The abdomen is the area between the bottom of the rib cage and the groin. Many body organs are found in the abdomen, including the liver, gall bladder, stomach, intestines, pancreas, spleen, kidneys, and bladder. Female reproductive organs are also in the abdomen.
Abdominal pain can range from very mild to severe and disabling. It may be caused by various diseases of any of the organs including infections, inflammatory conditions (such as appendicitis or diverticulitis), ulcers, or tumors; kidney stones or gallstones; urinary tract infections; viruses or parasites in the intestines, food poisoning, pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases, and other problems with the uterus or ovaries. Menstrual cramps and excess gas are two common causes of abdominal pain. Sometimes abdominal pain can be referred from other parts of the body; for example, a heart attack or pneumonia may sometimes be felt as abdominal pain instead of chest pain. Most abdominal pain is minor but some can signal life-threatening illness.
Possible symptoms of abdominal pain
- Pain ranging from mild to severe. It may be chronic (lasting longer than a few weeks) or acute.
- May be described as cramping, piercing, burning, and sharp, dull, diffuse or in only one area; or radiating to other parts of the abdomen or body.
- It may come and go or it may be constant.
- Depending on the cause, it may be accompanied by diarrhea, bloating, constipation, gas, nausea, vomiting, fever, difficulty urinating, or other symptoms.
What your doctor can do
- Review your medical history and perform a physical exam.
- Order laboratory blood or urine tests; x-rays or scans; or endoscopic procedures (using an endoscope, a narrow, flexible, lighted tube to view internal organs).
- Recommend exploratory surgery in some cases.
What you can do
- Describe the pain as accurately as possible to help determine the cause.
- Keep a record if possible. Include: time of day when pain starts; when it started and how long it lasts, exactly where it is felt, and the type of pain (sharp, dull, throbbing, burning, radiating, piercing, squeezing, stabbing, tearing, or cramping).
- Also include: when you last ate and what you ate; all related symptoms (nausea, gas), anything that seems to relieve the pain (e.g. walking, laying down, bowel movement); and anything that seems to make it worse, including specific foods or activities.
- Treatment, until a diagnosis is made, includes rest and possibly, medication for pain.
- DO NOT take laxatives, painkillers, or other medications unless instructed by your doctor.
- Reduce activities, keep track of temperature if warm or having chills, and drink plenty of fluids unless instructed otherwise.
When to contact your doctor
Contact your doctor about your abdominal pain if your symptoms worsen or change, including developing a fever, increased pain, vomiting, weakness, or dizziness.
We have five convenient locations in the Birmingham area. No appointment needed for most visits.