Reviewed By: Pramod Kerkar, MD, FFARCSI

Abdominal Pain in Adults

Abdominal pain is a common condition both in children and adults. While in children, the causes of abdominal pain are different, in adults, the causes are many and widespread. It refers to the pain that occurs anywhere in between the area below the rib cage and the pelvis. Usually referred to as stomach ache or tummy pain, abdominal pain is actually a more elaborate case. This is because, the entire abdomen houses a number of internal body organs such as stomach, pancreas, liver, large intestine, small intestine and also the reproductive organs. Also, some major blood vessels can be found in this region. Hence, the cause of the pain can be associated with any of these organs or blood vessels.

Generally, the cause of abdominal pain in the adults is associated with pregnancy problems in women or appendicitis in both men and women. But, there are other causes of the abdominal pain that are equally serious. However, most abdominal pains usually go away without the need for surgery.

Types of Abdominal Pain in Adults

The pain itself is the symptom of some kind of trouble or illness. However, depending on the location of the pain or the type of pain that one is experiencing, the cause can be determined.

  • Sharp, cramp-like, stabbing and twisting pain in the stomach and abdomen
  • Pain that makes you throw-up or vomit
  • Pain that comes and goes, like waves
  • Constant pain that stays for long
  • Dull pain
  • Pain that makes you stay in a single position
  • Pain that makes you restless and you keep moving to find the right position that will give you comfort.

All these different types of pains indicate different possibilities for the occurrence of the pain. Sometimes the pain lasts for hours and sometimes they are short-lasting.

What Can Cause Abdominal Pain in Adults?

There are many causes behind abdominal pain in adults. The most common causes of abdominal pain in adults have been discussed here, along with their location and the type of pain and other symptoms.

Common Stomach Problems:

The most common causes of abdominal pain in adults are heartburn, acid reflux or gastritis. These causes can stay for a long term or even recur.

Trapped Wind as the Cause of Abdominal Pain:

An embarrassing condition that causes stomach ache is trapped wind. You will feel bloating along with the pain. But, this is one of the causes that are easiest to deal with.

Constipation:

Chronic constipation or acute constipation both can cause pain in the stomach. Constipation can last for long, if not treated well or if proper diet is not followed.

Gastroenteritis to Cause Abdominal Pain:

If you get sudden stomach cramps along with diarrhea, the cause of the abdominal pain may be gastroenteritis. This is commonly known as the tummy bug in which a viral or bacterial infection in the stomach as well as in the bowel causes the pain and diarrhoea.

Period Pain as a Reason for Abdominal Pain in Adults:

Adult women frequently suffer from period pain during their menstrual cycle. Some have regular pain in every cycle. Some have occasional pains in some menstrual cycles. The pain can be mild to severe.

IBS or Irritable Bowel Syndrome:

When abdominal pain, stomach cramps and diarrhoea occur repeatedly, the cause is IBS or irritable bowel syndrome. This can keep recurring or last for days, months or even years.

Food Poisoning as a Cause of Abdominal Pain in Adults:

The cause of gastroenteritis is sometimes food poisoning which can lead to abdominal pain.

Stomach Ulcer:

If there is bleeding from the lining of your stomach and the small intestine or duodenum, the cause can be stomach ulcer.

Appendicitis:

This is a common cause of abdominal pain in adults in which the pain occurs in the lower right hand side of the abdomen. This is the area where the appendix is. The appendix is a small finger like organ that does not take any part in any of our physiological systems. Hence, it is named this. For some, the appendix creates troubles and pain and this means that the appendix needs to be removed. The pain usually starts from near the umbilicus and then as the pain worsens and increases, it moves to the lower right abdomen.

Kidney Stone to Cause Abdominal Pain:

When there are larger stones in the kidney tubes that cannot be removed or passed out by urine, it causes pain in the lower abdomen.

Gallstones and Acute Cholecystitis:

If the gall bladder has stones or if the gall bladder is inflamed, it can cause pain in the abdomen.

Enlarged Spleen:

If the pain occurs in the upper left side of your abdomen, it can be because of an enlarged spleen.

Ovarian Cyst as a Reason for Abdominal Pain in Adults:

Another possible cause of abdominal pain in adult women is cyst in the ovaries. The cyst may develop either in one ovary or in both. Depending on the individual ovary, the location of the pain will differ.

Hepatitis:

In case the liver is inflamed, then also there will be pain in the abdomen, especially in the upper right side of the abdomen. This will indicate the possibility of hepatitis.

Pancreatitis:

Just like hepatitis, if the pancreas is inflamed instead of the liver, it is referred to as pancreatitis and this is another possibility for abdominal pain in adults. This type of abdominal pain is usually severe and steady that can be felt in the upper back and upper abdomen.

Hernia:

Yet another possible cause of abdominal pain in adults is hernia in which a tissue or an organ abnormally shifts its place through its cavity wall.

These are the most common causes of abdominal pain in the adults. But of course, there can be other possibilities or causes as well. Sometimes, the abdominal pain is a result of some other internal problem. So, if you are experiencing pain and discomfort that is not going away with over-the-counter medicines, it is important that you see a doctor.

Cancer as Cause of Abdominal Pain in Adults:

This is probably the most difficult cause of abdominal pain in which the cancer may develop in any of the organs in the abdomen, such as the stomach, liver or pancreas or even in the reproductive organs.

Symptoms of Abdominal Pain in Adults and When to See a Doctor

Along with pain, there can be other symptoms as well. Depending on the cause of the pain, these additional symptoms may be seen. These symptoms help the doctor to diagnose the condition clinically. If you find any of these symptoms along with your abdominal pain, you should see a doctor immediately.

  • Vaginal bleeding along with abdominal pain (In case you are pregnant and you experience this symptom, see a doctor at once)
  • Bloating
  • Blood vomit
  • Fever and sweats
  • Pain in scrotum
  • Shortness of breath
  • Vomiting and pain
  • Not being able to urinate
  • Blood in urine
  • Blood in stool
  • Not being able to pass stool
  • Not being able to pass gas
  • Become pale.

All these symptoms indicate different problems in the body, especially the abdomen.

Diagnosis of Abdominal Pain in Adults

Diagnosing the abdominal pain and understanding its cause is very important. This is because; the possible causes of abdominal pain are wide ranged. So, finding the right one is crucial for the right treatment.

When you visit the doctor with some abdominal pain, the doctor will at first run some clinical tests and then recommend some other tests to find out the exact cause. These would include –

Checking the penis and scrotum, if the patient is male.

Doing a pregnancy test and check if the ovaries, fallopian tubes and the uterus are healthy, if the patient is female. In case the test results are positive, it may indicate an ectopic pregnancy in which the pregnancy occurs in the fallopian tube, instead of the uterus.

Checking the rectum to find traces of blood hidden, if any.

Blood tests for checking infections in the body. If there is an infection, the white blood cell count will be high. If there is bleeding, the haemoglobin count will be low.

Urine test to check for blood in urine or stone in the kidneys or infection in the urine.

Endoscopy to check problems in the internal organs.

Lipase and amylase tests for checking if the cause of the pain is pancreatitis.

To check if the cause of the pain is hepatitis or gallstone, liver enzyme tests are done to check if the levels have increased or not.

Ultrasounds, X-ray, MRI scans and CT scans are done to check for ovarian cysts, gall stones or cancer.

Along with these, some more intensive diagnostic tests may be done such as –

  • Capsule enteroscopy
  • Endoscopic ultrasound
  • Colonoscopy
  • Balloon enteroscopy
  • Esophagogastroduodenoscopy.

The doctor will also give you advice on visiting a specialist, if needed.

Treating Abdominal Pain in Adults

The treatment for abdominal pain in adults is always focussed on the very cause of the pain. As per the diagnosis, the doctor will suggest over the counter medicines to cope with the pain temporarily. For period pain and other pains that are temporary, the doctor will suggest some pain killers. Antacids are recommended for acid reflux, gas, bloating, trapped with or heartburn. In some cases, surgery is needed. If it is appendix or hernia, surgery is the only option. In case of cancer, chemotherapy, radiation therapy etc. are recommended. For chronic constipation or diarrhoea, the doctor would recommend lifestyle and dietary changes along with medicines. Even for gallstone and kidney stone, if medicines and other therapies cannot eliminate the stone, surgery may be needed.

Also Read:

Pramod Kerkar

Written, Edited or Reviewed By:

, MD,FFARCSI

Pain Assist Inc.

Last Modified On: May 16, 2018

This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer

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