Abdominal Pain (Causes, Remedies, Treatment)

  • Medical Author:
    Jay W. Marks, MD

    Jay W. Marks, MD, is a board-certified internist and gastroenterologist. He graduated from Yale University School of Medicine and trained in internal medicine and gastroenterology at UCLA/Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles.

  • Medical Author: Charles Patrick Davis, MD, PhD
    Charles Patrick Davis, MD, PhD

    Dr. Charles "Pat" Davis, MD, PhD, is a board certified Emergency Medicine doctor who currently practices as a consultant and staff member for hospitals. He has a PhD in Microbiology (UT at Austin), and the MD (Univ. Texas Medical Branch, Galveston). He is a Clinical Professor (retired) in the Division of Emergency Medicine, UT Health Science Center at San Antonio, and has been the Chief of Emergency Medicine at UT Medical Branch and at UTHSCSA with over 250 publications.

  • Medical Editor: Bhupinder S. Anand, MBBS, MD, DPHIL (OXON)
    Bhupinder S. Anand, MBBS, MD, DPHIL (OXON)

    Bhupinder S. Anand, MBBS, MD, DPHIL (OXON)

    Dr. Anand received MBBS degree from Medical College Amritsar, University of Punjab. He completed his Internal Medicine residency at the Postgraduate Institute of medical Education and Research, Chandigarh, India. He was trained in the field of Gastroenterology and obtained the DPhil degree. Dr. Anand is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Gastroenterology.

Abdominal Pain Causes

Abdominal pain is a common symptom, and most people have experienced some sort of abdominal pain (belly or stomach pain). Causes of more serious causes of abdominal pain include:

  • Bloody stools
  • Black tarry stools
  • Dehydration
  • Painful urination
  • Lack of urination
  • Abrupt cessation of bowel movements
  • Dehydration

Quick GuideWhat's Causing Your Abdominal Pain?

What's Causing Your Abdominal Pain?

Abdominal pain definition and facts

  • Abdominal (belly) pain is pain or discomfort that is felt in the part of the trunk below the ribs and above the pelvis.
  • It comes from organs within the abdomen or organs adjacent to the belly.
  • It is caused by inflammation, distention of an organ, or by loss of the blood supply to an organ.
  • In irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) it may be caused by contraction of the intestinal muscles or hyper-sensitivity to normal intestinal activities.
  • Symptoms associated with it may include:
  • The cause of abdominal pain is diagnosed on the basis of its characteristics of the, physical examination, and testing. Occasionally, surgery is necessary for diagnosis.
  • The medical diagnosis of the cause is challenging because the characteristics may be atypical, tests are not always abnormal, diseases causing pain may mimic each other, and the characteristics may change over time.
  • Medical treatment depends upon the patient’s history of disease or other health conditions that may be the cause.

What is abdominal pain?

Abdominal pain is felt in the abdomen. The abdomen is an anatomical area that is bounded by the lower margin of the ribs and diaphragm above, the pelvic bone (pubic ramus) below, and the flanks on each side. Although pain can arise from the tissues of the abdominal wall that surround the abdominal cavity (such as the skin and muscles), the term abdominal pain generally is used to describe discomfort originating from organs within the abdominal cavity. Organs of the abdomen include the stomach, small intestine, colon, liver, gallbladder, spleen, and pancreas.

Technically, the lowermost portion of the area described previously, is the pelvis, which contains the urinary bladder and rectum, as well as the prostate gland in men, and the uterus, Fallopian tubes, and ovaries in women. Often, it can be difficult to know if lower abdominal pain is coming from the lower abdomen or pelvis (pelvic pain).

Occasionally, pain may be felt in the belly even though it is arising from organs that are close to, but not within, the abdominal cavity, for example, conditions of the lower lungs, the kidneys, and the uterus or ovaries. On the other hand, it also is possible for pain from organs within the belly to be felt outside of the it. For example, the pain of pancreatic inflammation may be felt in the back. These latter types of pain are described as "referred” because it does not originate in the location that it is felt. Rather, the cause is located away from where it is felt (i.e., it is referred to a different area).

Picture of the organs and glands in the abdomen.

Picture of the organs and glands in the abdomen

What causes 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, however, abdominal pain also can occur without inflammation, distention or loss of blood supply. An important example of the latter is the irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). It is not clear what causes the belly pain in IBS, but it is believed to be due either to abnormal contractions of the intestinal muscles (for example, spasm) or abnormally sensitive nerves within the intestines that give rise to painful sensations inappropriately (visceral hyper-sensitivity). This often is referred to as functional pain because no recognizable specific abnormality to account for the cause has been found - at least not yet.

Reviewed on 2/27/2017
References
REFERENCES:

Kasper, D.L., et al., eds. Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine, 19th Ed. United States: McGraw-Hill Education, 2015.

Penner, RB., MD. et al. "Evaluation of the adult with abodminal pain." UptoDate. Updated: Feb 22, 2016.
<http://www.uptodate.com/contents/evaluation-of-the-adult-with-abdominal-pain> IMAGES:

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