It is most of the time a sign of excess gas or constipation.
Abdominal pain, also called stomach pain, refers to any pain between the chest and the pelvis.
As it is the region that contains most of the organs in the entire body, the abdomen is prone to pain due to many causes and diseases.
The myriad of possible diagnoses often makes abdominal pain challenging for physicians.
All organs within the abdominal and pelvic cavities are possible sources of abdominal pain.
Some organs located in the thoracic region, such as the heart or lungs, can cause abdominal pain.
The familiar sources of abdominal pain are the liver, gallbladder, pancreas, stomach, kidneys, and intestines.
Location of abdominal pain
Due to the type of innervation that most organs located in the abdomen have, the brain is often unable to identify the exact focal point of pain.
Therefore, most of the diseases in the organs located in the abdomen or the pelvis cause diffuse pain or pain in the umbilical region.
Exceptions include the kidneys, gallbladder, ovaries, or appendix, which tend to cause more lateral pain in the hypogastric, lumbar, or iliac regions.
Thus, the location of the pain is not sufficient to reach a definitive diagnosis.
For this reason, in addition to the location, it is essential to evaluate other characteristics of the pain, such as the type, if it appears as burning, colic, spasms, pressure, etc.
Other characteristics must also be taken into account, such as duration, intensity, associated symptoms such as vomiting, diarrhea, fever or the presence of jaundice, some aggravating or triggering factors, and whether the pain radiates. Or not.
Symptoms commonly occur with abdominal pain include back pain, chest pain, constipation, diarrhea, fever, nausea, vomiting, cough, and shortness of breath.
The pain characteristics (e.g., sharp, cramping, radiation), the location of the pain within the abdominal area, and its relationship to eating, vomiting, constipation, or diarrhea are factors associated with symptoms.
Symptoms associated with abdominal pain include:
- Inability to keep food low for more than two days.
- Any sign of dehydration.
- Failure to pass stool, especially if you are also vomiting.
- Painful or persistent urination
- The abdomen is tender to the touch.
- The pain is the result of an injury to the core.
- The pain lasts more than a few hours.
- Gas (flatus, farts).
- Upset in the upper left or right; half; or lower left or right abdomen.
- GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease).
- Chest discomfort.
- Pelvic discomfort
- Loss of appetite
The most severe symptoms include:
- Severe pain
- Bloody stools.
- Persistent nausea and vomiting.
- Involuntary weight loss
- Skin that appears yellow.
- The stinging sensation when you touch your abdomen.
- Swelling of the abdomen
Causes of pain in the left side of the abdomen
In general, abdominal pain does not indicate a severe condition.
Most of the time, the pain is related to intestinal cramps due to consuming fatty foods, mild viral gastroenteritis, or food poisoning.
Mild abdominal pain that lasts for a short time or only a few hours usually stems from gas-filled dilated intestines.
Anxiety can also cause short-term abdominal pain by increasing the gas content in the intestines.
Almost everyone has experienced, at least once, mild pain in the abdomen that has disappeared spontaneously, without medical treatment.
However, when abdominal pain is severe or disabling, lasting for several hours or days, or has other associated symptoms, such as fever, vomiting, lethargy, or bloody diarrhea, it is a cause for concern and specialized medical treatment is necessary.
Also, problems in the base of the left lung and a heart attack can cause pain in the left upper quadrant of the abdomen.
In contrast, intestinal problems are often the main determinants of pain within the central and lower regions of the left abdomen, particularly gastroenteritis and diverticulitis.
In women, gynecological sources, such as ovarian diseases or an ectopic pregnancy, must always be considered.
Abdominal pain can occur in any area of the abdomen, and pain may be felt in one area of the stomach, even though the organ causing the pain is located in a different place.
Some diseases can cause pain in multiple areas of the abdomen.
Here are the common pain patterns associated with diseases:
Pain in the upper left side
If the pain occurs mainly in the upper left part of the abdomen, it could be due to the stomach or kidney causes, such as indigestion, gas, reflux, gastritis, ulcers, and an enlarged spleen.
Pain in the lower left side
Colon conditions (diverticulitis and colitis) inflammation of the intestine or intestinal obstruction, especially if there is constipation.
Cramp pain may be due to gas, indigestion, inflammation, or infection, or it may be due to menstrual cramps or endometriosis.
Severe pain in women can result from gynecological causes such as ovarian cysts or endometriosis, torsion of an ovary (ovarian torsion), rupture of an ovarian cyst, ectopic pregnancy, or pelvic inflammatory disease.
Men may experience severe pain in the left lower quadrant due to testicular torsion or injury.
Kidney stones can cause severe pain that comes in waves.
Trauma to the body wall and shingles can also cause left lower quadrant pain.
Shingles is a reactivation of the chickenpox virus (varicella-zoster) that involves a painful, blistering rash that usually occurs on only one side of the body.
A hernia also causes abdominal pain and weakens the muscle or tissue that allows organs or other tissues to protrude through it.
Pain in the lower abdomen
Possible causes are:
- Urinary tract infections
Causes of abdominal pain originating outside the abdomen
Some conditions that affect organs outside the abdomen can also cause abdominal pain.
Atypical presentations of chest diseases often cause these situations. The most common are:
- Myocardial infarction.
- Hiatal hernia.
- Pleural effusion.
Diagnosis of abdominal pain
Diagnosis of abdominal pain begins with a physical exam, a blood test, and an abdominal and pelvic imaging test.
The doctor may also use an X-ray or a CT scan.
When the doctor suspects that abdominal pain is due to a hollow organ, such as the stomach or colon, an upper gastrointestinal endoscopy or a colonoscopy are the choice techniques for diagnosis.
Associated symptoms such as changes in urination, bloody stools, fever, nausea, weight loss, and persistent vomiting will be looked for.
Also, other symptoms are associated with numbness, burning, tingling, or itching of the skin, or if there are skin rashes (especially blisters) over the area of pain.
Treatment for abdominal pain depends on its cause.
Treatments can range from medications for inflammation, GERD, or ulcers, to antibiotics for infections and changes in personal behavior for abdominal pain caused by certain foods or drinks.
In some cases, such as appendicitis and hernia, diagnostic tests, such as analysis of blood, urine, and stool samples, CT scans, and endoscopy, may be required to rule out or confirm a specific diagnosis, and surgery may be necessary.
Treatments can include:
- Over-the-counter pain relievers.
- Prescription medications for inflammation, GERD, ulcers, or general pain.
- Low-dose antidepressants.
- Changes in behavior, including eliminating certain foods or drinks that can contribute to abdominal pain.
- Surgery to remove intestinal obstructions, hernias, or infected organs.