The cause of abdominal problems can be hard to pinpoint. Sometimes minor and serious abdominal problems start with the same symptoms. Fortunately, most abdominal problems are minor, and home treatment is all that is needed.
Many times the exact cause of abdominal pain is hard to find. The severity of your pain, its location, and other symptoms you have may help determine what is causing the pain. Many medicines can cause abdominal pain. Some medicines also cause side effects, such as constipation, that can make abdominal pain worse.
- Generalized pain occurs in half of the abdomen or more. Generalized pain can occur with many different illnesses and will usually go away without medical treatment. Indigestion and an upset stomach are common problems that can cause generalized pain. Home treatment may help relieve some of the discomfort. Generalized mild pain or crampy pain that becomes more severe over several hours may be a symptom of a blockage of the intestines (bowel obstruction).
- Localized pain is located in one area of the abdomen. Localized pain that comes on suddenly and gets worse is more likely to be a symptom of a serious problem. The pain of appendicitis may start as generalized pain, but it often moves (localizes) to one area of the abdomen. The pain from gallbladder disease or peptic ulcer disease often starts in one area of the abdomen and stays in that same location. Localized pain that gradually becomes more severe may be a symptom of inflammation of an abdominal organ.
- Cramping is a type of pain that comes and goes (intermittent) or that changes in position or severity. Cramping is rarely serious, particularly if it is relieved by passing gas or a stool. Many women have cramping pain with their menstrual periods. Generalized cramping pain is usually not a cause for concern unless it gets worse, lasts for longer than 24 hours, or localizes. Cramping that starts suddenly with diarrhea or other minor health problems can be quite painful but is usually not serious.
Occasionally, severe pain that comes on suddenly may be a symptom of a rupture of the stomach or intestines (perforation), torsion of the testicle or ovary, a kidney stone, gallbladder disease, or blood vessel problems, such as an aortic aneurysm. The pain caused by appendicitis or gallbladder disease may increase when you move or cough. Pain that increases with movement or coughing and does not appear to be caused by strained muscles is more likely to be a symptom of a serious problem.
A visit to a doctor is usually needed to determine the cause of severe or progressive abdominal pain. Several methods of evaluation may be used to determine the cause and therefore the best treatment/management. Some of these include physical examination, blood or stool testing, imaging (ie. CT, MRI, Xray, etc.), or endoscopic exam.
Treating abdominal pain depends on its cause. Treatments can range from medications for inflammation, GERD, or ulcers, to antibiotics for infections. Your doctor may also suggest changes in personal behavior for abdominal pain caused by certain foods or beverages. In some cases, such as appendicitis and a hernia, surgery is necessary.