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Abdominal Pain in Adults

Abdominal Pain in Adults Overview

Abdominal pain can range in intensity from a mild stomach ache to severe acute pain. The pain is often nonspecific and can be caused by a variety of conditions. Many organs are found within the abdominal cavity. Sometimes the pain is directly related to a specific organ such as the bladder or ovary, while other times it is more diffuse or non-specific.. Usually, abdominal pain originates in the digestive system. For example, the pain can be caused by appendicitis, diarrheal cramping, or food poisoning.

The type and location of pain may help the physician find the cause. The intensity and duration of pain must also be considered when making a diagnosis. A few general characteristics of abdominal pain are as follows:

  • Character of Pain: Abdominal pain can be sharp, dull, stabbing, cramp-like, knifelike, twisting, or piercing. Many other types of pain are possible.
  • Duration of Pain: Abdominal pain can be brief, lasting for a few minutes, or it may persist for several hours and longer. Sometimes abdominal pain comes on strongly for a while and then lessens in intensity for a while.
  • Triggering Events: The pain may be worsened or relieved by certain events, such as worse after meals, better with a bowel movement, better after vomiting, or worse when lying down.

Abdominal pain can make a person want to stay in one place and not move a muscle. Or the pain can make them so restless they want to pace around trying to find "just the right position."

The health care professional will try to pinpoint the area of the abdomen where the pain originates when determining the cause of abdominal pain. This is done by combining questions such as - "When you first had the pain, where did you feel it?" - with examination of the abdomen. Softly pressing on certain areas to elicit the pain and perhaps palpating other areas to examine the size and exact location of an organ are other parts of the physical examination.

When this is combined with general questions about the pain such as "Is the pain dull or sharp?" "How long have you had the pain?" and questions about your state of health - "Did you have to vomit?" - the health care professional can narrow down the possible causes of the pain.

Once the questions and physical exam are completed, the health care professional will either give the patient a diagnosis and advise on follow-up recommendations or order blood tests, and possibly X-rays and imaging studies to further help identify why the patient is in pain.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 4/7/2014

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Although Schnitzler first described the clinical picture of postprandial clinical pain in 1901, the syndrome of postprandial abdominal angina generally is attributed to Baccelli or Goodman (1918).

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