Abdominal Pain: What You Should Know

Abdominal pain is pain that occurs between the chest and pelvic regions. Abdominal pain can be crampy, achy, dull, intermittent or sharp. It’s also called a stomachache. Most causes of abdominal pain aren’t worrisome, and your doctor can easily diagnose and treat the problem. Sometimes, though, it can be a sign of a serious illness.

What are the Most Common Causes of Abdominal Pain?

Abdominal pain is caused by inflammation of an organ (for example, appendicitis, diverticulitis, colitis), by stretching or distention of an organ (for example, obstruction of the intestine, blockage of a bile duct by gallstones, swelling of the liver with hepatitis), or by loss of the supply of blood to an organ (for example, ischemic colitis).

To complicate matters, abdominal pain also can occur for unclear reasons without inflammation, distention, or loss of blood supply. An important example of this latter type of pain is the irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). These latter types of pain are often referred to as functional pain because no recognizable (visible) causes for the pain have been found.

How is the Cause of Abdominal Pain Diagnosed?

Doctors determine the cause of abdominal pain by relying on:

  1. Characteristics of the pain
  2. Physical examination
  3. Exams and tests (e.g. ultrasound)
  4. Surgery and endoscopy

 

What Relieves the Pain?

Over-the-Counter Medications

  • For gas pain, medicine that has the ingredient simethicone (Mylanta, Gas-X) can help get rid of it.
  • For heartburn from gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), try an antacid or acid reducer (Pepcid AC, Zantac 75).
  • For constipation, a mild stool softener or laxative may help get things moving again.
  • For cramping from diarrhea, medicines that have loperamide (Imodium) or bismuth subsalicylate (Kaopectate or Pepto-Bismol) might make you feel better.
  • For other types of pain, acetaminophen (Aspirin Free Anacin, Liquiprin, Panadol, Tylenol) might be helpful. But stay away from non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs) like aspirin, ibuprofen (Advil, Midol, Motrin), or naproxen (Naprosyn, Aleve, Anaprox, Naprelan). They can irritate your stomach.

When to See a Doctor

It’s time to get medical help if:

  • You have severe belly pain or the pain lasts several days
  • You have nausea and fever and can’t keep food down for several days
  • You have bloody stools
  • It hurts to pee
  • You have blood in your urine
  • You cannot pass stools, especially if you’re also vomiting
  • You had an injury to your belly in the days before the pain started
  • You have heartburn that doesn’t get better with over-the-counter drugs or lasts longer than 2 weeks