Pain in the abdomen can range from mild to severe. Some people may experience sharp, shooting pains that come and go quickly, while others may experience prolonged pains that are dull or intense. Abdominal pain is a symptom with many different causes and while most abdominal pain is caused by minor digestive distress, pain that is persistent and/or severe could be caused by something more serious and require attention.
Different types of abdominal pain exist and include:
- Generalized pain: an all over feeling of discomfort or pain in the abdomen
- Localized pain: pain experienced in a specific area in the abdomen
- Cramping: intermittent, oftentimes sharp pain
Causes of abdominal pain include:
- Acid reflux/GERD
- Bowel Obstruction
- Celiac Disease
- Food allergy/intolerance
- Gluten sensitivity
- H. pylori infection
- IBD (Crohn’s Disease & Ulcerative Colitis)
- Lactose intolerance
- Pancreatic cancer (upper abdominal)
- Pancreatic insufficiency
- Poorly Functioning Gallbladder
- Stomach Cancer
- Stomach ulcers
In diagnosing abdominal pain, it is helpful to know what kind of pain you are experiencing and where, as well as the symptoms that accompany your pain. Here are examples of abdominal pain diagnoses and what other symptoms you may experience in addition to your abdominal pain:
- Gastroparesis: Abdominal pain is usually accompanied by nausea, bloating, and feeling abnormally full after eating (particularly after eating foods that contain fat)
- Pancreatic insufficiency: Abdominal cramping in the upper region accompanied by bloating, fatigue, nausea, and oily-looking, foul-smelling stools that float
- Parasites: Abdominal cramping often accompanied by diarrhea that persists for several weeks, bloating, low-grade fever, poor appetite, weight loss, increased flatulence, vomiting, and fat malabsorption that results in oily, floating stools
- Gluten related disorders: Abdominal pain is usually accompanied by a variety of other symptoms including bloating, diarrhea, a change in weight, constipation, fatigue, anemia, rashes, joint pain, neurological symptoms, a “foggy brain”, other autoimmune phenomena, or no other symptoms at all
- Irritable Bowel Syndrome: Abdominal pain or discomfort is usually associated with constipation, diarrhea, or both, and virtually everyone complains of bloating
- Bowel obstruction (scar tissue or tumor pressing on bowel): Sudden and severe abdominal pain and bloating often accompanied by nausea and vomiting
- Pancreatic Cancer: Abdominal pain that radiates to the back and is associated with bloating and weight loss. A significant percentage of people with pancreatic cancer will develop diabetes a few months before their cancer is diagnosed, and blood clots in the veins may also occur. Bloating associated with painless jaundice, weight loss, and loss of appetite is also common
- Stomach cancer: Feeling of fullness in the upper abdomen associated with bloating and indigestion or heartburn, although stomach cancer is usually asymptomatic early on. Once the cancer reaches an advanced stage, there will likely be additional symptoms of weight loss, nausea, and abdominal pain. Infection with the bacteria Helicobacter pylori is felt to be the most important risk factor for the development of stomach cancer
- Diverticulitis: Abdominal pain with a combination of bloating and fever and is usually accompanied by either diarrhea or constipation. The abdomen is usually tender, especially in the left lower aspect
Inflammatory Bowel Disease (Crohn’s and ulcerative colitis): Abdominal pain with additional symptoms like weight loss, diarrhea, or blood in the stool. Undigested food particles in the stool are common due to malabsorption
Abdominal pain associated with bloating and nausea can be caused by the following conditions: bacterial overgrowth, acid reflux, gallbladder removal surgery, H. pylori infection, stomach ulcers, gluten sensitivity, lactose intolerance, and delayed stomach emptying (gastroparesis). If you have persistent and/or severe abdominal pain, it’s important to see your doctor.
Because so many different things cause abdominal pain, there is no one mode of treatment. If your abdominal pain is persistent or chronic, it’s important to find out the cause of your pain in order to find the best treatment. If your abdominal pain is chronic but you haven’t found the cause through conventional exams, tests, and procedures, exploring conditions such as IBS, leaky gut, dysbiosis, and gluten related disorders may help diagnose and treat your pain.
No matter the cause, following the lifestyle Dr. Chutkan outlines in her books in Gutbliss and The Microbiome Solution may be the answer to curing or reducing your abdominal pain.
If you suspect your pain is a result of what you are eating or due to IBS, eating low FODMAP (Fermentable Oligosaccharides, Disaccharides, Monosaccharides And Polyols) foods reduces hydrogen and methane production, which can improve abdominal pain.
Massage also has a hugely beneficial effect on the GI tract, particularly in people with IBS and chronic abdominal pain.