Abdominal pain is generally used to describe discomfort that originates from organs within the abdominal cavity, which includes the stomach, liver, small intestine, colon and gallbladder. The pain can be acute or chronic, and can be felt anywhere from below the ribs to the pelvis. It also ranges in intensity from a mild tummy ache to severe acute pain.
Where is the pain located?
Knowing the location of your abdominal pain is key to a proper diagnosis. It can be helpful in narrowing down what is the cause of the pain and any other symptoms that you are experiencing.
- Upper right abdomen: Hepatitis, liver abscess, kidney stones, pancreatitis, gallbladder disease
- Upper left abdomen: Gastritis, peptic ulcer, enlarged spleen, kidney stones, hepatitis
- Lower right abdomen: Appendicitis, kidney stones, right ovary problems, Crohn’s disease
- Lower left abdomen: Diverticulitis, kidney stones, ovarian cysts, ovarian torsion
In some cases, the abdominal pain you experience may not only occur on one side of your abdomen. If your upper abdomen is causing pain on both sides, it could be stomach issues such as gastritis, pancreatitis and stomach ulcers. For pain in the lower abdomen on both sides, it could be urinary tract infections, uterine fibroids or gynecologic problems.
Abdominal pain can have many potential causes, with some directly linked to the abdomen and others by a non-abdominal disease. When you visit a doctor for abdominal pain, they will ask a variety of questions and examine you carefully, and arrange for tests if necessary.
What are the characteristics of the pain?
Is the pain worse and aggravated by coughing, sneezing or any jarring motions? Does the pain last for no more than several hours or longer than a day? Is the pain sharp, dull, steady, constant or is it intermittent?
Aside from knowing the location of the pain, understanding other factors such as when does the pain occur and how long does it last, will be helpful for your doctor to gain a better understanding on your condition.
How is the cause diagnosed?
Doctors will check on the physical signs, characteristic and accompanying systems and conduct a physical examination to pinpoint the source of the pain. This can include pressing different parts of the abdomen for tenderness, a rectal exam, and a pelvic exam.
Other tests may be ordered by the doctor if necessary, including ultrasound, X-ray, CT scan and endoscopy to help diagnose different conditions and diseases. When results are available, the doctor will discuss them with the patient as well as the appropriate treatment following the diagnosis.