Stomach pain—or abdominal pain more generally—is a pretty common experience for just about everyone. It can present as anything from a dull ache all around the abdomen to a sharp pain in a specific place. It might also accompany other symptoms like bloating or nausea. The abdomen has many different organs, and there are many reasons for why you might feel pain. Here are some possible causes of abdominal pain and the symptoms that can help identify them.
One of the simplest explanations for abdominal pain is that it is the result of something you ate recently. Indigestion is perhaps the most common cause of general upper abdominal pain, and it usually stems from overeating, eating too quickly, or consuming something that temporarily impairs the normal digestive process. It can also be the result of food poisoning, food allergies, or a food intolerance. For instance, people with lactose intolerance lack an enzyme that processes the protein lactose, and this can cause stomach pain and a number of other symptoms.
A stomach ulcer (technically known as a peptic ulcer) is a sore or lesion that develops after the lining of the stomach has degraded. This is typically due to an infection of the H. pylori bacteria or excessive use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). Many people have peptic ulcers without any pain at all, but if present the pain is usually a burning or gnawing sensation in the middle of the abdomen.
Appendicitis is inflammation of the appendix, a small tube-like structure attached to the first part of the large intestine. At the onset of the condition, many people will feel no pain or intermittent pain in the center of the abdomen. After several hours, however, the pain will drastically increase in intensity and move to the lower right side of the abdomen. This is a sign that it needs to be treated as soon as possible.
The gallbladder is a small, hollow organ where bile is stored before being released into the digestive tract. Sometimes components of the bile can calcify and form into a gallstone that blocks the bile duct. In some patients, this blockage can cause severe pain in the center-right side of the abdomen that can later radiate out to the right side of the body or the shoulder blade.
Irritable Bowel Syndrome
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a gastrointestinal disorder that is characterized by symptoms like abdominal pain, bloating, and changes to bowel movements. The pain is usually somewhat mild and experienced in the lower abdomen, and it is often relieved after a bowel movement.
Inflammatory Bowel Disease
Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is a separate gastrointestinal disorder that involves inflammation of the lining of the digestive tract. The two main types are Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. In both cases, general abdominal pain and cramping are common symptoms, as well as diarrhea, fatigue, weight loss, and rectal bleeding.
The kidneys are key organs in the urinary system, and they are involved in balancing the body’s fluids and filtering toxins out of our blood. A kidney infection is a type of urinary tract infection that starts in the bladder and moves to the kidneys. One of the symptoms is pain on the side of the abdomen that could be mistaken for a digestive problem. Another kidney problem that results in abdominal pain is the development of kidney stones, hard deposits of minerals. When the stones are passed through the urinary tract, it can cause severe pain in the lower abdomen and groin.
Diverticulitis is the inflammation of small pouches (diverticula) that can form in the lining of the large intestine. There are typically no symptoms when the pouches are formed, but when bacteria trapped in the pouch leads to diverticulitis, it can lead to intermittent pain in the lower left side of the abdomen. This pain is often worse after eating, and having a bowel movement may bring some relief.
Despite the name, the stomach flu isn’t related to influenza at all; rather, it is a colloquial name for gastroenteritis, an inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract. It is most often caused by a viral infection, but it can also be caused by bacteria or a fungus. In addition to diarrhea and vomiting, a main symptom is abdominal pain that may feel like a stomach ache or general pain throughout the abdomen.
Acid reflux is the technical term for heartburn, a symptom that most often is experienced as a burning sensation in the middle of the chest (it’s also sometimes mistaken for a heart attack). Acid reflux happens when the lower esophageal sphincter fails to keep stomach acids from backing up into the esophagus. When acid reflux becomes chronic, it becomes known as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). Even though it is usually associated with the chest, the pain is sometimes felt lower down at the top of the abdomen where the stomach and esophagus meet.
Conditions of the Female Reproductive System
There are numerous potential problems in the female reproductive system that can present with abdominal pain along with other symptoms. Most women experience menstrual cramps in the lower abdomen, for example, in the general course of menstruation each month. This pain can be more severe if the patient has endometriosis, a condition where uterine tissue grows outside the uterus. Ovarian cysts can also be a cause of pelvic or lower abdominal pain, though it usually only happens if a cyst has ruptured.
Hepatitis is an inflammation of liver tissue that is caused by a viral infection. The liver is an important organ that plays a role in metabolism, the immune system, and removing toxins from blood. When it gets infected, function can become impaired and result in a number of symptoms, including pain in the middle of the abdomen. Because of how the liver reacts with the pancreas, hepatitis has also been known to lead to pancreatitis. Pancreatitis also includes abdominal pain as a symptom.
Contact a Gastroenterologist for More Information
Even though the type of stomach pain you’re feeling may provide a clue to its cause, the fact is that more information is needed to know for sure. If you have stomach pain that lingers and can’t be explained by something you ate recently, you might need to seek help from a medical professional. At Cary Gastro, we are dedicated to providing the best digestive health care so that our patients can maintain a high quality of life. If you’d like to speak with a gastroenterologist, please contact us to request an appointment.