Table of Contents
- Abdominal pain facts
- What is abdominal pain?
- What causes abdominal pain?
- When should I call my doctor about abdominal pain?
- How is the cause of abdominal pain diagnosed?
- Signs and symptoms associated with abdominal pain
- Signs and symptoms associated with abdominal pain (Part 2)
- Signs and symptoms associated with abdominal pain (Part 3)
- Physical examination to diagnose abdominal pain
- Exams and tests to diagnose abdominal pain
- Exams and tests to diagnose abdominal pain (Part 2)
- Exams and tests to diagnose abdominal pain (Part 3)
- IBS (irritable bowel syndrome) and diagnosing abdominal pain
- Why can diagnosis of the cause of abdominal pain be difficult?
- What are home remedies for certain causes of abdominal pain?
- What medications can be used to treat certain causes of abdominal pain?
- What lifestyle choices can I make to prevent abdominal pain?
Quick GuideWhat's Causing Your Abdominal Pain?
Signs and symptoms associated with abdominal pain (Part 2)
- The pattern of the pain.
- Obstruction of the intestine initially causes waves of crampy abdominal pain due to contractions of the intestinal muscles and distention of the intestine.
- True cramp-like pain suggests vigorous contractions of the intestines.
- Obstruction of the bile ducts by gallstones typically causes steady (constant) upper abdominal pain that lasts between 30 minutes and several hours.
- Acute pancreatitis typically causes severe, unrelenting, steady pain in the upper abdomen and upper back.
- The pain of acute appendicitis initially may start near the umbilicus, but as the inflammation progresses, the pain moves to the right lower abdomen.
- The character of pain may change over time. For example, obstruction of the bile ducts sometimes progresses to inflammation of the gallbladder with or without infection (acute cholecystitis). When this happens, the characteristics of the pain change to those of inflammatory pain. (See below.)
- The duration of the pain.
Reviewed on 5/1/2015ReferencesMedically reviewed by Avrom Simon, MD; Board Certified Preventative Medicine with Subspecialty in Occupational Medicine
- The pain of IBS typically waxes and wanes over months or years and may last for years or decades.
- Biliary colic lasts no more than several hours.
- The pain of pancreatitis lasts one or more days.
- The pain of acid-related diseases - gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) or duodenal ulcers - typically show periodicity, that is, a period of weeks or months during which the pain is worse followed by periods of weeks or months during which the pain is better.
- Functional pain may show this same pattern of periodicity.
Fauci, Anthony S. et al. Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine. 17th ed. United States: McGraw-Hill Professional, 2008.
Time.com. Why Belly Pain Is Such a Headache for ER Doctors.
UpToDate.com. Differential diagnosis of abdominal pain in adults.
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