Abdominal pain, or stomach ache, is a common complaint that virtually everyone experiences at some point in their lives. Most of the time it is not due to any underlying condition, however, it is essential to know when abdominal pains may indicate something more serious.
Seek medical help if you experience abdominal pain that is sudden and severe (acute), or has been going on for weeks or months without improvement (chronic).
Abdominal pain can be described as:
- Localised – i.e. in one part of the abdomen. This may give a clue as to the possible cause, such as gallbladder pain in the upper right area of the abdomen, or appendicitis pain in the lower right.
- Generalised – when the pain is diffuse around the abdominal wall. This may be due to wind, but could also be a symptom of a serious, underlying condition, such as a bowel blockage, or inflammation of the inner membrane of the abdomen from a perforated organ (peritonitis).
- Colicky pain – which comes in waves, may last for a few hours and then subsides. A good example of this is gallstones.
- Crampy abdominal pain – tends to be due to wind and is often associated with loose motions. However, it can also be caused by an obstructed bowel.
If your abdominal pain persists, please seek medical attention, especially if:
- The pain lasts more than 2 days and is associated with nausea and vomiting
- You are also experiencing a fever, persistent bloating, passing of blood in stools or vomit
- If the abdomen is tender to touch and you find it difficult to get comfortable
- If your heart is beating very fast and/or you are having difficulty breathing
- If the pain radiates to your shoulder blades
- If you have had a recent abdominal injury
- If you are pregnant, or suspect you might be pregnant
What are common causes of abdominal pain?
Conditions that may cause abdominal pain include:
- Indigestion, sometimes referred to as dyspepsia
- Gallbladder inflammation (acute cholecystitis)
- Stomach ulcers
- Acute appendicitis
- Inflammatory bowel disease – e.g. Crohn’s disease
- Bowel obstruction
- Obstructed hernia
- Pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas)
- Stomach bug
- Excessive wind
- Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
- Food poisoning
- Menstrual period cramps
- Kidney stones
- Urinary tract (“water”) infection
How is abdominal pain assessed?
There are many possible reasons for abdominal pain. If you are referred to us we will need to understand your full medical history and carry out tests to determine the cause.
These might include:
- Blood tests
- Chest and Abdominal X-rays
- Ultrasound scan
- Computed tomography (CT) scan
- Diagnostic laparoscopy
How is abdominal pain managed?
This depends on the underlying cause.
In the majority of cases, there is no serious, underlying illness and the pain is self-limiting. Some problems, such as stomach ulcers and indigestion, can be managed with medications. However, certain conditions, such as appendicitis, an obstructed hernia, or gallstones, will require surgery.
Our medical team will discuss the management plan best suited to you.
Please ensure you consult a healthcare professional before making decisions about your health.