Types and Causes of Abdominal Pain | Gastroenterology

Abdominal pain

What is abdominal pain?

Abdominal pain refers to dullness, dull ache, or sharp, burning, or twisted pain in the abdomen. Abdominal pain is also known as stomach ache, or tummy ache.

Abdominal pain can be due to many conditions. However, the main causes are infections, abnormal growths, inflammation, obstruction (blockage), and intestinal disorders. Infections in the throat, intestines, and blood can cause bacteria to enter the digestive tract and cause abdominal pain.

Types of abdominal pain

The five types of abdominal pain include:

Constipation: Constipation is common in most people. About 16 percent of adults experience this feeling of discomfort, mostly women, according to the national institute of diabetes and digestive and kidney diseases. It occurs when pressure level builds up in the colon and small bowel. Her stools are lumpy, difficult to pass, and she goes to the bathroom less than three times a week. You may also feel bloated and so full that you can’t imagine eating anything else.

Appendicitis: This is a pain that touches you out of nowhere. The appendix is attached to your large intestine and helps your body fight infection. But the appendix can also get infected. Appendicitis occurs when there is a blockage within the appendix, which becomes painful, inflamed, and may even burst. People who suffer from it experience a very uncomfortable sensation around the navel. The pain continues to get worse over time, making it difficult to walk. So if you experience severe stomach pain, fever, and vomiting, go to the emergency room immediately. If you have appendicitis, you will need surgery to remove the appendix.

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS): This is as “a set of symptoms such as cramps, abdominal pain, bloating, diarrhea, and constipation.” About 20 percent of adults in the US have it. There are two subtypes of IBS.

IBS-C is constipation-predominant irritable bowel syndrome. It is connected with chronic constipation and abdominal pain. IBS-D is diarrhea-predominant irritable bowel syndrome. About a third of people with IBS-D experience diarrhea every time they have a bowel movement.

Lactose intolerance: People who have lactose cannot digest the sugar (lactose) in dairy products and may experience abdominal cramps, bloating, gas, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea 30 minutes to two hours after consuming dairy products.  It is not a major concern and can be quickly alleviated by consuming less dairy or trying dairy alternatives. One way to combat lactose intolerance is to do a trial period without consuming dairy to see if your symptoms improve. If you have stomach pain, runny stools, and cramps, talk to your doctor, who can perform a test to confirm the diagnosis.

Ulcerative colitis: It defines ulcerative colitis as a chronic disease that causes inflammation, irritation, or swelling and ulcers in the inner lining of the large intestine. Some symptoms consider abdominal cramps, bloody stools, nausea, and weight loss. It mainly affects young people between 15 and 30 years old. It tends to run in families: Up to one in four people with ulcerative colitis who have a parent or sibling who also has the disease.

If you have or have been struggling with stomach pain and are not sure what might be causing it, see your primary care physician.

Causes of abdominal pain

Abdominal pain can be due to many conditions. However, the main causes are infections, abnormal growths, inflammation, obstruction (blockage), and intestinal disorders.

Infections in the throat, intestines, and blood can cause bacteria to enter the digestive tract and cause abdominal pain. These infections can also lead to effective indigestion, such as diarrhea or constipation.

Cramps connected with menstruation are also an actual source of lower abdominal pain but are more normally known to cause pelvic pain.

Other common causes of abdominal pain include:

  • Constipation
  • Diarrhea
  • Gastroenteritis (stomach flu)
  • Acid reflux (when stomach contents leak into the esophagus causing heartburn and other symptoms)
  • Vomiting
  • Stress

Diseases that affect the digestive system can also reason chronic abdominal pain. The most common are:

  • Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
  • Irritable bowel syndrome or spastic colon (a disorder that causes abdominal pain, cramps, and changes in bowel movements)
  • Crohn’s disease (an inflammatory bowel disease)
  • Lactose intolerance (inability to digest lactose, the sugar found in milk and dairy goods)

Causes of severe abdominal pain include:

  • Rupture or near rupture of an organ (such as a burst appendix or appendicitis)
  • Stones in the gallbladder (known as gallstones)
  • Kidney stones
  • Kidney infection

Risk factors for abdominal pain

A risk factor is rather that raises your chances of getting a disease or disorder. Risk factors include:

  • Advanced age
  • Previous abdominal surgery
  • History of intestinal disorders
  • Exposure to the stomach virus

Diagnosis of abdominal pain

Your doctor will ask for details about your pain, such as the exact location and duration, and any additional symptoms you may be experiencing, such as intestinal or urinary symptoms. They will take your medical history, including any medications or medications you’ve taken, and perform a physical exam, including pelvic and rectal exams.

Additionally, one or more of the following tests may be required to make a diagnosis:

  • Blood test
  • Urine analysis
  • Liver function tests
  • Ultrasound: A test that uses sound waves to survey the abdomen
  • CT scan: A type of X-ray that uses a computer to make images of structures inside the abdomen.
  • MRI scan: A test that uses magnetic waves to take pictures of structures inside the abdomen.
  • Kidney, ureter, and bladder X-ray
  • Barium X-ray
  • Angiography
  • Surgery
  • Endoscopy: A thin, lighted tube is inserted over the throat to survey the abdominal area.

Treatment for abdominal pain

For symptom relief, pain relievers may be prescribed to reduce pain, however many doctors refuse to prescribe pain relievers as details of the pain may be helpful in determining its cause. Don’t take any medications like Tylenol or ibuprofen, and don’t eat or drink anything until you’ve talked to your doctor.

Talk to your doctor about the greatest treatment plan for you. Depending on the basic condition causing your acute abdomen, treatment options may include:

  • Antibiotics
  • Restriction of certain foods, beverages, or medications
  • Surgery: May be needed to treat more severe abdominal pain lasting at least six hours in previously healthy patients.


Not every form of abdominal pain can be prevented. However, you can decrease your risk of developing abdominal pain by doing the following:

  • Eat a healthy diet
  • Drink water frequently
  • Exercise regularly
  • Eat smaller meals

If you have a bowel disorder, such as Crohn’s disease, follow the diet prescribed by your doctor to minimize discomfort. If you have GERD, don’t eat two hours before bed.

Lying down too soon after eating can lead to heartburn and abdominal pain. Try to wait at least two hours after eating before going to bed.

Depending on the underlying state causing the acute abdomen, prevention measures can vary. Talk to your doctor about how to prevent conditions that cause an acute abdomen.

Departments to consult for this condition

  • Department of Gastroenterology

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