What Is Abdominal Pain
Overview Of Pain In The Abdomen

What is abdominal pain? We define abdominal pain as any irritation or abnormal sensation or discomfort in an area of the body from below the level of the breast plate down to the level of the top of the bones of the pelvis in front or on the sides. Pain in the abdomen is also referred to as tummy pain or belly pain. 

What is abdominal pain? It is the experiencing of pain in any part of the abdomen. This can be caused by any of the conditions listed here.

A look at the illustration to the right will demonstrate why the causes of this common condition is difficult to diagnose - the abdomen is like a mine field with literally several scores of possible things that could go wrong to cause pain there. The key to diagnosis and treatment of pain in the abdomen is to understand the different likely causes of pain in the various regions of the abdomen.

Stomach pain is a word used loosely to describe abdominal pain by many people outside the medical field. In strict terms, it refers only to pain coming from the stomach, as against the abdomen.

Another commonly used word to describe abdominal pain is stomach ache or belly pain. We shall use all the above to mean abdominal pain.

Types Of Abdominal Pain

There are different types of abdominal pain, depending on the seriousness and potential to be life-threatening, the area of the abdomen involved, and the time span of such pain. For clarity, let us explain what is abdominal pain in terms of the various criteria just mentioned.

Acute Abdominal Pain

Acute abdominal pain refers to an pain in the abdomen, that is recent in onset with potential to have life threatening consequences, if nothing is done. If you suspect that you might be having any of the causes of acute abdomen listed here, please see your doctor immediately. Examples of common causes of acute abdominal or stomach pain are:

  • Torsion of the testis
  • Ectopic Pregnancy
  • Twisted or Ruptured Ovarian Cyst
  • Miscarriage
  • Complications of Endometrosis
  • Acute Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (pelvic infection)
  • Acute Urine Infection
  • Acute hepatitis (liver infection
  • Diabetic Keto Acidosis
  • Food poisoning
  • Porphyria
  • Strangulated or obstructed hernias
  • Abdominal migraine

Chronic Abdominal Pain

Chronic Abdominal pain are abdominal pain lasting for more than six weeks, and often does not pose immediate threat to life. In order to understand what is abdominal pain in terms of length of time it is going on, we have listed the following as common causes of chronic abdominal pain:

Upper Abdominal Pain

Upper abdominal or stomach pain are pain occurring anywhere in the abdomen, above the level of the umbilicus or navel. Common causes of upper stomach pain are:

  • Acid Reflux
  • Gastritis
  • Helicobacter pylori infection of the stomach
  • Stomach ulcer
  • Stomach cancer
  • Duodenal ulcer
  • Biliary colic
  • Cholecystitis
  • Epiploic Appendagitis
  • Costochondritis
  • Myofascial Trigger Pain
  • Hepatitis (liver infection)
  • Pancreatitis
  • Myocardial Infarction or Heart Attack
  • Epigastric hernia (also called fat hernia)
  • Splenic rupture
  • Lower lobe pneumonia
  • Pulmonary embolism or blood clots in the lungs

Upper abdominal pain could be:

The more common causes of pain in each of these upper abdominal regions are listed in the illustration above.

Lower Abdominal Pain

Lower abdominal pain is perhaps the most common site for abdominal pain. It is abdominal pain occurring below the level of the umbilicus or navel. The following are the more common causes of lower abdominal pain:

Diagnosis Of Abdominal Pain

In order to find out what could be causing abdominal pain in a patient, doctors usually want a very good story describing the pain, then proceeds to carrying out a physical examination and then blood tests, urine tests, and scans if needed. The true answer of what is abdominal pain for any given patient lies in the result of these questions, examinations, tests and scans.

What Is Abdominal Pain Story

For doctors to be able to point to what is causing abdominal pain in a patient, a good story describing the pain is important. The typical questions doctors would like to find answers to are:

  • Where is the pain
  • When exactly did it start
  • How severe is it on a scale of 1 to 10
  • What is the character of the pain - is it sharp, dull or burning? Is it cramping?
  • Does the pain spread anywhere
  • Is the pain continuous or goes and come
  • What makes it worse
  • What makes the pain better
  • Is there any associated symptoms like nausea or vomiting
  • Any loss of appetite?
  • Is there any abdominal bloating or distension
  • What is your bowel habit like (any change in the frequency of your stool or the texture?)
  • Is there blood or slime in your stool, or has your stool gone black?
  • Are you passing urine normally? Any burning sensation on passing urine
  • Is there fever?
  • When was your last menstrual period if a woman
  • Any blood or abnormal discharge from the vagina?
  • Any pain during intercourse?

Providing clear and definite answers to those questions could help doctors, in most cases, to reach at least 70% of the diagnosis what might be causing abdominal pain.

The doctor may then proceed to do a physical examination and order some blood and urine test.

Tests For Abdominal Pain

In other to verify or glean further information, after a thorough physical examination, the following blood test are typically requested:

  • Urine test for infection, sugar, blood and ketones
  • CBC - Complete Blood Count (also called Full Blood Count in the United Kingdom)
  • Blood Amylase level
  • Urea and Electrolyte testing in blood (BUN in the USA)
  • Clotting Or Coagulation Profile
  • Stool testing for parasites or serology for H.pylori
  • ECG to exclude heart problems or ensure patient is well enough for surgery if required
  • Radiography or X-rays of the Chest and abdomen if needed
  • Ultrasound or HIDA Scan if needed
  • CT Scan
  • Endoscopy
  • Colonoscopy (a form of endoscopy)
  • MRI

Treatment Of Abdominal Pain

Once the cause of an abdominal pain is identified, treatment will depend on whether it is a cause that is amenable to watchful waiting, or medication or surgery or any other type of intervention.

The following are common treatment for a few causes of abdominal or stomach pain.

Acid Reflux...........................................

Alcohol or stress Gastritis...................

Helicobacter pylori (H.pylori) infection gastritis.........................................


Biliary colic........................................




Ectopic pregnancy - depending on severity and stage.........................


Fibroid ..........................................

Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS).........

Kidney Or Urine Infection ..............

Trapped Wind..............................

Gaviscon, Losec

Omeprazole, Rannitidine

Amoxyl or clarithromycin Omeprazole and Metronidazole

Surgical removal

Pain killers

Antibiotics, Surgery

Movicol, Lactulose, Senna etc


Observation, do nothing, methothrexate, or surgery depending on stage and severity

Contraceptive pills, danazole, GnRH Angonist, Mirena IUS, Surgery

Pain killers, Embolisation of the blood supply of the womb, myomectomy, hysterectomy

Depending on type of dominant symptoms - pain, constipation or diarrhaea, painkillers, antispasmodics like buscopan or mebeverine, loperamide, atropine, high fiber or low fiber diet.

Antibiotic like trimethoprim, augmentin, nitrofurantoin, cefalexin,

Peppermint Oil Capsules, simple pain killers like paracetamol, mebeverine, buscopan.

What is abdominal pain? That is an overview of what abdominal pain is and the journey you expect to go through, should you suffer with abdominal pain.

We hope you found this page useful in helping to define what is abdominal pain for you. It could also help as a starting point in initiating a discussion with your doctor, if you suspect that any of the issues discussed here might be what is causing your abdominal pain.

What Is Abdominal Pain For You - Have Your Say

Do you or your loved one surfer with abdominal pain? What is abdominal pain for you? Comments or queries? Share it here!

If you have a question regarding abdominal pain or any other medical question, to increase your chances of getting a reply, please include the following information:

  • Age
  • Any past medical problem
  • Detailed description of the site of your pain, exactly when it started, how it has progressed so far, what seems to make the pain worse or better, if any associated nausea, vomiting or change in bowel habit, any weight loss, etc
  • Any other information that might be useful as stated above under the 'What Is Abdominal Pain Story' heading.

The more detail you give the better please.

Feel free to contribute answers or comments to queries posted by others here and let's create a helpful community to minimize the effect of abdominal pain and related illnesses.

What Other Visitors Have Said Regarding What Is Abdominal Pain For Them

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left sided sharp stabbing pain, mid abdomen 
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I have left side abdominal pain that at times radiates around to the front and back just under the rib cage. It is a pian that is there most of the time …

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Last Updated: 10 October 2014.

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