-  Acid reflux

-  Vomiting

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What Causes Abdominal Pain?

  • Gastroenteritis: This condition is associated with nausea, vomiting and loose stools that happen more frequently than normal after taking a meal. Symptoms that last for more than 2 days are the sign of serious health problems, like infection or other inflammatory conditions, like Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD). Some of its symptoms are nausea, fever, vomiting, abdominal cramps and bloating.
  • Gas: Gas is mostly caused by swallowing the air while eating or drinking that is released while burping. It usually forms in the large intestine when bacteria ferment carbohydrates are not digested in the small intestine. It can also cause tightness in the abdomen and flatulence.
  • Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS): This condition is very common among women and occurs in their late teens till the age of 40. Those suffering with IBS are not able to digest certain types of foods. Abdominal pain is the main symptom for many people who are suffering with this syndrome. Some of the other symptoms are gas, nausea and bloating.
  • Acid reflux: When stomach acid travel backwards and enters the esophagus, it causes heartburn. This condition is known as acid reflux. It causes difficulty in swallowing, cough and chest pain. If these symptoms occur more than twice a week, then it is known as Gastro-Oesophageal Reflux Disease (GERA).
  • Food intolerances: When the body is not able to digest the food, they are broken down by intestinal bacteria; gas is released in the process. When there is a large amount of undigested material, a lot of gas is produced that causes pressure.
  • Constipation: Abdominal pain that is constipation is quite common. It is caused by gas buildup in the abdomen or creates the desire for a bowel movement.
  • Peptic ulcers: Ulcers that do not heal within time can cause severe abdominal pain. Peptic ulcers are mostly caused due to H.Pylori and overuse of NSAIDs.
  • Crohn's disease: This disease causes inflammation in the digestive system. It can affect any part of your body, but in most cases it affects a person’s small intestine or colon. If this condition is chronic, it may cause malnutrition, weight loss and exhaustion.

Diagnosis of Abdominal Pain

In case of persistent abdominal pain, the patient should immediately go for doctor consultation . The doctor should be told about the patient’s medical history, current medical condition. Also, the patients should disclose to the doctor if they have intolerance towards any food item. The doctor will examine the patient’s condition by performing a test by pressing different parts of the abdomen to find out the signs of tenderness, inflammation and mass growth.

In such case, the doctor may suggest the patient to undergo some of the tests based on the symptoms such as X-ray, ultrasound, blood test and stool test that are used to view the organs and other structures. Some of the other tests that are performed during this condition are:

  • Colonoscopy: This test allows looking inside the colon and intestine
  • Endoscopy: This test detects the inflammation in the esophagus and stomach
  • Upper GI: This test uses contrast dye to check the presence of ulcers, inflammation and other abnormalities.

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Prevention from Abdominal Pain

In most cases the abdominal pain can be prevented if taken proper care. It can be cured without taking any surgery. One can reduce the risk of developing abdominal pain by:

  • Eating proper diet
  • Drinking plenty of water
  • Exercising regularly
  • Eating small portions of meal

In case of an intestinal disorder, such as Crohn’s disease, patients should take the diet as told by the doctor in order to ease the discomfort. If the patient is suffering from GERD, they should not eat within two hours of bedtime, as lying down right away after eating causes abdominal pain and heartburn. One should keep a gap of at least 2 hours after eating and before lying down.

Read More: Celiac Disease Prevention | Arrhythmia Prevention

Treatment of Abdominal Pain

Abdominal pain is not always serious and its symptoms can resolve with regular care, by taking proper rest and hydration. Various medicines are available as over-the-counter product or online, like antacids and gas medications. Acute or chronic abdominal pain is the sign of conditions that requires the medical attention. Some of the symptoms that require medical attention are:

  • Weight loss
  • Exhaustion
  • Changes in the bowel movements, such as chronic constipation that does not cure within few days
  • Blood in stool
  • Vaginal discharge
  • Chronic pain that continues after taking medicines or returns after ending prescribed medication
  • Symptoms of urinary tract infection

Symptoms that need emergency care are:

  • Severe pain accompanied by a fever over 102°F
  • Severe pain
  • Black stool
  • Excessive vomiting that includes blood
  • When the abdomen becomes sensitive to the touch
  • Uneasiness while urinating
  • Getting faint too often
  • Pain that gets worse
  • Pain in the chest, ribs and extending into the abdomen
  • Harsh abdominal pain that feels better while lying in a still position

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Common Myths About abdominal pain

Myth #1: Stop eating beans to relieve gas

Fact: Most people think that beans cause gas, but the main reason to get intestinal gas is due to the daily consumption of milk products. Many of us take cheese, yogurt and milk regularly. If you start feeling bloating, or get diarrhea within few hours of consuming dairy products, your body may not be making enough lactose to break down the milk sugar. As the age increases, you become more lactose-intolerant. One should go for lactose supplements before consuming the milk products.

Myth #2: Stomach acid is to blame for that burning sensation in your throat.

Fact: This is not true always. The symptoms of Gastroesophageal Acid Reflux Disease (GERD) are experienced due to inflammatory immune cells. It’s the rogue cells that causes burning and chest pain.

Myth #3: Lifting something heavy can lead to hernia.

Fact: Just 1 out of 5 inguinal hernias are caused by exhausting activities. The weak abdominal walls allow the parts of the intestines to bulge outward when the pressure is exerted on them. Women who have undergone cesarean surgeries or similar surgeries are prone to such risks because the abdominal muscles have been cut. Due to cough, overweight and strain on bowel movement can cause tears abdominal wall.

Myth #4: Smoking helps in relieving heartburn
Fact: No. In fact, smoking often may contribute to heartburn. Nicotine is supposed to relax the lower esophageal sphincter, a muscle between the esophagus and stomach allows the acidic content of the stomach to reflux into the esophagus. This usually causes heartburn.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

1) What are the common causes of abdominal pain?

Ans: Abdominal pain is caused in form of mild stomach ache or cramps. A patient may suffer with indigestion, constipation or may be a stomach virus, or menstrual cramps in case of women.
Some of the other possible causes are:
-  Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
-  Crohn's disease
-  Food poisoning and allergies
-  Gas

One may get abdominal pain if he or she is lactose intolerant or have ulcers. Some of its causes are hernia, gallstones, kidney stones and endometriosis.

2) When should I see a doctor?

Ans: If the abdominal pain is severe and keeps coming back, then you should see a doctor. If people are suffering with chronic abdominal pain they should speak to the doctor if their symptoms are accompanied with jaundice, loss of appetite or swelling within the first week when these signs show up. People without such signs need not see a doctor immediately, as a delay of few days will not cause any harm.

3) Is it possible to control irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) by diet only?

Ans: Certain food items can trigger the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Making changes in the diet is usually not enough to prevent IBS. Sometimes, even the act of eating can cause abdominal pain, diarrhea, or bloating. Stress and anxiety are the key components of this syndrome. Patients should keep a food and symptom journal to identify those specific triggers.

4) How is the colonoscopy helpful?

Ans: Colonoscopy is a method that enables the doctor to examine the inside of the colon. It is a 4 feet long, flexible tube that is inserted into the back passage. The prerequisite of this test is consuming some laxatives. The camera goes through the bowel, can take samples and look for abnormal cells, if there are chances of a suspicious growth.

5) What are the symptoms of abdominal pain in children?

Ans: Abdominal pain among children is caused due to various reasons, from inconvenience to severe pain. Some of the common causes of abdominal pain are gastroenteritis, menstrual pain among girls and lower urinary tract problems. Most cases of abdominal pain are mild and can be cured without any treatment in a couple of days. The child may go through severe pain, especially if he or she has other symptoms like fever, then the child may need further medical help.

6) Can stomach issues cause lower back pain?

Ans: These conditions require immediate treatment. If any patient is experiencing severe pain or who is at risk should consult the doctor immediately. Patients should speak to the doctor in the following condition if:

1. The pain is unbearable and happens all of a sudden
2. The pain causes bleeding from the rectum
3. The patient is suffering with liver failure
4. The patient has suffered a serious injury, such as spinal cord injury

Abdominal pain and back pain are quite common complaints affecting almost every second person. Unless the pain is severe, it is mostly advised to let the symptoms disappear on their own. Patients should not self-diagnose.

7) How can the abdominal pain be treated?

Ans: If the main cause of the problem is stomach infection or acidity, the doctor may ask you to make some changes in the diet. He may suggest reducing the intake of non-spicy foods and increasing the intake of water and juice. Only in serious conditions a doctor may ask you to undergo a surgery.

8) What food items should be taken during abdominal pain?

Ans: The recommended diet suggested by the doctor helps in improving digestion and reducing gas. The following food items are useful additions to your diet:

-  Try to add lean protein to each meal. Go for the food combinations like: eggs with tomatoes; fruit sprinkled with nuts and seeds.

-  Go for olive oil and sesame seed oil.

-  Get enough fiber from vegetables that are low on starch, flax seed and fruits. Don’t eat those items that are high on fructose content. This may cause you bloating and unpleasant gases.

-  Try getting essential nutrients from seeds, coconut oil and olive oil.

-  Increase the intake of healthy beverages like water, green tea and avoid all fizzy drinks that can cause harm to your system.

-  Eat soy, chickpeas and any food item with gluten-free flour.

-  Go for goat or sheep’s milk that contains casein.

-  Eat more dairy-free spreads like seed butter and coconut butter.

-  It is important to eat ground flax seed, fenugreek and aloe vera that helps relax the gut.

-  Eat culinary herbs like pineapple and papaya that has anti-parasitic properties; that help in balancing good and bad bacteria in your digestive system.

-  Taking an alkalizing diet can be beneficial that includes veggies, green juices and protein powders.

9) Is it possible that emotions have an effect on pain?

Ans: It is possible that chronic pain can limit the everyday activities and make it difficult for a person to work. A person’s health definitely affects how he behaves with friends and family members.

Some areas in the brain are involved in such way that causes sensation in the abdominal pain. One area perceives the area that is causing pain and to check the depth of pain while, the other area is involved with memories or emotions. Both these areas are linked together. Therefore, the feeling of pain can be affected by emotions or life experiences.

10) Does the intake of fiber only helps with constipation?

Ans: It is hard to believe that fiber, which is known for improving constipation, can also help in treating diarrhea. Eating fiber-rich foods helps in adjusting the stools. Fiber works by pulling more water from the colon to loosen stools and absorbs water into the colon to firm the stools.

11) Does the intake of spicy food causes stomach ulcers?

Ans: Earlier it was thought eating spicy food increases the risk ulcers. But this is not true. Stomach ulcers are mostly caused due to H.Pylori or by using pain medications such as aspirin and naproxen. The spicy food may pester the existing ulcers, but are not caused due to them.

12) What can be done to relieve abdominal pain?

Ans: You can use a heating pad or hot water bottle when you're feeling sick, this may provide some relief until your symptoms pass. The warmth on your stomach will divert your mind from any cramp or pain, and the heat helps to relax your muscles by reducing your nausea.

13) What is Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)?

Ans: Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a disorder in which the abdominal symptoms are associated with a range of symptoms that includes diarrhea, constipation, or alternating episodes of both. Bloating or distention of the abdomen is also common, and other symptoms may be present as well.

It can be a long-term condition. The first treatment for IBS includes measures such as:
1. Create an effective patient-doctor relationship,
2. Get information about IBS, and
3. Bring lifestyle changes that may help in dealing with symptoms.

14) How to determine the seriousness of abdominal pain?

Ans: The primary thing is to notice what sort of pain you are going through. Be careful and try to understand the symptoms that are accompanying the pain. In women, the pain arises in form of cramps accompanied by gas that is related to menstruation.

If it is accompanied by vomiting it is related to indigestion and food intolerance. If you are getting with severe cramps the cramps it means the intestines are vigorously contracting.

If the symptoms occur along with diarrhea and vomiting, the patient might need to get it diagnosed as it can be a stomach infection or something even more serious. In case of acute pancreatitis you may experience a steady pain in the upper abdomen and back.
In any case, if abdominal pain is severe and occurs along with vomiting or discontinuation of bowel and bladder movement and any other serious symptoms that are written above, then try to get a medical examination right away.

15) How can I take care of myself at home?

Ans: Most abdominal pain can be treated without undergoing surgery. Besides following the guidance of your doctor, there are some things you can do to reduce the pain.

Take a note of these:
1. Placing a hot water bottle on your abdomen can give you relief.
2. Soak in a warm bath and do not scald yourself.
3. Drink a lot of water.
4. Reduce the intake of beverages and caffeine as these can make the pain worse.
5. While resuming the diet, start with clear liquids, then progress to bland foods like rice, bananas or toast.
6. Get enough rest.
7. Try over-the-counter antacids, to help reduce some types of pain.
8. Take mild painkillers such as Paracetamol and check the packaging before taking the dose. One should avoid aspirin or anti-inflammatory drugs unless advised to take them by a doctor. These drugs can make some types of abdominal pain even worse.

16) How long does abdominal pain last?

Ans: The severity of the abdominal pain depends on how long the pain is going to last or if it arises and gets over suddenly. This majorly depends on the cause of the pain. Abdominal pain and inconvenience are caused by acidity, constipation, and food allergies and intolerance that may last for only few hours.

If the pain is caused due to conditions like GERD or ulcer, the pain might continue for weeks or months.

While, the pain caused due to IBS might take months and even years to heal. Pain caused due to organ cancer or conditions such as a hernia it will continue till a proper treatment is not done.

17) Can abdominal pain affect during pregnancy?

Ans: Abdominal pain is quite common among pregnant woman. It may be caused due to obstetric or gynecological disorders. Also, the use of medical tests, such as x-ray is limited in pregnancy due to safety concerns of the fetus. These fetal safety concerns limit the available therapies for treating this disorder during pregnancy.

The fetal safety concerns also limit the available therapies for treating the pain during pregnancy.

18) Does untreated celiac disease is responsible for constant stomach problems?

Ans: Most celiac disease symptoms include bloating, gas and diarrhea, while some people may not have any of these conditions. Celiac disease is intolerance to the protein gluten that is often misdiagnosed. It is an immune disorder that mistakenly healthy organs and tissue. If a person is suffering with celiac disease, his/her immune system may overreact as a response to the gluten that damages the small intestine and reduces the ability to absorb nutrients.

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Last updated on : 18-12-2018

Disclaimer : Docprime doesn’t endorse or take any guarantee of the accuracy or completeness of information provided under this article and these are the views strictly of the writer. Docprime shall not be held responsible for any aspect of healthcare services administered with the information provided on this article.

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