Abdominal pain is a very broad term that can describe a symptom of many different conditions. Most causes of abdominal pain aren’t serious (indigestion or menstrual cramps), but other conditions may require medical attention. Therefore, it is important to be able to determine when your abdominal pain might be due to something more serious.
The most common causes for abdominal pain are generally not something that medical attention will be able to help. These include: indigestion, constipation, stomach flu, menstrual cramps, food poisoning, food allergies, gas, and lactose intolerance. However, there are other common causes for abdominal pain that require a trip to the doctor, such as ulcers, hernia, kidney stones, Crohn’s disease, and urinary tract infections.
There are many factors that can help determine the cause of your pain, including the location, the severity, and other symptoms that accompany your abdominal pain. In general though, being able to locate the specific area of your pain can be helpful in assessing what might be causing it.
Generalized Abdominal Pain
Pain that is generalized and not really focused in any specific area of the abdomen can be commonly caused by:
- Diabetic ketoacidosis
- Lead poisoning
- Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
- Urinary tract infection
- Viral gastroenteritis (inflammation in the stomach)
- Muscle injury
- Obstruction of the intestines
Lower Abdominal Pain
Pain that is located in the lower abdomen and is sometimes described as pelvic pain. It could be caused by:
- Ovarian cysts
- Inflammation of the fallopian tubes (salpingitis)
- Infection of the female reproductive organs (pelvic inflammatory disease)
- Obstruction of the intestines
- Problem or infection in the cervix
- Inflammation of the bladder (cystitis)
Upper Abdominal Pain
- Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
- Peptic ulcer
- Angina (reduced blood flow to the heart)
- Thoracic aortic aneurysm
- Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma
- Heart attack
- Inflammation of the gallbladder
These conditions range from mild to severe, so the severity of your pain and other symptoms would definitely factor into the likelihood of these conditions being present.
Diagnosing Abdominal Pain
In order for your doctor to be able to know what exactly is causing your abdominal pain, both questions and tests may be necessary. Usually, your doctor will ask you several questions and perform a basic physical examination in order to determine how serious the pain is. Then, if further tests are needed, your doctor might perform or order the following exams:
- Rectal exam: This is to check for any hidden blood or other problems
- Blood test: This is to test for any infections that might be present, as well as enzymes in the liver, pancreas, and heart to see which organ might be involved.
- Urine test: This would test for blood or infections, such as a kidney stone.
- Pelvic exam for women: This is to check for problems in the uterus, fallopian tubes, and ovaries.
- Electrical tracing of the heart (ECG): This is to rule out a heart attack.
- Endoscopy: This would be to examine internal organs without surgery using a flexible tube with a light and camera attached.