Abdominal Pain (cont.)

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How can I help my doctor to determine the cause of my abdominal pain?

Before the visit, prepare written lists of:

  • Medications you are currently taking, including herbs, vitamins, minerals, and food supplements.
  • Your allergies to medications, food, or pollen
  • The medications that you have tried for your abdominal pain.
  • Important medical illnesses that you have such as diabetes, heart disease, etc.
  • Previous surgeries such as appendectomy, hernia repairs, gallbladder removal, hysterectomy, etc.
  • Previous procedures such as colonoscopy, laparoscopy, CT scan, ultrasound, upper or lower barium X-rays, etc.
  • Previous hospitalizations
  • Ill family members, particularly those who have symptoms similar to yours.
  • Family members with gastrointestinal diseases (involving the esophagus, stomach, intestines, liver, pancreas, and gallbladder).
  • Be candid with your doctor about your prior and current alcohol consumption and smoking habits, any history of chemical dependence.

Be prepared to tell your doctor:

  • When the pain first started
  • If there were previous episodes of similar pain.
  • How frequently episodes of pain occur
  • If each episode of pain starts gradually or suddenly
  • The severity of the pain
  • What causes the pain and what makes the pain worse
  • What relieves the pain
  • The characteristics of the pain. Is the pain sharp or dull, burning or pressure like? Is the pain jabbing and fleeting, steady and unrelenting or crampy (coming and going)?
  • If the pain is associated with fever, chills, sweats, diarrhea, weight loss, constipation, rectal bleeding, loss of appetite, nausea or loss of energy?

After the visit to the doctor, do not expect an instant cure or immediate diagnosis, and remember:

  • Multiple office visits and tests (blood tests, radiographic studies, or endoscopic procedures) are often necessary to establish the diagnosis and/or to exclude serious illnesses.
  • Doctors may start you on a medication before a firm diagnosis is made. Your response (or lack of response) to that medication sometimes may provide your doctor with valuable clues as to the cause of your abdominal pain. Therefore, it is important for you to take the medication that is prescribed.
  • Notify your doctor if your symptoms are getting worse, if medications are not working, or if you think you are having side effects from the medication.
  • Call your doctor for test results. Never assume that "the test must be fine since my doctor never called."
  • Do not self medicate (including herbs, supplements) without discussing with your doctor.
  • Even the best physician never bats 1000. Do not hesitate to openly discuss with your doctor referrals for second or third opinions if the diagnosis cannot be firmly established and the pain persists.
  • Self education is important, but make sure what you read came from credible sources.

Additional resources from WebMD Boots UK on Abdominal Pain

REFERENCE: Fauci, Anthony S., et al. Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine. 17th ed. United States: McGraw- Hill Professional, 2008.

Previous contributing medical author: Dennis Lee, MD


Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 7/25/2012

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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.
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