What causes abdominal pain? 149 possible conditions

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What Is Abdominal Pain?

Abdominal pain is pain that occurs between the chest and pelvic regions. Abdominal pain can be cramp-like, achy, dull, or sharp.

Organs in the abdomen are:

  • intestines
  • kidneys
  • appendix
  • spleen
  • stomach
  • gallbladder
  • liver
  • pancreas

Inflammation or diseases that affect these organs can cause pain in the abdomen. Viral or bacterial infections that affect the stomach and intestines may also cause significant abdominal pain. Abdominal pain is sometimes referred to as a stomachache.

What Causes Abdominal Pain?

Abdominal pain can be caused by many conditions. However, the main causes are infection, abnormal growths, inflammation, and intestinal disorders.

Infections in the throat, intestines, and blood can cause bacteria to enter your digestive tract, resulting in abdominal pain. These infections may also cause changes in digestion, such as diarrhea or constipation.

In women, cramps associated with menstruation are also a common source of lower abdominal pain.

Other common causes of abdominal pain include:

  • constipation
  • diarrhea
  • gastroenteritis (the flu)
  • acid reflux (when stomach contents leak backward into the esophagus, causing heartburn and other symptoms)
  • vomiting
  • kidney infection
  • stress

Diseases that affect the digestive system can also cause chronic abdominal pain. The most common are:

  • gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
  • gastroenteritis (the flu)
  • irritable bowel syndrome (a disorder of unknown origin causing abdominal pain, cramping, and changes in bowel movements)
  • Crohn’s disease (an inflammatory bowel disease)
  • lactose intolerance (the inability to digest lactose—the sugar found in milk and milk products)

Causes of severe abdominal pain include:

  • organ rupture (such as a burst appendix)
  • gallbladder stones
  • kidney stones
  • kidney infection

Location of Pain Within the Abdomen

The location of the pain within the abdomen may be a clue as to its cause.

Pain that is generalized throughout the abdomen (not in one specific area) may indicate:

  • appendicitis (inflammation of the appendix)
  • Crohn’s disease
  • injury
  • irritable bowel syndrome
  • urinary tract infection
  • the flu

Pain that is focused in the lower abdomen may indicate:

  • appendicitis
  • intestinal obstruction
  • ectopic pregnancy (a pregnancy that occurs outside the womb)

In women, pain in the reproductive organs of the lower abdomen can be caused by:

  • severe menstrual pain, or dysmenorrhea
  • ovarian cysts
  • miscarriage
  • fibroids
  • endometriosis
  • pelvic inflammatory disease
  • ectopic pregnancy

Upper abdominal pain may be caused by:

  • gallstones
  • heart attack
  • hepatitis (liver inflammation)
  • pneumonia

Pain in the center of the abdomen might be from:

  • appendicitis
  • injury
  • uremia (buildup of waste products in your blood)

Lower left abdominal pain may be caused by:

  • Crohn’s disease
  • cancer
  • kidney infection
  • ovarian cysts
  • appendicitis

Upper left abdominal pain is sometimes caused by:

  • enlarged spleen
  • fecal impaction (hardened stool that can’t be eliminated)
  • injury
  • kidney infection
  • heart attack
  • cancer

Causes of lower right abdominal pain include:

  • appendicitis
  • hernia (when an organ protrudes through a weak spot in the abdominal muscles)
  • kidney infection
  • cancer
  • flu

Upper right abdominal pain may be from:

  • hepatitis
  • injury
  • pneumonia
  • appendicitis

Types of Abdominal Pain

Abdominal pain can be described as localized, cramp-like, or colicky.

Localized pain is limited to one area of the abdomen. This type of pain is often caused by problems in a particular organ. The most common cause of localized pain is stomach ulcers (open sores on the inner lining of the stomach).

Cramp-like pain may be associated with diarrhea, constipation, bloating, or flatulence. In women, it can be associated with menstruation, miscarriage, or complications in the female reproductive organs. This pain comes and goes, and may completely subside on its own without treatment.

Colicky pain is a symptom of more severe conditions, such as gallstones or kidney stones. This pain occurs suddenly and may feel like a severe muscle spasm.

When to See the Doctor

Mild abdominal pain may go away without treatment. However, in some cases, abdominal pain may warrant a trip to the doctor.

Call 911 if your abdominal pain is severe and associated with

  • trauma (as from an accident or injury)
  • pressure or pain in your chest

Seek immediate medical care if

  • pain is so severe that you can’t sit still or need to curl into a ball to get comfortable
  • you also have bloody stools, persistent nausea or vomiting, yellowing of the skin or eyes, swelling or severe tenderness of the abdomen, or difficulty breathing

Make an appointment with your doctor if you experience any of the following symptoms:

  • abdominal pain that lasts longer than 24 hours
  • prolonged constipation
  • vomiting
  • a burning sensation when you urinate
  • fever
  • loss of appetite
  • unexplained weight loss

Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding should call the doctor if abdominal pain occurs at any time.

How Is the Cause of Abdominal Pain Diagnosed?

The cause of abdominal pain can be diagnosed through a series of tests. Before ordering tests, your doctor will do a physical examination. This includes gently pressing down on various areas of your abdomen to check for tenderness and swelling. This information, combined with the severity of the pain and its location within the abdomen, will help your doctor determine which tests to order.

Imaging tests, such as MRI scans, ultrasounds, and X-rays are used to view organs, tissues, and other structures in the abdomen in detail. These tests can help diagnose tumors, fractures, ruptures, and inflammation.

A colonoscopy is used to look inside the colon and intestines. A small tube housing a fiber optic camera is inserted into the colon and through the intestines. The camera allows the doctor to see intricate details of the colon’s structure. This test is often used to detect blockages, inflammation, and abnormal growths in the colon and intestines.

An endoscopy is used to detect inflammation and abnormalities in the esophagus and stomach. For this procedure, a small tube is fed down your throat and into the esophagus. A tiny microscope is threaded through the tube, allowing the doctor to view the inside of the esophagus and stomach.

An upper GI is a special X-ray test that uses contrast dye to check for the presence of growths, ulcers, inflammation, blockages, and other abnormalities in the stomach. For this procedure, you will drink a solution that contains contrast dye. After ingesting the solution, you will be given an abdominal X-ray.

Blood, urine, and stool samples may also be collected to look for evidence of bacterial, viral, and parasitic infections.

How Can I Prevent Abdominal Pain?

Not all forms of abdominal pain are preventable. However, you can minimize the risk of developing abdominal pain by doing the following:

  • Consume a healthy diet.
  • Drink water frequently.
  • Exercise regularly.
  • Eat smaller meals.

If you have an intestinal disorder, such as Crohn’s disease, follow the diet given to you by your doctor to minimize discomfort. If you have gastroesophageal reflux disease, do not eat just before bedtime. Lying down too soon after eating may cause heartburn and abdominal pain. Try waiting at least two hours after eating before lying down.

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See a list of possible causes in order from the most common to the least.

1

Food Poisoning

This condition is considered a medical emergency. Urgent care may be required.

Food poisoning occurs when you consume foods contaminated with bacteria, viruses, or parasites. Symptoms are usually uncomfortable but not severe. Serious reactions can be life threatening and require medical treatment.

Read more »

2

Viral Gastroenteritis

Viral gastroenteritis, also known as the stomach flu, is caused by a number of different viruses. Its symptoms usually last for two to three days.

Read more »

3

Irritable Bowel Syndrome

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a chronic condition that affects the large intestine and causes many uncomfortable symptoms, such as bloating, gas, cramping, diarrhea, constipation, and pain.

Read more »

4

Colic and Crying

Colic is when your baby cries for three or more hours a day, three or more times a week, for at least three weeks. Symptoms usually appear during your baby's first three to six weeks of life. According t...

Read more »

5

Painful Menstrual Periods

Menstruation is a monthly occurrence for women in which the body sheds the uterine lining, which is later passed through the vagina. Pain, cramping, and discomfort during menstruation is normal. Excessive pain is not.

Read more »

6

The Many Sides of Bacterial Gastroenteritis

Bacterial infections are common causes of gastrointestinal infections. This type of infection is also called "food poisoning" and is often caused by poor hygiene or ingesting foods contaminated with bacteria.

Read more »

7

Urinary Tract Infection

UTIs are usually caused by bacteria and can occur in any part of the urinary tract. Symptoms of upper UTIs include pain in the upper back, chills, fever, and nausea.

Read more »

8

Types of Acid Reflux

Acid reflux symptoms are caused when stomach contents flow up from the stomach back into the esophagus, causing symptoms like heartburn, stomach pain, and burping.

Read more »

9

Appendicitis

This condition is considered a medical emergency. Urgent care may be required.

Appendicitis is inflammation of the appendix, which can be fatal if left untreated. The telltale sign is pain that usually starts as mild cramping, especially on the right side, and becomes more severe over time.

Read more »

10

Food Allergy Basics

Food allergies are overblown responses by the immune system to foods that aren't typically harmful - like eggs and peanuts. Continue reading and learn more about food allergies, and how to prevent or treat sever...

Read more »

11

Indigestion

Indigestion (dyspepsia) happens to almost everyone from time to time. It may cause stomach discomfort or a feeling of being too full. When severe, it can cause heartburn, bloating, nausea, and vomiting.Indigestion ma...

Read more »

12

PMS (Premenstrual Syndrome)

Premenstrual syndrome (PMS) is a condition that affects a woman's emotions, physical health, and behavior during certain days of the month generally just before her menstrual period. PMS symptoms start five to 11 day...

Read more »

13

Pregnancy

Pregnancy occurs when a sperm fertilizes an egg after it is released from the ovary. An egg enters one of the fallopian tubes where it may be fertilized. The egg then enters the uterus where implantation occurs...

Read more »

14

Gallstones

Many people can develop gallstones and never know it. Gallstones are hard deposits in your gallbladder, a small organ that stores bile, a digestive fluid made in the liver. Gallstones may consist of cholesterol, salt...

Read more »

15

Gall Bladder Inflammation

Gallbladder disease is a term for several types of conditions that can affect your gallbladder, a small pear shaped sac located under the liver. The majority of gallbladder diseases are caused by inflammation due t...

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16

Endometriosis

Endometriosis is a disorder in which the endometrium grows outside your uterine cavity. The endometrium is the tissue which makes up the inside surface of your uterus. Endometriosis occurs when this lining grows on th...

Read more »

17

Fibroids

Fibroids are abnormal growths that develop in or on a woman's uterus. Sometimes, these tumors become quite large and cause severe abdominal pain and heavy periods. In other cases, they cause no signs or symptoms at all...

Read more »

18

Diverticulitis

Diverticulitis occurs when diverticula (bulging sacs that usually appear in the lining of the large intestine) get infected or inflamed. Although diverticula are most common in the large intestine (colon), they ca...

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19

Acute Pancreatitis

Chances are, you don't know a lot about your pancreas. But when the pancreas becomes inflamed, you're going to feel the pain. Acute pancreatitis is an inflammation in the pancreas, an organ found behind the stomach an...

Read more »

20

Ectopic Pregnancy

This condition is considered a medical emergency. Urgent care may be required.

Ectopic pregnancies occur when a fertilized egg fails to attach to the uterus. In most ectopic pregnancies, the egg will attach to the fallopian tubes. Less common, it may also attach to the abdominal cavity or cervix...

Read more »

This feature is for informational purposes only and should not be used to diagnose.
Please consult a healthcare professional if you have health concerns.
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