What is abdominal pain?

Abdominal pain, also called a stomach ache, is pain that is typically located under the rib cage and above the pelvic region.

An inflammation that affects the small or large intestines, kidneys, appendix, spleen, stomach, gallbladder, liver or pancreas can cause abdominal pain.

Infections (viral, bacterial or parasitic) that affect the intestines and stomach may cause severe abdominal pain.

Constipation Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) Kidney Stones Nausea

Causes of abdominal pain

Abdominal pain is one of the most common medical ailments.

Although there are close to 200 causes of abdominal pain, the most common causes include:

  • Constipation
  • Stomach virus
  • Menstrual cramps
  • Irritable bowel syndrome
  • Crohn’s disease
  • Food poisoning
  • Gas
  • Kidney stones
  • Appendicitis
  • Endometriosis
  • GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease)
  • Hernia

Risk factors for abdominal pain

Risk factors for abdominal pain are factors that are associated with the condition but not the direct cause.

Conditions that weaken the immune system such as diabetes, organ transplant, chemotherapy, AIDS, or sickle cell anemia increase your likelihood of suffering from abdominal pains.

Other potential risk factors of abdominal pain include:

  • Older age
  • Prior abdominal surgery
  • History of bowel disorders
  • Exposure to stomach virus

Symptoms of abdominal pain

Symptoms of abdominal pain include:
  • Bloating
  • Diarrhea
  • Constipation
  • Gas
  • Indigestion
  • Heartburn
  • Chest discomfort
  • Pelvic discomfort

Diagnosis of abdominal pain

Your primary care doctor can typically diagnose abdominal pain by evaluating your physical signs and symptoms.

He or she may ask you a series of questions to narrow down the cause of the condition during the physical exam.

If the doctor needs further testing or would like to confirm the diagnosis, he or she may order:

  • Urine test
  • Blood test
  • Barium swallow or enema
  • Endoscopy
  • X-ray
  • Computed tomography scan (CT scan)
  • Ultrasound

Treatment for abdominal pain

Treatment for abdominal pain is dependent upon the underlying conditions that could be causing the pain, the age of the patient and the patient’s medical history.

Patients with a viral stomach bug or indigestion may be able to alleviate symptoms by resting the stomach and avoiding eating for a period.

Medications used to treat conditions the cause abdominal pain include:

  • Gas — medications like Mylanta
  • Heartburn — antacids
  • Constipation — stool softener
  • Diarrhea cramping — a medication like Imodium or Kaopectate

Many cases of abdominal pain can remedy themselves without treatment.

If your pain is severe and will not go away or if you have any of the symptoms below, consult your primary care physician as quickly as possible.

  • Bloody stools
  • Painful urination
  • Blood in the urine
  • Severe pain that lasts several days
  • Heartburn that doesn’t get better with OTC drugs
If the pain is in the chest (indicates a heart attack), you are vomiting blood, have a hard time breathing, the pain is in the lower right abdomen (tender to the touch) or if you had a recent injury, call 911 immediately.

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