Understanding Pain Characteristics To Assess Stomach Pain

September 20, 2023
Understanding Pain Characteristics To Assess Stomach Pain

Stomach pain is categorised as the pain experienced between the groin and chest region and is often caused by digestive issues. With that being said, disruptions to any normal functioning organs or structures in the stomach region, including the veins and arteries, can result in stomach pain.


As a result, assessing the cause of stomach pain is more complicated than you think. Apart from seeking a gastroenterology examination, being aware of the characteristics of your pain, as well as your medical and family history, is vital in determining the exact cause of your stomach pain.


Without further ado, we will explore the different types of pain characteristics.


What are the causes?

Stomach pain is an extremely common issue that can be caused by a wide range of disorders. Some of the more common causes of stomach pain are:


  • Urinary tract infections (UTIs)


  • Endometriosis


  • Strained muscles


  • Celiac disease


  • Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)


  • Gastroenteritis


  • Food intolerance


  • Flatulence


However, stomach pain can also be a sign of a more severe condition, which can have fatal consequences:



  • Hiatal hernia


  • Food poisoning


  • Parasitic infection


  • Hepatitis


  • Kidney disease or infection of the kidney


  • Stones in the gall bladder or kidney


  • Cysts


Assessing the cause of your stomach pain

Conducting a professional medical examination and assessment of medical history are both vital for differential diagnosis. During this time, six pain characteristics are assessed to help evaluate the exact cause of your stomach pain.


1. Onset

When and how did the pain begin? Was it gradual, rapid, or sudden?


Gradual-onset pain, generally caused by significant bowel obstruction, chronic inflammatory processes, or neoplasms, typically worsens over a couple of hours or days. It can be complicated to diagnose the exact cause, as other intra-abdominal issues can lead to gradual-onset stomach pain.


Rapid-onset pain, generally caused by a duodenal ulcer, penetrating gastric, appendicitis, diverticulitis, intestinal obstruction, pancreatitis, or cholecystitis, typically develops within a couple of seconds and worsens quickly.


Sudden-onset pain, generally caused by gastrointestinal issues, such as duodenal or gastric ulcer-related perforation, presence of a foreign body, or colonic diverticulum, typically develops out of nowhere. It can also be a sign of an abdominal vessel embolism, ruptured aortic aneurysm, mesenteric infarction, or ruptured ectopic pregnancy.


2. Progression

How has the pain developed over time? Is it worsening, getting better, or occurring on and off?


When sudden-onset stomach pain goes away on its own, the general cause can be due to a perforated ulcer in which the stomach pain subsides once the perforation seals away.


If the stomach pain is intermittent and progresses to a more stable and constant pain, it usually indicates a tiny bowel obstruction, especially when you experience constipation.


3. Migration

Has the pain shifted to another region? Are there any changes in the site of the pain?


If the stomach pain is caused by acute appendicitis, the epigastric or periumbilical pain usually spreads to the lower right quadrant.


4. Character

What kind of pain are you experiencing? Is it intermittent, constant, aching, dull, or cramping?


A stomach pain that is aching or dull but constant is usually caused by a rupture in the walls of the gastrointestinal tract, resulting in the leaking of enteric contents into the peritoneal cavity.


Cramping stomach pain is characterised by its gradual increase in pain intensity, reaching maximum pain and then disappearing completely, and repeating over short intervals. It is usually caused by mechanical tiny bowel obstructions.


5. Intensity

How mild or severe is the pain?


While generally severe stomach pain raises more concerns, it does not mean that mild stomach pain is worry-free. For example, severe stomach pain can be caused by stomach cramps or flatulence due to a viral infection. On the other hand, stomach pain can be caused by deadly conditions, such as colon cancer, which displays little to no signs of pain.


Additionally, the perception of pain intensity differs between individuals. For example, if the pain is experienced even when the individual does not move much, it indicates a somatic pain. However, if the pain is experienced when the individual moves, it indicates a visceral pain.


6. Localisation

Where did the pain originate from?


Somatic pain is usually quite exact and localised. On the other hand, the exact location of where the visceral pain originated depends on the associated organ. For example, proximal duodenum, biliary system, liver, pancreas, and stomach pain are generally localised to the epigastric region. On the other hand, pelvic genitourinary organs, the hind portion of the colon, and bladder-related pain are generally localised to the suprapubic region.



A broad range of etiologies, such as systemic and GI disorders, can cause stomach pain to occur, making diagnosing the exact cause more complex, especially among children and older individuals.


Another challenge is that the intensity of stomach pain is not a conclusive indicator of the severity of the disorder causing it. As such, it is vital that you do not treat stomach pain lightly. Get it checked, especially when you are unsure of your pain.


Here at GUTCARE, we are a digestive care specialist, specialising in your digestive system from your oesophagus all the way to your rectum. Consult our team of doctors if you are unsure of your stomach pain.


Click here to make an appointment with us today!






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