Causes Of Abdominal Pain In Adults
There are many reasons why you may have pain in your abdomen. People often worry about appendicitis, gallstones, ulcers, infections and pregnancy problems. Doctors also worry about these, as well as many other conditions.
Abdominal pain may not come from the abdomen. Some surprising causes include heart attacks and pneumonia, conditions in the pelvis or groin, some skin rashes like shingles, and problems with stomach muscles like a strain. The pain may occur along with problems in passing urine or with bowel motions, or period problems.With so many organs and structures in the abdomen, it can be hard for a doctor to be absolutely sure about the cause of your problem.
The doctor will ask you several questions and then examine you carefully. The doctor may perform no further tests. The cause of your pain may be quite clearly not serious. Another scenario may be that the doctor is unable to find a cause, but the pain gets better within hours or days. The doctor will assess whether the pain requires surgery or admission to hospital.
Urgent Advice: Speak To Your Gp As Soon As Possible If:
- you have severe abdominal pain, especially if it’s concentrated in one area
- the pain starts suddenly or unexpectedly
If your GP is closed, phone 111.
Serious causes of sudden severe abdominal pain include:
- appendicitis the swelling of the appendix means your appendix will need to be removed
- a bleeding or perforated stomach ulcer
- acute cholecystitis inflammation of the gallbladder, which may need to be removed
- kidney stones small stones may be passed out in your urine, but larger stones may block the kidney tubes, and you’ll need to go to hospital to have them broken up
- diverticulitis inflammation of the small pouches in the bowel that sometimes requires treatment with antibiotics in hospital
If your GP suspects you have one of these conditions, they may refer you to hospital immediately.
Sudden and severe pain in your abdomen can also sometimes be caused by an infection of the stomach and bowel . It may also be caused by a pulled muscle in your abdomen or by an injury.
Treating Lower Abdominal Pain In Women
The most common treatment for lower abdominal pain in women is a heating pad and mild pain medicationsâthis is for PMS or actual menstrual cramping. In cases where the pain is severe, a doctor might prescribe medications that will control hormones, reducing the possibility of inflammation and pain in subsequent months. When a woman experiences sharp pelvic cramps and pain, especially those that are felt on one side, it may be an ectopic pregnancy. This is urgent and requires emergency care. Pelvic inflammatory disease also calls for medical attention, as advanced cases of this condition usually mean surgery is needed.
It is not unusual for women to get cysts or fibroids. While the majority are harmless, others can cause a lot of discomfort and require surgical removal. Meanwhile, polycystic ovary syndrome is often treated with oral contraceptive pills to help regulate a womanâs cycle. However, surgery is still a treatment option.
In cases where a person is suffering from appendicitis, surgery may be required to remove the appendix. Thankfully, in the case of bladder infections, surgery is not the protocol. Antibiotics are the main treatment for UTIâs. Clearly, the treatment depends on the cause and it is dangerous to self-diagnose. Seeing a doctor will allow for proper investigation into what is causing the lower abdominal pain so that an appropriate treatment can be administered.
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Why Does Your Stomach Hurt
Stomach cramps can range from mild achiness to severe, stabbing pain.
Common causes of stomach cramps include eating foods that can irritate your stomach, constipation, food poisoning, or a stomach infection. People who have anxiety may also develop stomach cramps.
Pregnant people may experience stomach cramps as the fetus grows. Menstrual cramps are also very common, though they actually take place in the uterus.
Sometimes stomach cramps are constant. In this case, a chronic digestive illness, such as irritable bowel disease, may be the cause.
Most stomach cramps go away on their own within a few hours or a couple of days. Changing what you eat and taking over-the-counter medication can help with symptoms while you recover.
Some stomach cramps may require medical attention. You should be concerned about stomach cramps if they last for a week or longer or are so severe that you cant function, or you also have symptoms like fever or blood in your vomit or stool.
Diagnosing Lower Abdominal Pain In Women
When a woman experiences lower abdominal pain and goes to the doctor, she will be asked a series of questions about her period, urination habits, and bowel movements. She will also be asked to describe her general health and any symptoms that might seem unrelated, such as fever or fatigue. In some cases, the doctor may deem it appropriate to ask a woman about her family, career, and sex life.
Once the initial chat with the doctor is complete, a physical exam will take place. The doctor will check the abdomen and may even conduct an internal examination. Often physicians will ask for a urine sample, which can detect infection. In cases where a woman mentions vaginal discharge, the doctor may take a vaginal swab.
Here are some other possible tests:
- Gynaecological â This could include swabs, cervical smears, or pelvic ultrasounds. Special blood tests for ovarian cancer can also be performed.
- Endoscopic exam â An examination of the bowel may occur if a colonic cause is suspected.
- CT scan â This is a computerized topography scan that can detect abdominal abnormalities.
- Ultrasound â Can investigate urinary causes
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How Do Doctors Find The Cause Of A Stomachache
To find the cause of a stomachache, doctors ask about:
- your symptoms
- illnesses you’ve had in the past
- health conditions that other family members have
Be honest with your doctor, even if a symptom seems embarrassing.
The doctor will do an exam and sometimes might order tests, such as an X-ray, ultrasound, or blood test. It all depends on what the doctor thinks is causing the problem.
When Stomach Pain Is An Emergency
Sometimes stomach pain is mild at first but gets worse after a few hours. You may also develop other symptoms.
Seek immediate medical attention if you experience any of these symptoms along with stomach pain:
- Extremely hard abdomen
- Coughing up or vomiting blood
- Vomiting that won’t stop
- Inability to have a bowel movement, along with vomiting
- Pain in the neck, shoulder, or between shoulder blades
- Vision changes
If you have these symptoms, call for an ambulance or have someone drive you to the ER. You should not “wait and see” or take medicine for the pain. Get help right away.
When stomach pain is associated with these other symptoms, it may be caused by a life-threatening condition. Some examples of these conditions include:
These emergencies usually cause pain that feels extreme. Other circumstances in which you should discuss stomach pain with a healthcare provider include when:
- You’re pregnant
- Your pain started within a week of abdominal surgery
- Your pain started after a procedure in your stomach area, like an endoscopy
- You have ever had surgery on your digestive tract, like a gastric bypass, colostomy, or bowel resection
- Your pain started shortly after an abdominal trauma
- Your abdomen is bruised or rapidly expanding
- Excessive vaginal bleeding, or blood clots and bleeding longer than usual
- You have rectal bleeding, or tarry-looking or bloody stool
Upper Abdominal Pain Between The Ribcage
If you develop an aching or stabbing pain or pressure in the upper abdominal area just under the ribs, this may indicate a heart-related problem. Physicians say this pain is often accompanied by shortness of breath and is concerning if the pain persists. People often assume this type of pain is indigestion, and while that may be the case, anyone with risk factors such as diabetes or hypertension should see a doctor as soon as possible.
If you do struggle with acid reflux, it may be time to talk to a gastroenterologist. They can help you manage your symptoms through medications, lifestyle changes and diet.
Duration Of Abdominal Pain
Abdominal pain can be brief or long-lasting, depending on its underlying cause. It can be ongoing or recurring, coming and going at what seem like random intervals or with certain activities or behaviors.
How long your abdominal pain lasts, or whether it comes and goes, doesnt necessarily correspond to how severe the underlying condition is.
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Other Causes Of Abdominal Pain
Abdominal pain can also be caused by problems in body systems other than the digestive tract including:
- Abdominal trauma: Damage of the organs or blood vessels within the abdomen can result in internal bleeding, even if there is no sign of trauma from the outside. Always seek professional medical care after an accident or injury from blunt force or an explosion to rule out internal damage.
- Abdominal tumor or mass: Ranging from a simple cyst to cancer, an abdominal mass causing pain and other symptoms requires prompt medical attention to diagnose and treat the problem.
- Endometriosis: A condition in which the uterine lining grows abnormally outside the uterus. Symptoms include lower back and abdominal pain during and after your period, cramps, fatigue, and heavy bleeding. Medication can help relieve endometriosis symptoms surgery is necessary in some cases.
- Hernia: A painful lump is one sign of an abdominal hernia. A hernia causing problems in the lower abdomen is usually an inguinal hernia. A painful hernia may involve surgical repair.
- Kidney disease: Symptoms vary widely depending on the cause kidney stone pain is usually severe and felt in the side of the abdomen and moves into the lower abdomen and groin. Treatment also depends on the cause.
- Medication side effect: Examples include anti-cancer drugs, antibiotics, and sodium phosphate.
How Is Abdominal Pain Diagnosed
Your healthcare provider will ask you detailed questions about your pain. Theyll want to know:
- Where you feel it.
- How long youve had it.
- If it comes and goes.
- If its getting worse.
- If it stays in one place or moves.
- What makes it better or worse.
- What other symptoms you have.
From your answers, your healthcare provider will try to determine if you need emergency treatment. Sometimes your healthcare provider will be able to tell right away that your pain is temporary and not serious. Sometimes they may suspect a more serious condition and may want to run some tests. And sometimes they wont be able to solve the mystery on the first visit. Your pain may subside, or you may have to return for further investigation.
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Signs And Symptoms That Warrant A Trip To Your Healthcare Provider Or The Er
Stomach pain can have many causes. Most of them aren’t serious, but some are, and you need to be able to recognize the warning signs.
If you rest, avoid certain foods, take medication, or use a heating pad, you may get relief from some kinds of pain. For others, you may need urgent medical care.
This article offers some at-home remedies, but also presents symptoms that mean you should contact your healthcare provider. It also explains why some symptoms point to a true emergency.
Verywell / JR Bee
Too Much Sugarless Gum
If you consume too much sorbitol, which is found in some sugar-free products, it can cause pain and diarrhea. According to a 2008 article in BMJ, a 21-year-old woman had an 11-pound weight loss, abdominal pain, and diarrhea from chewing about 16 sticks of gum a day.
A 46-year-old man had similar symptoms after chewing about 20 sticks of sugarless gum and eating sorbitol-containing sweets daily. “Sorbitol goes into your GI tract and since your body can’t absorb it, it gets to the bacteria in your colon, which eat it and produce gas and fluids that contribute to diarrhea,” explains Dr. Raymond.
To fix the problem, cut back on the amount of sugarless gum you chew.
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Causes Of Acute Stomach Pain
- Eating Too Much. Eating too much can cause an upset stomach and mild stomach pain.
- Hunger Pains. Younger children may complain of stomach pain when they are hungry.
- GI Virus . A GI virus can cause stomach cramps as well as vomiting and/or diarrhea.
- Food Poisoning. This causes sudden vomiting and/or diarrhea within hours after eating the bad food. It is caused by toxins from germs growing in foods left out too long. Most often, symptoms go away in less than 24 hours. It often can be treated at home without the need for medical care.
- Constipation. The need to pass a stool may cause cramps in the lower abdomen.
- Strep Throat. A strep throat infection causes 10% of new onset stomach pain with fever.
- Bladder Infection. Bladder infections usually present with painful urination, urgency and bad smelling urine. Sometimes the only symptom is pain in the lower abdomen.
- Appendicitis . Suspect appendicitis if pain is low on the right side and walks bent over. Other signs are the child won’t hop and wants to lie still.
- Intussusception . Sudden attacks of severe pain that switch back and forth with periods of calm. Caused by one segment of bowel telescoping into a lower piece of bowel. Peak age is 6 months to 2 years.
Sudden Stomach Cramps With Diarrhoea
If your stomach cramps have started recently and you also have diarrhoea, the cause may be a tummy bug . This means you have a viral or bacterial infection of the stomach and bowel. It should get better without treatment after a few days.
Gastroenteritis may be caused by:
- coming into close contact with someone who’s infected
- eating contaminated food
If you have repeated bouts of stomach cramps and diarrhoea, you may have a long-term condition, such as irritable bowel syndrome .
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Causes Of Abdominal Pain And Diarrhea In Children
Like adults, children often experience abdominal pain and diarrhea because of stomach flu, infections, food allergies, lactose intolerance, or stress. But eating too much can also cause these symptoms.
Some children may have trouble telling the difference between when theyre hungry and when theyre full. This can cause them to overeat. Overeating puts stress on the digestive system, which can cause abdominal pain and diarrhea.
When Should I See My Doctor
In some cases, you should seek urgent medical attention or consult a doctor if you have abdominal pain.
If you have a sudden, severe, incapacitating pain in your abdomen, go immediately to your nearest emergency department or call triple zero and ask for an ambulance.
You should also seek urgent medical attention if you have pain that:
- is severe and/or getting worse
- has lasted for several hours or more
- wakes you from sleep
- is spreading to your neck, chest or shoulders
- makes it difficult to swallow
Urgent medical attention is also required if you have abdominal pain accompanied by
- unexplained weight loss
- skin that appears yellow
If you are experiencing pain high up in your abdomen that is made worse by exercise it could be angina or a heart attack. If you, or someone near you is experiencing symptoms of a heart attack, call triple zero immediately and ask for an ambulance.
If you are pregnant and experiencing abdominal pain, check with your doctor or midwife. Abdominal pains are common in pregnancy, but should always be checked out.
If your abdominal pain does not match the situations above, but it is recurrent or persistent , or it started mild but is worsening, you should still consult a doctor.
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Severe Acute Pain In The Lower Right Side Of The Abdomen
Sudden pain in the lower part of the abdomen may be a sign of appendicitis. It may also be accompanied by a fever. Pain often begins around the belly button area and becomes worse with time. Vomiting or constipation or diarrhea along with the pain also indicate it’s time to go to the emergency room.
Appendicitis mostly affects kids and teens between the ages of 5 and 20. While there are many digestive health issues that can cause stomach pain in kids, it’s important to talk to your child’s doctor immediately if you suspect appendicitis – especially if the pain comes on suddenly over several hours or is persistent. Appendicitis often requires surgery. If left untreated, a ruptured appendix can be deadly.
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In addition, many of the underlying conditions that cause abdominal pain can lead to serious complications, including the possibility of structural damage to the digestive system from infection, cancer and its treatments, and inflammatory bowel disease .
To reduce the risk of complications, its important to seek medical attention for your abdominal pain if its sudden and severe, or if it includes symptoms like fever, bloody stool, weight loss, nausea and vomiting, or visible swelling.
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What The Doctor Does
Doctors first ask questions about the person’s symptoms and medical history. Doctors then do a physical examination. What they find during the history and physical examination often suggests a cause of the pain and the tests that may need to be done .
Doctors ask particularly about activities that relieve or worsen the pain. Whether the pain or other digestive upset occurs after eating or drinking dairy products is important because lactose intolerance is common, especially among Black, Hispanic, Asian , and American Indian people. Doctors also ask about other symptoms , about diet, and about any surgery involving the abdomen, drugs used, and previous tests and treatments for the pain. Whether any family members have disorders that cause abdominal pain is also important.
Doctors also ask about a person’s diet because ingesting large amounts of cola beverages, fruit juices , or gas-producing foods can sometimes be the cause of otherwise puzzling abdominal pain.
Between the initial visit and follow-up visits, people are often asked to record information about the pain, bowel movements, diet, any activities that seem to trigger pain, any remedies tried, and the effects of the remedies.