Abdominal pain is
pain that occurs between the chest and pelvic regions. Abdominal pain can be
crampy, achy, dull, intermittent or sharp. It’s also called a stomachache.
diseases that affect the organs in the abdomen can cause abdominal pain. Major
organs located in the abdomen include:
- Intestines (small and large)
- appendix (a part of the large intestine)
or parasitic infections that affect the stomach and intestines may also cause
significant abdominal pain.
Abdominal pain can
be caused by many conditions. However, the main causes are infection, abnormal
growths, inflammation, obstruction (blockage), 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.
with menstruation are also a potential source of lower abdominal pain, but more
commonly these are known to cause pelvic pain.
Other common causes
of abdominal pain include:
affect the digestive system can also cause chronic abdominal pain. The most
Causes of severe
abdominal pain include:
Types of abdominal
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
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.
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:
Pain that is
focused in the lower abdomen may indicate:
In women, pain in the reproductive organs of the lower abdomen can
be caused by:
Upper abdominal pain may be caused by:
Pain in the center of the abdomen might be from:
- uremia (buildup of waste products in your
Lower left abdominal pain may be caused by:
- Crohn’s disease
- kidney infection
- ovarian cysts
Upper left abdominal pain is sometimes caused by:
Causes of lower right abdominal pain include:
- hernia (when an organ protrudes through a weak
spot in the abdominal muscles)
- kidney infection
Upper right abdominal pain may be from:
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 (from an accident or
injury) or pressure or pain in your chest.
You should seek
immediate medical care if the pain is so severe that you can’t sit still or need
to curl into a ball to get comfortable, or if you have any of the following:
Make an appointment
with your doctor if you experience any of the following symptoms:
- abdominal pain that lasts longer than 24
- prolonged constipation
- a burning sensation when you urinate
- loss of appetite
- unexplained weight loss
Call your doctor if
you’re pregnant or breastfeeding and you experience abdominal pain.
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
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.
Other tests include:
- colonoscopy (to look inside the colon and
- endoscopy (to detect inflammation and
abnormalities in the esophagus and stomach)
GI (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)
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:
- Eat 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 your doctor has given
you to minimize discomfort. If you have GERD, don’t eat within two hours of
Lying down too soon
after eating may cause heartburn and abdominal pain. Try waiting at least two
hours after eating before lying down.