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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 also 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 an 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 8/4/2015

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Abdominal Pain - Medical Treatment

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Abdominal Pain - Self-Care

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Abdominal Pain - Symptoms

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Abdominal Pain - Causes

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Abdominal Pain - Physical Examination

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Abdominal Pain in Adults Treatment

Are There OTC Medications or Home Remedies for Abdominal Pain?

Abdominal pain without fever, vomiting, vaginal bleeding, passing out, chest pain, or other serious symptoms often get better without special treatment.

  • If the pain persists or if the person believes the pain may represent a serious problem, they should see a health care practitioner.

  • A heating pad or soaking in a tub of warm water may ease the person's pain.

  • Over-the-counter antacids, such as Tums, Maalox, or Pepto-Bismol, also can reduce some types of abdominal pain. Activated charcoal capsules also may help.

  • Acetaminophen (common brand names are Arthritis Foundation Pain Reliever, Aspirin Free Anacin, Panadol, Liquiprin, Tylenol) may help. This product should be avoided if liver disease is suspected. Try to avoid aspirin or ibuprofen (common brand names are Advil, Motrin, Midol, Nuprin, Pamprin IB) if stomach or ulcer disease is suspected. These drugs can make some types of stomach ache worse.

Read What Your Physician is Reading on Medscape

Abdominal Angina »

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).

Read More on Medscape Reference »

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