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Abdominal Pain: what can it mean

Abdominal pain is mainly caused by changes in the bowel, stomach, bladder, gallbladder or uterus. The location where the pain appears may indicate the organ that is having problems, for example the pain that appears on the top left side of the abdomen, may indicate a gastric ulcer, whereas pain on the right side may indicate problems in the liver.

The reasons for the pain vary from simple situations, like excessive gas, until more complicated ones, like appendicitis or renal calculus. Therefore, if there is severe abdominal pain lasting more than 24 hours or accompanied by other symptoms such as fever, persistent vomiting and blood in the stool or urine, you should go to the emergency room or consult your General practitioner.

Main causes for abdominal pain

Abdominal pain can emerge in different places according to the organ that is compromised:

Abdominal Pain: what can it mean

According to the region where pain emerges, the main causes are: 

Stomach region

(The number indicates where the region is in the image)

Right sideMiddleLeft Side
123

Stone or inflammation in the gallbladder;

Liver diseases;

Problems in the right lung;

Excessive gas.

Reflux;

Bad digestion;

Gastric ulcer;

Gastritis;

Gallbladder inflammation; 

Heart attack.

Gastritis;

Gastric ulcer;

Diverticulitis; 

Problems in the left lung; 

Excessive gas.

456

Inflammation of the Intestine; 

Excessive gas;

Gallbladder inflammation; 

Renal colic;

Spinal problems.

Gastric ulcer; 

Pancreatitis;

Gastroenteritis;

Beginning of appendicitis;

Constipation.

Gastritis; 

Inflammation of the Intestine; 

Excessive gases;

Spleen disease; 

Renal colic;

Spinal Problems.

7 89

Excessive gas;

Appendicitis; 

Inflammation of the Intestine;

Ovarian cyst.

Menstrual cramps; 

cystitis or urinary infection;

Diarrhea or constipation;

Irritable colon;

Bladder problems.

Inflammation of the Intestine; 

Excessive gas;

Inguinal hernia;

Ovarian cyst.

This rule applies to the main causes of pain in the belly, but there are abdominal problems that cause pain in more than one place, such as the pain caused by gases, or that manifest in places far from the organ, for example in cases of gallbladder inflammation.

See when abdominal pain may just be a sign of flatulence.

Persistent or chronic abdominal pain, which lasts for more than 3 months, is usually caused by reflux, food intolerances, inflammatory bowel disease, pancreatitis, intestinal worms or even cancer, and may be more difficult to identify.

Types of abdominal pain

How pain manifests itself can also help you find its cause, such as:

  • Burning pain: This pain usually arises in the stomach due to gastritis, ulcer and reflux and appears in the form of a burning sensation in that region.
  • Colic pain: Problems in the gut, such as diarrhea or constipation, and also in the gallbladder can manifest as a colic. Cramps can also appear due to uterine pain, provoked by menstrual cramps, for example.
  • Stabbing or pinched pain: pain caused by too much gas, or by an abdominal inflammation, such as appendicitis or intestinal inflammation. See other signs of appendicitis.

There are also other types of abdominal pain, such as a feeling of a full or swollen stomach, squeezing pain or nonspecific pain sensation, when the person does not know how to identify the source of the pain.

In these cases, the cause is usually identified after diagnostic tests such as an ultrasound, blood tests or through personal history, done by the general practitioner or gastroenterologist.

When can it be serious

There are some signs that are alarming when they appear in conjunction with the pain, and may indicate troubling illnesses, such as inflammation or serious infections, and in the presence of any of them, it is advised to seek emergency room care. Some examples are:

  • Fever above 38ºC;
  • Persistent or bloody vomiting;
  • Stools with blood;
  • Intense pain that makes you wake up in the middle of the night;
  • Diarrhea with more than 10 episodes a day;
  • Weight loss;
  • Presence of apathy or pallor;
  • Pain that appears after falling or trauma.

A symptom that deserves special attention is when the pain irradiates from the stomach region, in the form of a burning sensation, as it may indicate a heart attack. So if this pain is accompanied by shortness of breath, cold sweat, chest pain or if it radiates to the arms, you should seek immediate care. 

Abdominal Pain: what can it mean

Treatment

The treatment for stomach pain depends on its cause and its location. A general practitioner or a gastroenterologist, will recommend the most appropriate treatment after physical, blood and, if necessary, abdominal ultrasound tests. Some of the most commonly used remedies for treating minor problems are:

  • Antacids, such as Omeprazole or Ranitidine: used in cases of the pain being localized in the stomach region caused by poor digestion, reflux or gastritis;
  • Anti-flatulent or antispasmodic, such as dimethicone or buscopan: relieve pain caused by excessive gas or diarrhea;
  • Laxatives, such as lactulose or mineral oil: speed up the intestinal rhythm to treat constipation;
  • Antibiotics, such as amoxicillin or penicillin: are used to treat infections in the bladder or stomach, for example.

In addition to the use of these medications, in some cases, the doctor may also recommend making changes to your diet, such as avoiding fried foods and soda, as well as eating less flatulent foods such as beans, chickpeas, lentils or eggs, since the diet is one of the main causes of abdominal pain.

In more severe cases where there is infection or inflammation of an organ, such as appendicitis or inflammation of the gallbladder, it may be recommended you have surgery to remove the affected organ.

See other home remedies that can be used to treat the main causes of stomach pain.

Abdominal pain in pregnancy

Abdominal pain in pregnancy is a frequent symptom that arises due to changes in the woman's uterus and constipation, characteristic of this phase.

However, when pain worsens over time or is accompanied by other symptoms such as bleeding, it can indicate more serious problems, such as an ectopic pregnancy or miscarriage, and in these cases, an obstetrician should be consulted as soon as possible.

In addition, abdominal pain at the end of pregnancy is also normal and is usually related to the muscles, ligaments and tendons stretching, this is due to belly growth, so pregnant women should rest several times during the day.

See how to identify and what to do if you feel abdominal pain during pregnancy.
 

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