What is Abdominal Pain?
The abdomen is a functional area that is tightly bounded by the lower rib margin and diaphragm above it, the pelvic bone below, and the flanks on both sides. While abdominal pain might arise from abdominal wall tissues that overlie the abdominal cavity the term abdominal pain generally is used to define pain arising from organs within the abdominal cavity. The abdominal area includes organs like the stomach, small intestine, colon, liver and pancreas. Abdominal pain can range in intensity from a mild stomach ache to severe acute pain. The pain is often generic and can be caused by a variety of conditions.
Abdominal pain has several causes as follows:
Stretching or distention of an organ
- obstruction of the intestine
- blockage of a bile duct by gallstones
- swelling of the liver with hepatitis
By loss of the supply of blood to an organ e.g. in ischemic colitis
However, sometimes abdominal pain might be of an unknown etiology making it difficult to diagnose and treat. For example, abdominal pain due to the irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is functional pain because no recognizable causes for the pain have been found. A primary health care provider or gastroenterologist can help determine the underlying cause of pain in the abdominal area.
Directly life-threatening disorders causing abdominal pain, which require rapid diagnosis and surgery, include
- Ruptured Aortic Aneurysm
- Penetrated Stomach or Intestine
- Blockage of Intestinal Blood Flow
- Ruptured Ectopic Pregnancy
Serious disorders that are nearly as urgent include
- Intestinal obstruction
- Acute Pancreatitis
If, along with abdominal pain, following warning signs are present, urgent exploration of the cause is required. The warning signs include:
- Severe pain
- Signs of shock (a rapid heart rate, low blood pressure))
- Signs of peritonitis (for example the pain that worsens the pain of the person touching or bumping the bed)
- Swelling of the abdomen
Rule is to “treat the cause”. The specific cause of the pain is treated. Until recently, according to doctors the patient of abdominal pain should not be given pain reliever until a proper treatment is introduced because pain reliever might mask important symptoms. However, the pain relievers are usually used in a small amount.
Key points in the management of abdominal pain
- Doctors first find any dangerous causes for the pain.
- Doctors rule out pregnancy in girls, women of childbearing age.
- Blood tests commonly don’t test a specific cause of acute abdominal pain.