Abdominal Pain

Abdominal Pain Summary
Abdominal pain is pain in the belly and can be acute or chronic. Causes include inflammation, distention of an organ, and loss of the blood supply to an organ. Abdominal pain can reflect a major problem with one of the organs in the abdomen such as the appendix, gallbladder, large and small intestine, pancreas, liver, colon, duodenum, and spleen.
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Abdominal pain facts

  • Abdominal pain is pain that is felt in the part of the trunk below the ribs and above the pelvis.
  • Abdominal pain comes from organs within the abdomen or organs adjacent to the abdomen.
  • Abdominal pain is caused by inflammation, distention of an organ, or by loss of the blood supply to an organ. Abdominal pain in irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) may be caused by contraction of the intestinal muscles or hyper-sensitivity to normal intestinal activities.
  • The cause of abdominal pain is diagnosed on the basis of the characteristics of the pain, physical examination, and testing. Occasionally, surgery is necessary for diagnosis.
  • The diagnosis of the cause of abdominal pain is challenging because the characteristics of the pain may be atypical, tests are not always abnormal, diseases causing pain may mimic each other, and the characteristics of the pain may change over time

What is abdominal pain?

Abdominal pain is pain that is felt in the abdomen. The abdomen is an anatomical area that is bounded by the lower margin of the ribs and diaphragm above, the pelvic bone (pubic ramus) below, and the flanks on each side. Although abdominal pain can arise from the tissues of the abdominal wall that surround the abdominal cavity (such as the skin and abdominal wall muscles), the term abdominal pain generally is used to describe pain originating from organs within the abdominal cavity. Organs of the abdomen include the stomach, small intestine, colon, liver, gallbladder, spleen, and pancreas.

Technically, the lowermost portion of the area described previously, is the pelvis, which contains the urinary bladder and rectum, as well as the prostate gland in men, and the uterus, Fallopian tubes, and ovaries in women. Practically speaking, it often is difficult to know if lower abdominal pain is coming from the lower abdomen or pelvis.

Occasionally, pain may be felt in the abdomen even though it is arising from organs that are close to, but not within, the abdominal cavity. For example, conditions of the lower lungs, the kidneys, and the uterus or ovaries can cause abdominal pain. On the other hand, it also is possible for pain from organs within the abdomen to be felt outside of the abdomen. For example, the pain of pancreatic inflammation may be felt in the back. These latter types of pain are called "referred" pain because the pain does not originate in the location that it is felt. Rather, the cause of the pain is located away from where it is felt (i.e., it is referred to a different area).

Picture of the organs and glands in the abdomen
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 7/1/2014

Patient Comments

Viewers share their comments

Abdominal Pain - Length Symptoms Lasted Question: How long did the symptoms of your abdominal pain last? Was there anything in particular that helped with pain/symptom relief?
Abdominal Pain - Causes Question: What do you think was the cause of your abdominal pain?
Abdominal Pain - Test Question: Please share your abdominal pain diagnosis experience.
Abdominal Pain - IBS Question: Is your abdominal pain due to IBS? If so, how was it diagnosed?
Abdominal pain in a child

Abdominal Pain Causes

What are the "more serious" causes of abdominal pain?

Unfortunately, the more serious causes can be almost any cause, including most of the ones listed above as "less serious" causes. Consequently, the subjective requirements that most doctors consider as serious causes of abdominal pain are any causes that may generate at least one or more of the following signs or symptoms:


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