Abdominal Pain

What Else Besides Stomach Pain Constitutes Abdominal Pain?

The abdomen is the area of the body located beneath the rib cage and above the pelvis While abdominal pain is, in itself, a very broad term—it usually refers to pain that can be traced back to the patient’s abdominal organs, namely the pancreas, the spleen, the gallbladder, the liver, the stomach, the large intestine (colon) and the small intestine. Pain felt in the actual abdominal tissue (the abdominal wall) can, of course, also constitute abdominal pain. In fact, abdominal pain can even occur as a result of non-abdominal organs located elsewhere in the body, such as the lungs, the kidneys and the ovaries (in women).  One of the most common causes for abdominal pain is muscle strain or direct trauma to the musculature overlying the abdominal cavity.

What is the Cause of Abdominal Pain?

There are many reasons why you may be feeling pain in your abdomen. Abdominal pain can originate from inflammation (i.e. pouches, colitis), swelling (i.e. hepatitis) or mechanical issues such as blockage of the bile ducts by way of gallstones or of the colorectal area by way of impacted stool. However, not all the causes of abdominal pain are very clear—for example, patients with irritable bowel syndrome (or IBS) almost always complain of abdominal pain, and medical researchers not been able to completely define why this pain occurs – some postulates include visceral hypertensitivity or aberrant contractions within the abdominal musculature.

How Do I Describe My Abdominal Pain to My Doctor?

When consulting a medical physician such as a GI doctor about your abdominal pain, it’s important to describe it in a detailed manner as opposed to just mentioning that your stomach hurts. A proper diagnosis is much more likely to be made if you as the patient come to the doctor’s office prepared and informed, instead of relying too much on the available endoscopy and laboratory tests that a doctor can order to attempt to detect the case of stomach pains.

If you think you need to see a doctor about your abdominal pain, think about how the pain started—did it happen suddenly? Sudden pain may be a sign of sudden obstruction in the bowel or in some bile ducts, and a doctor may need to perform an imaging test such as CT scan to screen for tumors and points of narrowing along the GI tract. Try and describe the type of sensation you are feeling, whether it be a dull cramping or a sharp, concentrated pain. Also take note of where the pain is concentrated—pain in the lower right-hand side of the abdomen could mean appendicitis (inflammation of the patient’s appendix), colon pouches (diverticula) usually causes pain in the lower left-hand side of the abdomen (but can cause pain elsewhere also). If you are having health issues with your gallbladder, on the other hand, you may feel discomfort higher up in the abdomen.

Finally, keep track of how long your abdominal pain lasts, what makes it feel worse and what makes it feel better. And of course, if the abdominal pain you are experiencing is accompanied by diarrhea or bloody stool—you should definitely inform your GI doctor about these additional symptoms, along with any relevant medical history.

What Will a Doctor Do to Test Abdominal Pain?

Physical examinations allow doctors to feel around your abdomen for hard lumps and masses that could be tumors inside the abdominal cavityA CT scan or other imaging test such as ultrasound or MRI may be required for further workup in certain cases, but is certainly not necessary in most cases of abdominal pain. Blood tests, enzyme tests and stool and urine tests examined in a lab setting can also help a doctor come to a conclusion about your abdominal pain. In more severe casesendoscopic procedures such as EGD, colonoscopy, sigmoidoscopy or surgery may be necessary – especially if the patient has a history of peptic ulcer disease or risk factors for developing peptic ulcer disease.


Reviewed 01/15/2012 by David M. Nolan, M.D.
Diplomate of the American Board of Internal Medicine, 2011
Currently a Fellow of Gastroenterology, at UCI 2011-2014