Abdominal pain is a description loosely assigned to any discomfort felt in the region of the abdomen, usually ranging from the chest to the pelvis, and can occur as a result of multiple causes, but manifests differently from person-to-person.
Often times, abdominal pain can actually be referred pain, which is one that is caused at a different location, but felt in an area separate from its origin. While there are many causes of abdominal pain, often times it is associated with trivial matters, and resolve on its own or with minimal intervention.
Causes of Abdominal Pain
The abdomen contains several organs within it, which as you may guess, means that the origin of abdominal pain can be extremely diverse. Many persons believe that all abdominal pain is indicative of a stomach condition, when in reality this is not so.
However, broadly classifying the causes can narrow them down to four categories:
Pain as a Result of Inflammation
This includes inflammation of various organ systems, and may manifest as colitis, appendicitis, hepatitis or gastritis to name a few.
Impaired Blood Flow
Ischemic colitis occurs when blood flow to the colon is interrupted, causing pain and sometimes necrosis of tissue of this organ.
This occurs when an organ is blocked/obstructed, protrudes out of the normal cavity, and may become swollen secondarily to another cause. Gallstones, for instance, may block bile ducts, ingestion of an indigestible substance may cause intestinal obstruction, or ascites that affects the normal fluid balance within the abdomen are all associated with abdominal pain.
These causes include those that do not fall into another clear-cut category, such as cramping or spasms, bloating and gas, or even low-grade food allergies. These all may cause abdominal pain as well, but do not fit the signs recognizable of the aforementioned specific categories.
Associated Symptoms of Abdominal Pain
Abdominal pain is merely a rough blanket description of any discomfort felt within the abdominal region, and as expected, is not sufficient to properly arrive at a diagnosis in your physician’s office or hospital.
There are several more specific manifestations of abdominal pain, which determine treatment options and overall approach of how you deal with the pain. Commonly associated symptoms include:
Abdominal pain may occur localized in one area, or generalized throughout the entire region of the abdomen. For instance, pain associated with appendicitis usually originates around your belly button, but intensifies in the lower right quadrant of your abdomen.
In contrast, gallstones are felt in the upper right abdominal region, making it important to try to be as accurate as possible when explaining your symptoms your doctor.
Again, in association with the location of the pain, is overall pattern. For example, pain associated with gallstones causes consistent pain that can last for hours without relief.
On the other hand, pain associated with acid reflux is sharp and stabbing, and may be relieved when changing position or after consumption of antacids.
Fever that occurs with pain usually indicates an infection, but could also be due the excessive recruitment of inflammatory markers to the origin site of discomfort.
Diarrhea with constant pain may indicate inflammation along the intestines, or a bacterial infection.
If abdominal pain awakens you in the middle of sleep, chances are it is acute in nature and may require investigation (such as appendicitis).
Usually indicates inflammation of the colon (large intestine), though the color plays an important role as well. Black, tarry stools indicate bleeding in the upper digestive tract, such as the stomach, whereas fresh red blood indicates lower intestinal bleeding.
Abdominal pain with constipation that persists for several days usually indicates an intestinal obstruction, a condition that requires immediate hospitalization.
Tenderness In The Abdominal Region
Certain areas of the abdomen may be very tender to touch, and may indicate inflammation of an organ. If pain worsens or a fever subsequently develops it is important to get to a hospital immediately as it may indicate a medical emergency.
Rarely, abdominal pain may be referred from pain originating in the kidneys or bladder, usually as a result of a urinary tract infection. Be sure to rule out kidney stones in order to sufficiently relieve the discomfort.
Treatment of Abdominal Pain
The approaches taken to treat abdominal pain can vary significantly, owing to the fact that the underlying cause requires different treatment modalities.
If your pain can be considered transient, or one that you have experienced intermittently before, often times your physician or pharmacist will take the natural route of treatment, such as recommending the following:
- Using ginger – ginger is an antiemetic and antispasmodic, helping to treat pain as a result of these causes.
- Peppermint – peppermint is extremely effective in reducing bloating, helping small gas bubbles coalesce into larger ones that can easily be passed. Peppermint also possesses its own antispasmodic action.
- Baking soda – this helps to neutralize excessive acidity that may be contributing to your stomach pain.
- Eating smaller meals – if you have a condition that causes delayed gastric emptying, feelings of nausea with frequently occur. By reducing the size of your meals, emptying is done at a more efficient rate. You can in turn, compensate by having a larger amount of smaller meals (or increasing meal frequency). Consumption of food also eases the pain caused by gastric ulcers, making smaller meals a great idea for use as a diagnostic tool as well.
A few options are available for purchase over-the-counter to treat mild instances of stomach pain, though most of these relate to gastric acidity as a cause. This is because many other sources of the pain require medical attention, or further investigation.
A few available options include:
- Ranitidine – this reduces the production of gastric acid
- Hyoscine – this is an antispasmodic that can help relieve pain from multiple causes, especially when smooth muscle cramping is involved.
- Herbal remedies – these encompass a wide range of substances, some of which may treat gas and bloating, to others that may claim to help remedy kidney stones. Be sure to consult your pharmacist to investigate possible drug interactions before self-medicating with these.
Medication is often prescribed after a positive diagnosis has been made, or when your physician reasonably suspects that a condition may be underway. A few commonly prescribed medication to help treat abdominal pain include –
- Corticosteroids – these are capable of treating multiple conditions that involve inflammatory pathways that may also result in pain.
- Antibiotics – these may be prescribed to eradicate pathogenic bacterial infections that contribute to the incidence of pain. For example, H. pylori infection in the stomach contributes greatly to the formation of ulcers which cause significant pain and discomfort.
- Analgesics – your physician may possibly prescribe prescription narcotic painkillers, usually pre-or post-operatively to surgery.
Acute abdominal pain can sometimes indicate an emergent situation that may require immediate surgery, such as in the case of appendicitis. Other chronic sources of pain, such as kidney stones can also be effectively relieved with surgery.
In Summary- Abdominal Pain
If you suddenly experience sharp abdominal pain, especially if it occurs with other symptoms, your best bet is to immediately visit your physician to help diagnose the cause.
Even though many persons attempt home remedies before going to a doctor, unless you are absolutely sure what you’re doing, it is better you forego this step.