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.
Jay W. Marks, MD, is a board-certified internist and gastroenterologist. He graduated from Yale University School of Medicine and trained in internal medicine and gastroenterology at UCLA/Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles.
Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.
Abdominal pain is pain that is felt in the abdomen.
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
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).
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: