Abdominal pain is one of the most frequent forms of pain among adults and children.
Intense abdominal pain can be as trivial as a belly ache, or may even be life-threatening. How do you know for certain if your abdominal pain is a symptom of a serious condition? After you experience abdominal distress, you should discuss it with your doctor and make an appointment for analysis. While visiting your doctor, these two questions are very helpful:
When Did the Pain Begin?
Unexpected, intense abdominal pain could be a sign from your body that something is seriously wrong. Dull, gradual pain is often an indication of a developing condition.
Where Is That the Pain Located?
There are several areas at intervals in the abdominal region. Identifying the origin of the pain will aid in discovering the cause. Acute pain on the lower right side of the abdomen can be from the appendix. Whereas pain on the lower left side may indicate diverticulitis, constipation, or a variety of different bowel issues.
Although this is not a comprehensive list, here are some common causes of abdominal pain:
UPPER ABDOMINAL PAIN
Gastrointestinal Reflux Disease (GERD)
Chronic acid reflux, also known as GERD, causes a painful, burning sensation within the higher abdomen and chest, and commonly into the throat. Symptoms also include a dry cough and difficulty swallowing. GERD is the aftermath from the loosening of the lower esophageal sphincter (LES), which is important to the passage of food and drink between the esophagus and stomach.
Treatment for GERD includes over-the-counter antacids, proton pump inhibitors (PPIs), and H2 blockers. You can manage symptoms by making certain lifestyle changes, such as consuming smaller meals and foods that won’t cause gastrointestinal distress, avoiding fatty or spicy foods, avoiding smoking, and maintaining a healthy weight.
Also referred to as gastric ulcers, are painful sores within the lining of the stomach. Ulcers can also develop within the small intestine and are often caused by:
- Overuse of nonsteroidal, anti-inflammatory medication like aspirin or ibuprofen
- Excess stomach acid from tumors referred to as gastrinomas
- Infection by the bacteria H. pylori
Besides abdominal pain, ulcers might cause issues such as heartburn, nausea, and bloating. Severe ulcers can cause bleeding, perforation, or obstruction from scar tissue accumulation. One of our board-certified gastroenterologists will diagnose ulcers by testing for the H. pylori microorganism, or through associate examination. If ulcers are caused by H. pylori, antibiotics are often administered for treatment. When the ulcer is not from bacteria, your doctor might suggest acid-blocking medication.
LOWER ABDOMINAL PAIN
This occurs when pouches develop within the wall of the colon and become inflamed. It’s unclear what causes diverticulitis, but it appears that a low-fiber diet may contribute to the condition. Symptoms of diverticulitis include pain on the left side of the abdomen, fever, chills, gas, constipation or diarrhea, nausea, and loss of appetite.
Many people notice relief with over-the-counter pain medication, antibiotics, and diet adjustments. For serious cases, surgery may also be necessary.
What Is Celiac Disease?
Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder that causes harm to the lining of the small intestine once foods containing gluten are consumed. Gluten is a type of protein that’s found in several grains. Once protein damages the intestinal lining, it’s tough for the body to absorb nutrients. Besides abdominal pain and bloating, celiac disease sufferers might experience symptoms such as severe skin rash, iron deficiency, diarrhea, weight loss, seizures, muscle cramps, joint pain, and mouth ulcers.
Blood tests are able to detect the presence of certain antibodies in individuals with celiac disease, as well as low iron levels. Your doctor may collect a stool sample to search for fat within the stool, since celiac sufferers absorb fats from food less effectively. Or, he/she may prefer to take a biopsy of the intestine to examine the for tissue harm. Once the patient switches to a gluten-free diet, full restoration of the intestinal lining is possible.
Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD)
Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis are possible causes of lower abdominal pain. Both conditions are inflammatory bowel diseases where the body’s immune system attacks the lining of the intestine. Other than abdominal pain, other symptoms can include diarrhea, bloody stool, fatigue, fever, malnutrition, and weight loss.
Endoscopy (an examination of the digestive tract with a skinny, flexible tube containing a camera) and specialized X-rays can diagnose inflammatory bowel disease. When managing IBD, steroids, and medicines that suppress the immune response are useful.
Colon cancer is the second leading cause of cancer-related death for both men and women in America. According to the American Cancer Society, about 150,000 individuals are diagnosed with colon cancer annually. It begins with little clumps of cells, referred to as polyps, that are typically benign at first. If those polyps are not removed during a colonoscopy, they may become cancerous.
Many people don’t notice symptoms of colon cancer until the illness is in advanced stages. Some symptoms related to colon cancer are:
- Abdominal pain
- Blood within the stool
- Change in bowel habits
- Unexplained weight loss
The best way to prevent and detect colon cancer is a colonoscopy. Utilizing a lighted tube, a gastroenterologist is able to examine the entire colon for abnormalities, and they can even remove polyps during the same procedure. All adults who are at average risk for colon cancer should screen for colon cancer at the age of fifty. Discuss your colon cancer risk with your doctor, and schedule your colonoscopy.
LOWER RIGHT ABDOMINAL PAIN
The appendix is a three and a half-inch tube of tissue connected to the large intestine. Appendicitis is inflammation of the appendix, and it’s quite common. About one in fifteen individuals get appendicitis; however, it can be fatal. If left untreated, an infected appendix will eventually burst and unleash infectious materials into the abdomen. Appendicitis usually begins with a dull pain close to the belly button, but the pain typically becomes sharper as it moves to the lower right abdomen. Other common symptoms include loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, low-grade fever, muscle tension, and resistance within the lower abdomen.
If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, call your doctor immediately. An appendectomy is a standard, low-risk procedure, but it is time-sensitive.
Get an Expert Opinion
Abdominal pain is a common symptom that needs a gastroenterologist’s expert opinion for proper diagnosis. If you are experiencing abdominal pain, do not ignore your symptoms. While reading a list of symptoms in a book or website may be helpful in suggesting certain conditions, it is not sufficient in identifying the cause. Set an appointment with your board-certified gastroenterologist today for guidance, testing, and diagnosis.