Many Causes to Abdominal Pain

Many Causes to Abdominal Pain

There are so many causes of abdominal pain that this symptom alone is certainly not enough to make a diagnosis. Furthermore, abdominal pain has one set of potential causes for children and another for adults.  These causes overlap, of course, but there are specific ailments more prevalent in children than adults and vice versa, so the expectations for the diagnosing physician change depending on the patient’s age.

Other important factors include the length and severity of the pain as well as the continuity of the pain – does the pain come and go or is it constant? Concerns are also heightened if the abdominal pain comes with either of the following:

  • Fevers
  • Weight loss
  • Headaches
  • Blood in stools
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Swelling of the abdomen
  • Acute tenderness
  • A yellowish skin color

As a patient, it is wise to err on the side of caution with any physical problem that cannot be diagnosed or handled at home. Often, patients do not take abdominal pain seriously, thinking they have just another belly ache, which is not uncommon. But serious conditions also cause abdominal pain, which means any significant belly ache should be assessed as a clinical event and not just dismissed out of hand.

Factors to consider


With abdominal pain, it is important to note the time the pain began (onset of symptoms) and the severity of the pain. However, it is simpler to inform patients when the symptoms are at the point that you should call for medical attention with your family physician or the local emergency room.

Symptoms that should prompt a call to a doctor or a visit to the emergency room include the symptoms listed above.

  • Severe pain
  • Fever
  • Bloody stools
  • Persistent nausea and vomiting
  • Weight loss
  • Skin that appears yellow
  • Severe tenderness when you touch your abdomen
  • Swelling of the abdomen

Abdominal pain has many potential causes. The most common causes — such as gas pains, indigestion, or a pulled muscle — usually aren’t serious. Other conditions may require more-urgent medical attention.

If the discomfort or pain is considered acute, the problem could be a very serious medical condition, including heart attacks and appendicitis. Other serious conditions include:

  • Cholangitis (inflammation of bile duct)
  • Diverticulitis (inflammation of pouches in your intestines
  • Cystitis (inflammation of the bladder)
  • Ketoacidosis
  • Ectopic pregnancy (where the fertilized egg is not implanted correctly in the uterus
  • Severe constipation
  • Blockage of intestines
  • Intestinal blood clot
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Kidney infection
  • Kidney stones
  • Pancreatitis
  • Spleen infection
  • Shingles
  • Duodenitis (inflammation of the small intestine)

There are also serious conditions that can show up with an intermittent pain that comes and goes. This is potentially a sign of various chronic conditions that include:

  • Angina
  • Celiac disease
  • Endometriosis
  • Hernias
  • Gallstones
  • Ovarian cysts
  • Peptic ulcer
  • Pelvic inflammatory disease
  • Pain during ovulation
  • Abdominal muscle strain
  • Ulcerative colitis

The last pain profile is pain that begins lightly and grows over time. This consistent but increasing pain is termed “progressive pain.” This symptom points to another set of possible problems, including:

  • Various cancers
  • Crohn’s disease
  • Gallbladder cancer
  • Kidney disease (including cancer)
  • Ovarian abscess
  • Stomach cancer
  • Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma
  • Liver cancer
  • Lead poisoning
  • Hepatitis
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