Do you sometimes experience pain in your abdomen? It may not be bad enough to seek immediate medical attention but may be persistent enough to wonder why you keep having it. I often have patients who call me with symptoms of abdominal pain and I explain that there can be many causes for it – some minor and some more serious. That’s why it’s better to identify the cause of abdominal pain sooner than later, while the symptoms are present.
What Is That Pain in Your Abdomen?
First, let me explain something important. Pain in the abdomen, or anywhere else in your body, is a signal. It’s like a text message to your brain telling you something is out of order in that area of your body. It may be something relatively minor and probably temporary – like gastric upset from too spicy or high fat food. It could also be something more acute or chronic that requires further investigation and treatment by your doctor.
The symptoms of abdominal pain can have different characteristics and can range from mild to severe. They include the following:
- Inflammation – usually a gnawing, burning type, steady pain. Fever and/or sweating may be present. Felt more in the upper abdomen (gastritis, GERD) or mid-to-right lower abdomen (appendicitis), left lower abdomen (diverticulitis) or more mid-abdomen (pancreatitis, etc). In women, pelvic inflammatory disease may also be a cause.
- Distention – usually, waves, or sharp, crampy pain, from abnormal contractions of the intestines. Often felt sharpest in the left lower abdomen but can be all over the abdomen. If you’re a woman, and of childbearing years, you could have an ectopic pregnancy. Or, incorrect digestion/elimination from irritable bowel syndrome, obstipation/constipation (side effect from drugs, dehydration, lack of fiber, blockage), Crohn’s, diverticular, or other disease can cause bowel function changes. High-pitched sounds, fever, diarrhea or bleeding may also be present, indicating possible infection.
- Loss of blood supply/incorrect functioning of abdominal organs: This may be sharp, lancing, unrelenting, rhythmic-type pain, felt more in the mid upper to right abdomen. There can also be radiation of the pain to the upper back and shoulders. It may originate from the liver (cirrhosis, tumors), kidneys (stones), adrenal glands (cysts, tumors), gallbladder (gall stones), stomach and intestines. This pain can come and go quickly or last for hours.
What Should You Do About Your Abdominal Pain?
Now, you don’t have to run to your doctor or the nearest Urgent Care or emergency room every time you have abdominal pain, queasiness, or diarrhea/constipation. Most often, it is a temporary bug or indigestion from something you ate, or perhaps a flare of IBS, or Crohn’s disease, if you have been previously diagnosed with either. The first thing to recognize, though, is the severity of your symptoms and what may accompany them, such as:
- Severe pain
- Nausea, vomiting
If you experience any of these characteristics along with your abdominal pain, they warrant medical attention immediately.
What Will Your Doctor Do?
Determining the cause of abdominal pain, especially if accompanied by any of the above associated characteristics, most often will require the following:
- Physical examination: Feeling the abdomen to determine any masses and from where the pain may be originating.
- Imaging studies: X-rays of the abdomen, perhaps a CT of the abdomen, ultrasound, or “smart pill” capsule enteroscopy, which involves swallowing a capsule-size device that takes pictures of the entire bowel and transmits results to a receiver.
- Lab studies: Blood, urine, possibly fecal studies to determine abnormal liver or pancreatic enzymes, changes in hormone levels, or infection.
- Other studies: Scoping of the stomach and bowel through EGD, colonoscopy/sigmoidoscopy, balloon enteroscopy, surgical laparoscopy to look at the uterus or intestines.
If you experience abdominal pain, paying close attention to the characteristics of it will allow you to make the right decision in seeking help. I advise my patients that I prefer they call me, or visit an urgent care or emergency room, if they have abdominal pain/discomfort that persists longer than a few hours and/or is acute/severe enough to cause immediate concern.
Mark Rosenberg, M.D.
Natural Health News
Abdominal Pain, Causes, Symptoms, Treatments, http://www.medicinenet.com/abdominal_pain/page3.htm
10 Causes of Abdominal Pain in Women, http://voices.yahoo.com/10-causes-abdominal-pain-women-symptoms-you-4836096.html?cat=5
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