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Almost every one of us have had abdominal pain at some point. It is a common symptom associated with number of disorders, generally of the digestive tract. But how would you know when your abdominal pain is not a simple case of indigestion?
Your doctor will determine the cause of abdominal pain based on other symptoms you may be experiencing along with abdominal pain, and the type of pain you are experiencing. The location and duration of the pain could also be the clue to finding the cause of your abdominal pain.
Gas Sharp, stabbing pains that can occur anywhere in the abdomen, bloating, burping or passing gas. The pain can shift quickly from one location to another in the abdomen. It may disappear as quickly as it came.
Constipation Crampy pain in the lower abdomen, incomplete bowel movement and hard lumpy stool, bloating are all signs of constipation.
Food allergy Recurrent abdominal pain or cramps when you consume a particular food are the main symptoms of food allergy. Other symptoms include bloating, vomiting, diarrhoea, and heartburn. Sometimes the whole body is affected, not just the stomach. You may get a itchy rash, or have difficulty breathing and / or chest pain. In some people, blood pressure drops suddenly. Get medical help quickly. Similar type of abdominal cramps can be caused by food poisoning.You may get abdominal cramps if you are lactose intolerant and accidentally ingested milk or milk products in any form.
Stomach virus You can feel the pain in more than half of your abdomen, that is, it is not localized at one point. Along with the stomach pain you may get nausea, vomiting and diarrhoea. Some people may also have swollen lymph glands and fever.
Menstrual periods Some women have painful menstrual periods. It is a sharp crampy lower abdominal pain that comes and goes. The pain sometimes extends to the back as well.
Urinary tract infection The pain is usually in the form of pressure or cramping in the lower abdomen and sometimes in the back. Other signs of the disease are cloudy or bloody urine, foul smelling urine, the urge to urinate frequently, fever, chills, and fatigue if the kidney is also affected.
Sometimes, the cause of your abdominal pain may not be so mild. A few of them are discussed here.
Peptic ulcer: A burning pain in the abdominal region is a major symptom of peptic ulcer, that is, sore in the lining of the oesophagus, stomach or upper portion of the small intestine. The pain can be felt anywhere from the navel to the breastbone. The pain is aggravated when the digestive acids come in contact with the ulcer, which is normally the case when your stomach is empty. Vomiting of blood or black stools or dark blood in the stools is a severe sign of the disease and needs prompt medical attention.
Hernia: A hernia is a protrusion of an organ or fatty tissue attached to the organ through the portion of the weakened wall of the cavity that contains the organ. Abdominal hernia are by far the most commonly found hernia. People born with weak abdominal muscles are more likely to develop hernia. Although the true cause of hernia is not yet known, it is generally believed that straining while passing stool, heavy lifting, or pressure on the abdomen while coughing and sneezing can cause hernia. Previous surgeries that cut the abdominal muscles can also cause hernia. Interestingly, researchers believe that lifting heavy objects don t lead to hernia, rather, the existing hernia becomes more obvious while straining. Whatever, but the fact remains that hernia causes abdominal pain. The pain can vary and according to laparoendoscopic surgeons only a small percentage of patients with inguinal or abdominal wall hernias present with acute abdominal pain.
Gallstones: Gallstones are solid cholesterol or pigment particles that form in the gall bladder. What causes gall stones? Factors range from obesity, higher levels of oestrogen, cholesterol drugs, diabetes, or even if you are trying to lose weight rapidly to genetics. Abdominal pain, nausea and vomiting are the main symptoms of gallstones. The pain begins in the upper abdomen and radiates to upper back and lasts several hours. Treatment is usually surgery to take out the gall bladder.
Kidney stones: You start experiencing symptoms only when the stone moves within the kidney or passes into the ureter. The pain is severe in the sides below the ribs and back, spreading to the lower abdomen and groin. The pain usually occurs in waves and fluctuates in intensity. Along with this pain you may experience pain while urinating. The urine is foul smelling and could be red or brown in colour. Nausea and vomiting are other typical symptoms of kidney stone. (Read: 10 simple ways to prevent kidney stones)
Endometriosis: Endometriosis is a disorder in which the inner lining of the uterus grows outside the uterus causing severe pain during periods. The pain starts in the pelvic region days before and well into the menstruation period, and may also include abdominal pain. You may experience pain with bowel movements and urination during your periods. Fatigue, diarrhoea, bloating, and nausea are other symptoms of the disorder. (Read: Endometriosis in women facts you ought to know)
Crohn s disease: Crohn s disease is actually a chronic form of Inflammatory Bowel Disease, in which the lower part of the small intestine or the upper part of the large intestine develops ulcers. Ulcers can however develop anywhere in the digestive tract as well. Those with Crohn s disease experience severe cramps in the belly area. Other symptoms may include low grade fever, nausea and vomiting. It is not yet known what causes Crohn s disease. Researchers from MM Institute of Medical Sciences and Research, Ambala, believe that abdominal pain occurs because of involvement of intestine, blood stained diarrhoea and anaemia. They also point out that there is no gold standard for diagnosing Crohn s disease. This may be a good reason not to ignore your abdominal pain. Check with your doctor if you have abdominal pain lasting 4-5 days.
Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD): GERD or in simple terms acid reflux is such a common problem that you may not give it a second thought. But the gnawing upper abdominal pain, constricting throat, and burning hiccups can cause abject misery. Other symptoms may include chest pain, pain that sets in right after a meal, bitter taste in the mouth, sore throat, and nausea. In some people, nausea may be the only manifestation of acid reflux. Get the disease treated because untreated chronic gastroesophageal reflux disease can lead to serious complications, including oesophageal cancer, according to the University of Michigan Health System.
Appendicitis: Although the appendix doesn t seem to have a specific purpose in the human body, when it is inflamed it gets ugly. Appendicitis (inflammation of the appendix) causes pain in the lower right side of your abdomen since that is where the appendix is located. The pain however starts in the navel region in many and moves to the right side of the abdomen. Pain worsens with jerky movement and becomes severe as inflammation worsens. Nausea, vomiting, constipation or diarrhoea, loss of appetite and low grade fever are other symptoms of appendicitis.
Pancreatic cancer: A dull ache in the mid-abdominal region is often one of the first symptoms of pancreatic cancer. Over time the pain radiates through the abdomen to the back. The pain may come and go. Other symptoms include bloating, nausea, vomiting, light stool colour, itching, and enlarged lymph nodes in the neck. Unfortunately, symptoms develop only after the cancer has grown and begins to spread. This makes it difficult to treat.
This is by no means an exhaustive list of diseases / disorders causing abdominal pain. Seek immediate medical attention if along with the abdominal pain you have shortness of breath or vomit blood or pass bloody stools.
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Intelihealth.com, (2015). Lifting the myth off Hernias. Available at: http://www.intelihealth.com/print-article/lifting-the-myth-off-hernias.
Kavic, M. (2005). Hernias as a Source of Abdominal Pain: A Matter of Concern to General Surgeons, Gynecologists, and Urologists. JSLS : Journal of the Society of Laparoendoscopic Surgeons, 9(3), p.249.
Gupta, M., Goyal, S. and Goyal, R. (2011). Crohn's disease presenting as acute abdomen: Report of two cases. North Am J Med Sci, pp.209-211.
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