What is abdominal discomfort?
Abdominal discomfort is an unpleasant or painful sensation in the belly. The digestive tract occupies a large portion of the abdomen and is often the source of abdominal discomfort, although abdominal discomfort can also be due to conditions of the body wall, skin, blood vessels, or urinary tract. Occasionally, conditions of the reproductive organs or the chest can create abdominal discomfort.
Generalized pain may be due to gas, indigestion, or an infection. When more severe, especially if constipation is also occurring, an intestinal obstruction may be present. Disease of or damage to an organ such as the appendix, gall bladder, spleen, or stomach might be the source when pain is more localized. The area may be tender to the touch or, in the case of a ruptured appendix or similar problem, the pain may be severe and the whole abdomen might be rigid.
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Pain can also be intense with conditions such as gallstones or kidney stones. When stones are causing the symptoms, the pain often occurs in waves, with a rapid onset of pain followed by some level of resolution. Pain that is more cramp-like in quality may be due to gas or indigestion. In women, abdominal discomfort may be due to menstrual cramps, endometriosis, or pelvic inflammatory disease.
Persistent, severe, or worsening pain, or pain accompanied by other serious symptoms tends to be the most worrisome.
Abdominal discomfort can be related to a variety of conditions ranging from minor to serious. Seek immediate medical care (call 911) for severe pain that comes on suddenly, the inability to have bowel movements, bloody stool, vomiting blood, abdominal rigidity, breathing difficulties, or pain in the neck, chest, shoulders, or between the shoulders. You should also seek immediate care if you have cancer or if you might be pregnant and have the sudden onset of abdominal pain or vaginal bleeding.
If your abdominal discomfort is persistent or causes you concern, seek prompt medical care, particularly if you have pain that is worsening instead of improving. Do not eat or drink anything until your symptoms are evaluated. If you have bladder symptoms, fever, decreased appetite, or unexplained weight loss, you should also seek prompt medical care.
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- Abdominal pain. Medline Plus, a service of the National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health. http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/003120.htm.
- Abdominal pain syndrome. American College of Gastroenterology. http://www.acg.gi.org/patients/gihealth/aps.asp.
- Collins RD. Differential Diagnosis in Primary Care, 5th ed. Philadelphia: Lippincott, Williams & Williams, 2012.