Abdominal Pain: Questions to Ask Your Doctor

  • 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 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.

What information should I have available for my abdominal pain visit?

Print this page and take it with you to your doctor's visit, and prepare the following lists to help your doctor diagnose your abdominal pain.

  • Medications you are currently taking, including over-the-counter (OTC) medications, herbs, vitamins, minerals, and food supplements.
  • Any allergies to medications, food, or pollen
  • The medications or home remedies that you have tried for your abdominal pain.
  • Important medical illnesses that you have such as diabetes, heart disease, etc.
  • Previous surgeries such as appendectomy, hernia repairs, gallbladder removal, hysterectomy, etc.
  • Previous procedures such as colonoscopy, laparoscopy, CT scan, ultrasound, upper or lower barium X-rays, etc.
  • Previous hospitalizations
  • Recent travel
  • Ill family members, particularly those who have symptoms similar to yours.
  • Family members with gastrointestinal diseases (involving the esophagus, stomach, intestines, liver, pancreas, and gallbladder).
  • Be candid with your doctor about your prior and current alcohol consumption and smoking habits, any history of chemical dependence or any new sexual partners.

What should I be prepared to tell my doctor about my abdominal pain?

  • When the pain first started
  • If there were previous episodes of similar pain.
  • How frequently episodes of pain occur
  • If each episode of pain starts gradually or suddenly
  • The severity of the pain
  • What causes the pain and what makes the pain worse
  • What relieves the pain
  • The characteristics and symptoms of the pain. Is the pain sharp or dull, burning or pressure like? Is the pain jabbing and fleeting, steady and unrelenting or crampy (coming and going)?
  • If the pain is associated with fever, chills, sweats, diarrhea, weight loss, constipation, rectal bleeding, loss of appetite, nausea or loss of energy?

What are the next steps after my abdominal pain visit?

  • Multiple office visits and tests (blood tests, radiographic studies, or endoscopic procedures) are often necessary to establish the diagnosis and/or to exclude serious illnesses.
  • Doctors may start you on a medication before a firm diagnosis is made. Your response (or lack of response) to that medication sometimes may provide your doctor with valuable clues as to the cause of your abdominal pain. Therefore, it is important for you to take the medication that is prescribed.
  • Notify your doctor if your symptoms are getting worse, if medications are not working, or if you think you are having side effects from the medication.
  • Call your doctor for test results. Never assume that "the test must be fine since my doctor never called."
  • Do not self medicate (including herbs, supplements) without discussing with your doctor.
  • Even the best physician never bats 1000. Do not hesitate to openly discuss with your doctor referrals for second or third opinions if the diagnosis cannot be firmly established and the pain persists.
  • Self education is important, but make sure what you read came from credible sources.

Medically reviewed by John A. Daller, MD; American Board of Surgery with subspecialty certification in surgical critical care

REFERENCE:

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

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Reviewed on 11/30/2016

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