Abdominal (belly, tummy, stomach or bowel) pain refers to the feeling of any unpleasant or annoying sensation anywhere between the edge of your rib cage to the margins of your waist bone on the front or side .
The causes of abdominal or bowel pain ranges from common conditions like trapped wind, indigestion, anxiety, to appendicitis, or even more serious life threatening conditions like bowel cancer.
Constipation, trapped wind, indigestion, irritable bowel syndrome, urinary tract infection, menstrual pain, endometriosis and appendicitis and emotional distress are the most common causes of pain in the abdomen.
Often, episodes of pain in the abdomen resolves on its own without any serious repercussions. At other times, it is important to unravel the cause of an abdominal pain, as short delays in accurate diagnosis could leave unpleasant consequences.
The primary prerogative of a health care practitioner is therefore, to take seriously any complaint of abdominal pain lasting more than an hour, and to exclude any potentially dangerous cause of such pain that may in anyway pose threat to life.
This is done by way of taking a focused history to understand the pattern of the pain, detailed physical examination, and the conducting of ancillary tests and other investigations as may be necessary.
Once a potentially dangerous cause of pain in the abdomen has been excluded, most causes of abdominal pain would go away with time, and can be managed by treating associated symptoms.
So diverse could the cause of abdominal pain be that even very seasoned medical experts may not be able to tell the cause of pain in the tummy.
This complexity often arises because of the fact that unlike other parts of the body where you have a few things only that could go wrong, the abdomen is home to so many organs and structures, that problems in any one of such organs could cause pain and to pin point the origin is like looking for the proverbial needle in an hay sack.
Apart from the digestive system with all its organs, the abdomen also contains the kidneys, the adrenal glands, the spleen, bladder, ureters, urethra, ovaries, fallopian tubes, uterus (womb), prostate, and the overlying skin, muscles, nerves , blood vessels, lymph channels, and more.
Also, organs far removed from the abdomen that share the same nerve with structures in the abdomen could be diseased, causing the pain to be felt in the abdomen. So too are neighboring structures like the lower lungs, and hear frequent causes of abdominal pain when things go wrong in them.
To understand the cause of a tummy ache then, it is vital to try to narrow down the area of the most pain in the abdomen, be familiar with organs and structures in that part of the abdomen, and with the knowledge of how the different organs that area work, as well as the character of the pain, and other associated symptoms, work out what might be causing the pain.
To make this process simple even for the non-medical person, let's take a look at the common causes of abdominal pain, looking at the different regions of the abdomen, as well as age groups and sex.
The common causes of pain in the right upper abdomen in all age groups and sex include:
Do you have a right upper belly ache? For more detailed discussion on the various causes of pain in the right upper abdomen and how to identify the possible cause from the list above, see the section on right upper abdominal pain here .
Pain in the central upper abdomen is very common, and the usual suspects causing such pain include:
Left upper abdominal pain is perhaps not common as pain in other sides of the abdomen, depending on where you live. The common causes of pain in the left upper abdomen include:
See more information o n left upper abdominal pain here
Pain around the belly button or umbilicus is referred to as central abdominal pain. Pain in this area can be caused by:
This is a very common site of abdominal pain. Causes include:
Pain along the bikini line to the middle, just below the umbilicus is referred to as central lower abdominal pain, supra pubic pain or just as lower abdominal pain.
Causes of abdominal pain in this area are often more specific, and are common in women. Such causes include:
This is another area of the abdomen where pain is frequently localized. Causes of abdominal pain in this region include:
The most common causes of abdominal pain in the left lower abdomen are irritable bowel syndrome, endometriosis, pelvic inflammatory disease, ovarian cyst problems, trapped wind, diverticular disease in the elderly, urinary infection, and mid cycle pain.
This list is by no means exhaustive. Other causes like intestinal worms, emotional problems and accidents would be mentioned in passing, and they should always be considered when trying to decipher the probable cause or causes of abdominal pain in any individual.
Last Updated: 28th September 2013
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