What is abdominal pain?
Abdominal pain occurs in the abdomen, the central part of the body that extends from the chest to the pelvis. You may call it your belly, stomach or tummy. It is the part of the body that contains the body’s digestive system and other important organs. When you have pain in any of these areas it is called abdominal pain. The abdomen contains the following organs:
- Small intestine
- Large intestine
There are many types of abdominal pain.
As you can see from the long list of organs in the abdomen, there can be many sources of pain. There are also different types of pain that a person can feel radiating from the abdomen. These types of pain include:
- Inflammation of the tissues covering the organs or of the organs themselves.
- Upset stomach or indigestion.
- Nausea and vomiting.
- Acid reflux and heartburn.
- Swelling and bloating.
- Severe pain.
As a general rule of thumb, if you experiencing sharp or burning pain you should see your doctor or go to the emergency room immediately. If you experience any type of abdominal discomfort for several days in a row, you should see your doctor. Pain indicates that something is wrong in the abdomen and a doctor can diagnose the source of the pain in order to treat it and alleviate the symptoms.
What are the causes of abdominal pain?
Abdominal pain can be caused by many things including eating the wrong thing, not drinking enough water, failure to go to the bathroom every day, or disease and illness that prevents the organs in that area of the body from functioning properly. Abdominal pain can be caused by different things for each individual, however, here are some of the most common causes of abdominal pain:
- Abdominal aortic aneurysm: This occurs when part of the wall of the aorta becomes week and it swells like a balloon. This usually develops over many years. But if the aneurysm grows big enough it can burst, which can be fatal.
- Abdominal hernia: When a weak spot or gap in the lining of the abdomen allows a section of the intestine to protrude it is called a hernia which will cause pain.
- Appendicitis: When the appendix becomes inflamed or bursts, it will cause severe pain and must be removed surgically.
- Cholecystitis: This is the clinical name for inflammation of the gallbladder. It will cause severe pain on the right-side of the abdomen where the gallbladder is located. Sometimes the pain is caused when a gallstone moves into the narrow tube (called a duct) connecting the gallbladder and gets stuck.
- Constipation: This condition is caused when a person has three or less bowel movements each week. It can cause swelling, bloating and pain.
- Gastritis: This is the clinical name for inflammation in the stomach.
- Hepatitis: This viral infection can cause the liver to become inflamed. Adults should be checked for Hepatitis C.
- Intestinal obstruction: When an area of the small or large intestine becomes blocked it causes swelling, vomiting and pain.
- Pancreatitis: This occurs when the pancreas becomes inflamed. It can cause sharp pain.
- Peptic ulcer disease: Ulcers are places inside the stomach that have become eroded by stomach acid. They cause discomfort, bloating and pain.
- Peritonitis:If an abdominal organ becomes infected or ruptures, the covering of the organs can become inflamed. This may cause the tissues to become rigid and cause severe pain.
When should I contact my doctor?
You should always contact your doctor if you have had abdominal discomfort for several days. If something doesn’t feel right, don’t hesitate to call your doctor. Other reasons to call your doctor and report abdominal pain include the following:
- Sharp pain: This could indicate swelling or that something is wrong with one of the organs in the abdomen. It may indicate that a gall stone has become lodged in a duct of the gallbladder or that your intestine has an obstruction. All of these conditions should receive immediate medical care.
- Blood: If you see blood in your urine or stool, call your doctor immediately. It could be a sign that something is wrong with one of your organs or that you have an infection.
- Abdominal pain with fever: A fever is your body’s way of fighting infection. If you have abdominal pain and a fever call your doctor.
- Heartburn or acid reflux: If you experience heartburn or acid after eating something outside your normal daily diet, like spicy or high-fat foods, heartburn may your be your body’s way of coping with the meal. However, if you have heartburn or acid reflux every time you eat, call your doctor.
- Nausea and vomiting: We all get sick from time to time and that may cause nausea and vomiting. However, it should not last more than a couple of days. If it does, call your doctor. There may be another illness or problem in your abdomen that needs to be diagnosed.
In general, if you do not feel like yourself or you have nagging aches and pains see your doctor. An examination and diagnosis of what is causing your discomfort may prevent bigger problems in the future.
How will my doctor treat abdominal pain?
First your doctor will conduct a physical exam and then order the proper diagnostic tests. The facts gathered during this process will help the doctor to diagnose what is causing the pain and develop an appropriate treatment plan. Diagnostic tests can include the following:
- Upper endoscopy: This test is usually conducted while the patient is asleep. A flexible tube (scope) that has a camera on the end is inserted through the patient’s mouth and used to diagnose issues in the upper part of the intestine.
- Lower endoscopy: This is also called a colonoscopy. A scope exams the colon to identify any cancerous places, called polyps, or bleeding in the colon.
- X-ray: Your doctor may order an x-ray to see the organs in the abdomen and determine if there is an obstruction that is causing the pain.
- CT scan: A CT scan can look for abnormal conditions in the abdomen including a swollen or burst appendix and some types of cancer.
- MRI scan: Sometimes MRI imaging can see more than a CT scan depending upon the position in the abdomen of the organ the doctor wants to check. It provides highly detailed images of the organs in the abdomen including the liver and the pancreas.
- Ultrasound: An ultrasound bounces high-frequency sound waves off organs in the abdomen, producing images that can be seen on a screen in the examination room.
- Upper GI series: For this diagnostic test, a patient swallows a solution called barium that shows up on the x-ray. Then x-rays are taken of the esophagus and the stomach. This test can detect ulcers and other causes of abdominal pain.
- Biopsy: The doctor removes a small piece of tissue of the organ in question to help diagnose problems, especially of the liver or suspected cancerous tissues.
Depending upon what the doctor finds, there are many treatments for abdominal pain. The treatment depends upon the individual’s medical history, the diagnosis and the severity of the pain. Generally speaking, treatments for abdominal pain can include the following:
- Abdominal surgery: Sometimes the cause of abdominal pain can be treated through surgery only. Surgery can be laparoscopic that is conducted through several tiny incisions in the abdomen, or open surgery that is conducted through one large incision. They type of surgery that is conducted depends upon what needs to be done. Surgery is necessary to remove an appendix, treat colon or stomach cancer, emergency treatment for an aneurysm and other conditions.
- Histamine (H2) blockers: These are used to treat acid reflux and other types of abdominal pain and discomfort caused by excess acid production.
- Proton pump inhibitors: These prescription medications are used to decrease acid production.
- Endoscopy: This procedure can be used to treat bleeding or some types of cancer in the upper and/or lower intestine.
- Motility medications: These prescription medications improve the function of the stomach and intestines as they contract to process food. They are used to improve constipation and other intestinal problems.
- Antibiotics: Common infections of the stomach, called H. pylori infection, can be treated successfully with antibiotics.
- Laxatives: These medications can be purchased over-the-counter or prescribed by your doctor. They are used to treat constipation.
How can I prevent abdominal pain?
Preventing abdominal pain is different for every individual. It depends on your general health, your family history and whether or not you are prone to certain abdominal conditions and diseases. However, there are several general rules that everyone can follow to encourage abdominal health and prevent abdominal pain.
- Keep your intestines healthy by eating more fruits and vegetables, whole grains and beans if you can tolerate them. Avoid fast food and high-fat food. A diet like this will help your intestines to work well and will help to avoid constipation as well.
- Eat slowly. Chew your food well and give your intestines a chance to digest your food well.
- Unless you are lactose intolerant, eat yogurt that lists “live and active cultures” on the label. This yogurt introduces good bacteria into your intestines to help it digest food.
- Drink water. Our bodies need water to function and it helps your intestines to work well.
- If you are prone to bloating, eat as little salt as possible. Avoid foods that are known to cause excess gas in the body including beans, broccoli and cauliflower.
- If you experience heartburn or acid reflux, avoid spicy foods, drinking alcohol, smoking and eating late at night. Ask your doctor about taking antacids.
A healthy body will help you avoid abdominal pain. If your pain is caused by illness or disease, consult with your doctor regularly in order to treat it and prevent it from getting worse.
If you experience abdominal pain you can find fast treatment at AG Urgent Care. Whether the pain comes on suddenly or has been present for several days, we offer walk-in urgent care in Brooklyn so you can be seen by a doctor quickly. We offer a wide range of treatment services. Once the cause of your abdominal pain has been diagnosed, our physicians and nutritionists will develop a treatment plan that will address the cause and manage the symptoms. When you receive treatment for abdominal pain in our Brooklyn urgent care clinics, you can be assured that you are receiving expert care that will put your abdominal pain to rest.