Abdominal pain

Medical quality assurance by Dr. Albrecht Nonnenmacher, MD at December 9, 2015
StartSymptomsAbdominal pain

Abdominal pain is a common ailment that has affected almost everyone at some point. There are a number of causes that can lead to abdominal pain. Although it usually is nothing to worry about, occasionally the pain could be associated with something more serious.


Definition & Facts

Abdominal pain is a pain that you feel between your chest and groin area, commonly referred to as the stomach or belly region. Contrary to popular belief, the severity of pain does not always reflect the seriousness of the condition.

For example, one could experience severe pain due to gas, while one with a life-threatening condition like colon cancer or appendicitis may only experience little to no pain at all. The types of abdominal pain can be broken up into two categories: acute and chronic. Acute pain is typically abrupt and painful, while chronic pain is typically less severe, but longer lasting and intermittent.


Abdominal pain can be caused for a number of reasons. Some of the most common are: ulcers, indigestion, gas, menstrual cramps, stomach flu, irritable bowel syndrome and food poisoning. The most common of all causes of abdominal pain is irritable bowel syndrome, or IBS. Other serious causes of abdominal pain could include appendicitis, Crohn’s disease, and cancer of the stomach, colon, and surrounding area.

Because there is such a long list of reasons as to why abdominal pain occurs, a health professional may access the problem by performing a physical exam. Therefore, pain and its position are crucial. This can help give the health professional and idea and clues as to what the cause of the pain likely is.

Furthermore, pain that is located farther from the center of the abdomen could indicate a more serious issue. If a health care professional cannot figure out the cause of abdominal pain through a physical exam, other tests could be run to help find a cause. These tests could include urine tests, stool tests, blood tests, enemas, X-rays, ultrasounds, CT scans, and an endoscopy. Since the range of reasons for abdominal pain is so wide, it is important to know when it is necessary to contact a health service provider for help.

When to see a doctor

It’s important to recognize your symptoms in order to know when a doctor should enter the equation. If abdominal pain is severe and/or if it is constant, it is a good idea to see a health care provider. Also, a doctor should be called if the abdominal pain is paired with a fever, constipation (especially with vomiting), signs of dehydration, tender abdomen, and painful or frequent urination.

These symptoms could point to a serious, internal problem that requires treatment. Seek immediate treatment if there is blood in the vomit, bloody stools, difficult breathing, and/or experiencing the abdominal pain during pregnancy. It is also important to try and understand where the abdominal pain is stemming from, so that the health care professional can more accurately diagnose the medical issue.

Although there is acute and chronic pain, abdominal pain can also be broken into four other categories: generalized pain, localized pain, cramp-like pain, and colicky pain. Generalized pain is when the pain can be felt in over half of the belly, which is commonly caused by gas or indigestion.

Localized pain is found in only one area of the belly and is typically a sign of an organ problem. Cramp-like pain is not usually serious, and typically cause by gas/bloating. Colicky pain is often severe and intermittent, with gallstones and kidney stones being common causes.

Treatment & Therapy

Treatment for abdominal pain is usually given to the patient after the health care provider has determined the cause of the pain. However, treatment can also take place at home, if the problem isn’t severe. In a healthcare setting, a professional may prescribe medication for inflammation, gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), or ulcers.

Also, antibiotics can be prescribed for infections. In severe cases like appendicitis or a hernia, surgery may be necessary as a treatment method. If the problem isn’t too severe, however, abdominal pain can be treated at home with the following methods:

Sip water or other clear fluids; Drink sports drinks in small amounts. Avoid solid food for a few hours, until you feel better. Avoid dairy products, but eat mild foods such as crackers or rice in small amounts.

Antacids may relieve pain if there is heartburn or indigestion felt. Avoid citrus foods like oranges and lemons, foods that are high in fat content, greasy foods, foods with tomatoes, caffeine, alcohol, or carbonated drinks. If it is certain that the pain is not related to the liver, try acetaminophen (Tylenol®).

The symptoms, location of the pain, and when it occurs will help the healthcare provider. Because physicians can’t decide what form of treatment is best until after examining the patient, it is always good to personally understand what goes on before visiting a healthcare professional. A few questions to think about before visiting a doctor:

  • Is this pain sudden and severe or less severe and more frequent?
  • Is the pain focused in one area or does it move around the abdomen?
  • Does the abdominal pain occur after eating or drinking?
  • Is there a possibility of pregnancy?
  • Is the pain focused in the top, middle or bottom of the abdomen?
  • How long has the pain been happening?
  • Has there been a recent injury?

Prevention & Prophylaxis

Additional steps can also be taken in order to help prevent abdominal pain from happening. Drinking plenty of water every day can help minimize the chance of abdominal pain, especially if the pain is accompanied with dehydration by providing the body with fluids and energy.

Also, being properly hydrated can help to boost the body’s immune system function. Eating small, frequent meals can also help with the pain, but typically more with milder foods like crackers as to avoid a bad reaction. Stay away from unhealthy foods like fried foods, and other foods with a high fat or sugar content.

Limiting foods that cause gas like lactose, fructose, broccoli and beans can help with abdominal pain, as it can lessen your chances of having trapped gas. Exercising regularly, managing weight and eating healthy foods can also help prevent abdominal pain. Be sure to also eat fruits, vegetables, and foods high in fiber in order to prevent abdominal pain, as fiber can help to regulate the digestive system.

These steps are not only limited to helping with preventing abdominal pains and issues. They can also help the overall body feel and be healthier, and also prevent more medical ailments in the future.

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