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.

Quick GuideWhat's Causing Your Abdominal Pain?

What's Causing Your Abdominal Pain?

How does IBS (irritable bowel syndrome) cause abdominal pain?

As previously mentioned, the discomfort of irritable bowel syndrome is due either to abnormal intestinal muscle contractions or visceral hypersensitivity. Generally, abnormal muscle contractions and visceral hypersensitivity are much more difficult to diagnose than other diseases or other health conditions, particularly since there are no typical abnormalities on physical examination or the usual diagnostic tests. The diagnosis is based on the history (typical symptoms) and the absence of other cause.

Foods, natural remedies, and OTC treatments for certain causes of abdominal pain

If you aren’t sure if you need to seek medical advice for belly pain, contact your doctor or other health care professional before using any home remedies.

Common home remedies and over-the-counter (OTC) medicines include:

  • Eat less food
  • Take small amounts of baking soda
  • Use lemon and/or lime juice
  • Start a BRAT diet (banana, rice, applesauce and toast) for a day or so for symptom relief.
  • Don’t smoke or drink alcohol.

Some health care professionals recommend:

Some of these may help reduce symptoms, but if symptoms persist, seek medical care. Beware of "cures" advertised as a single treatment that can cure all causes of this problem because no such remedy or cure exists.

Taking aspirin or NSAIDs should be avoided until the cause of the pain is diagnosed because the medications could make some causes worse (for example, peptic ulcers, intestinal bleeding).

Why can diagnosis of the cause of abdominal pain be difficult?

Modern advances in technology have greatly improved the accuracy, speed, and ease of establishing the cause of belly pain, but significant challenges remain. There are many reasons why diagnosing the cause of it can be difficult.

Symptoms may be atypical

  • For example, the pain of appendicitis sometimes is located in the right upper abdomen, and of diverticulitis on the right side. Elderly patients and those taking corticosteroids may have little or no pain and tenderness when there is inflammation, for example, with cholecystitis or diverticulitis. This occurs because corticosteroids reduce the inflammation.

Tests are not always abnormal.

  • Ultrasound examinations can miss gallstones, particularly small ones.
  • CT scans may fail to show pancreatic cancer, particularly small ones.
  • The KUB can miss the signs of intestinal obstruction or stomach perforation.
  • Ultrasounds and CT scans may fail to demonstrate appendicitis or even abscesses, particularly if the abscesses are small.
  • The CBC and other blood tests may be normal despite severe infection or inflammation, particularly in individuals receiving corticosteroids or other drugs that suppress the immune system.

Diseases can mimic one another.

  • IBS symptoms can mimic bowel obstruction, cancer, ulcer, gallbladder attacks, or even appendicitis.
  • Crohn's disease can mimic appendicitis.
  • Infection of the right kidney can mimic acute cholecystitis.
  • A ruptured right ovarian cyst can mimic appendicitis; while a ruptured left ovarian cyst can mimic diverticulitis.
  • Kidney stones can mimic appendicitis or diverticulitis.

The characteristics of the pain may change.

  • Examples discussed previously include the extension of the inflammation of pancreatitis to involve the entire abdomen and the progression of biliary colic to cholecystitis.
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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