Name of Symptom/Sign:
Classifications and external resources
Abdominal pain can be one of the symptoms associated with transient disorders or serious disease. Making a definitive diagnosis of the cause of abdominal pain can be difficult, because many diseases can result in this symptom. Abdominal pain is a common problem. Most frequently the cause is benign and/or self-limited, but more serious causes may require urgent intervention.
Abdominal pain is traditionally described by its chronicity (acute or chronic), its progression over time, its nature (sharp, dull, colicky), its distribution (by various methods, such as abdominal quadrant (left upper quadrant, left lower quadrant, right upper quadrant, right lower quadrant)) or other methods that divide the abdomen into nine sections), and by characterization of the factors that make it worse, or alleviate it.
Due to the many organ systems in the abdomen, abdominal pain is a concern of general practitioners/family physicians, surgeons, internists, emergency medicine doctors, pediatricians, gastroenterologists, urologists and gynecologists. Occasionally, patients with rare causes can see a number of specialists before being diagnosed adequately (e.g., chronic functional abdominal pain)...
Types and mechanisms
- The pain associated with the abdomen of inflammation of the parietal peritoneum (the part of the peritoneum lining the abdominal wall) is steady and aching, and worsened by changes in the tension of peritoneum caused by pressure or positional change. It is often accompanied by tension of the abdominal muscles contracting to relieve such tension.
- The pain associated with obstruction of a hollow viscus (as opposed to peritoneal and solid organ pain) is often intermittent or "colicky", coinciding with the peristaltic waves of the organ. Such cramps are exactly what is experienced with early acute appendicitis and gastroenteritis and are somewhat relieved by writhing and massage.
- The pain associated with abdominal vascular disturbances (thrombosis or embolism) can be sudden or gradual in onset, and can be severe or mild. Pain associated with the rupture of an abdominal aortic aneurysm may radiate to the back, flank, or genitals.
- Pain that is felt in the abdomen may be "referred" from elsewhere (e.g., a disease process in the chest may cause pain in the abdomen), and abdominal processes can cause radiated pain elsewhere (e.g., gall bladder pain—in cholecystitis or cholelithiasis—is often referred to the shoulder).
- parietal peritoneal inflammation
- inflammation of bowel wall Crohn's disease, ulcerative colitis, microscopic colitis, diverticulitis, gastroenteritis
- autoimmune: sarcoidosis, vasculitis
- mechanical obstruction of hollow viscera such as the small intestine, the appendix associated with appendicitis, the large intestine (e.g. by intussusception), the biliary tree (e.g. by gallstones), or the ureter (e.g. by urinary calculi)
- vascular disturbances (leading to ischemia): embolism, thrombosis, vascular rupture, torsional occlusion (volvulus), sickle cell anemia, left renal vein entrapment, superior mesenteric artery syndrome (nutcracker syndrome)
- abdominal wall injury/disruption: mesenteric traction, muscle trauma, muscular infection, abdominal cutaneous nerve entrapment syndrome (ACNES), also known as intercostal neuralgia; diverticulosis (rare)
- digestive: lactose intolerance, Celiac sprue
- distention of visceral surfaces such as the hepatic or renal capsule
- referred pain from the thorax (pneumonia, coronary occlusion), the spine (radiculitis secondary to arthritis), genitals (testicular torsion)
- metabolic disturbance: lead poisoning, Black widow spider bite, uremia, diabetic ketoacidosis, porphyria, C1-esterase inhibitor deficiency, adrenal insufficiency
- neurogenic pain: tabes dorsalis, herpes zoster, Lyme disease (Lyme radiculitis or Bannwarth syndrome)
- functional pain, Irritable Bowel Syndrome (affecting up to 20% of the population, IBS is the most common cause of recurrent, intermittent abdominal pain)
- reproductive organs (in women): mittelschmerz, torsion of the ovary, ectopic pregnancy,
- pelvic inflammatory disease
- Post-surgical adhesions
Acute abdomen can be defined as severe, persistent abdominal pain of sudden onset that is likely to require surgical intervention to treat its cause. The pain may frequently be associated with nausea and vomiting, abdominal distention, fever and signs of shock.
Selected causes of acute abdomen
Recurrent Abdominal Pain in Female Adolescents
Recurrent abdominal pain (RAP) occurs in 5–15% of female children 6–19 years old. In a community-based study of middle and high school students, 13–17% had weekly abdominal pain. Using criteria for irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), 14% of high school students and 6% of middle school students fit the criteria for adult IBS. As with other difficult to diagnose chronic medical problems, patients with RAP [Recurrent Abdominal Pain] account for a very large number of office visits and medical resources in proportion to their actual numbers.
When a physician assesses a patient to determine the etiology and subsequent treatment for abdominal pain the patients history of the presenting complaint and physical examination should derive a diagnosis in over 90% of cases.
It is important also for a physician to remember that abdominal pain can be caused by problems outside the abdomen, especially heart attacks and pneumonias which can occasionally present as abdominal pain.
Investigations that would aid diagnosis include
- Blood tests including Full Blood Count, Electrolytes, Urea, Creatinine, Liver function tests, pregnancy test and lipase.
- Imaging including erect Chest X-ray and plain films of the abdomen
- An electrocardiograph to rule out a heart attack which can occasionally present as abdominal pain
If diagnosis remains unclear after history, examination and basic investigations as above then more advanced investigations may reveal a diagnosis. These as such would include
- Computed Tomography of the Abdomen/Pelvis
- Abdominal or Pelvic ultrasound
- Endoscopy and Colonoscopy (not used for diagnosing acute pain)
- Apley J, Naish N: Recurrent abdominal pains: A field survey of 1,000 school children. Arch Dis Child 1958;33:165 - 170.
- Chronic Pelvic Pain and Recurrent Abdominal Pain in Female Adolescents
- Boyle JT, Hamel-Lambert J: Biopsychosocial issues in functional abdominal pain. Pediatr Ann 2001;30:1.
-  Stomach ache or abdominal pain can be misdiagnosed.Consult a Gastroenterologist rather than ER doctor if Pain persists more than a day.
|Digestive system - Gastroenterology (primarily K20-K93, 530-579)|
|Esophagus||Esophagitis - GERD - Achalasia - Boerhaave syndrome - Nutcracker esophagus - Zenker's diverticulum - Mallory-Weiss syndrome - Barrett's esophagus|
|Peptic (gastric/duodenal) ulcer - Gastritis - Gastroenteritis - Duodenitis - Dyspepsia - Pyloric stenosis - Achlorhydria - Gastroparesis - Gastroptosis - Portal hypertensive gastropathy|
|Hernia||Inguinal (Indirect, Direct) - Femoral - Umbilical - Incisional - Diaphragmatic - Hiatus|
|Noninfective enteritis and colitis||IBD (Crohn's, Ulcerative colitis) - noninfective gastroenteritis|
|Other intestinal||vascular (Abdominal angina, Mesenteric ischemia, Ischemic colitis, Angiodysplasia) - Ileus/Bowel obstruction (Intussusception, Volvulus) - Diverticulitis/Diverticulosis - IBS|
other functional intestinal disorders (Constipation, Diarrhea, Megacolon/Toxic megacolon, Proctalgia fugax) - Anal fissure/Anal fistula - Anal abscess - Rectal prolapse - Proctitis (Radiation proctitis)
|Liver/hepatitis||Alcoholic liver disease - Liver failure (Acute liver failure) - Cirrhosis - PBC - NASH - Fatty liver - Peliosis hepatis - Portal hypertension - Hepatorenal syndrome|
|Accessory digestive||Gallbladder (Gallstones, Choledocholithiasis, Cholecystitis, Cholesterolosis, Rokitansky-Aschoff sinuses)
Biliary tree (Cholangitis, Cholestasis/Mirizzi's syndrome, PSC, Biliary fistula, Ascending cholangitis)
Pancreas (Acute pancreatitis, Chronic pancreatitis, Pancreatic pseudocyst, Hereditary pancreatitis)
|Other/general||Appendicitis - Peritonitis (Spontaneous bacterial peritonitis)
Malabsorption (celiac, Tropical sprue, Blind loop syndrome, Whipple's)
postprocedural: Gastric dumping syndrome - Postcholecystectomy syndrome
bleeding: Hematemesis - Melena - Gastrointestinal bleeding (Upper, Lower)
|See also congenital|
|Symptoms and signs (R00-R69, 780-789)|
|Tachycardia - Bradycardia - Palpitation - Heart murmur - Epistaxis - Hemoptysis - Cough - abnormalities of breathing (Dyspnea, Orthopnoea, Stridor, Wheeze, Cheyne-Stokes respiration, Hyperventilation, Mouth breathing, Hiccup, Bradypnea, Hypoventilation) - Chest pain - Asphyxia - Pleurisy - Respiratory arrest - Sputum - Bruit/Carotid bruit - Rales|
|Digestive system and abdomen||Abdominal pain (Acute abdomen) - Nausea/Vomiting - Heartburn - Dysphagia - flatulence and related (Abdominal distension, Bloating, Burping, Tympanites) - Fecal incontinence (Encopresis) - hepatosplenomegaly (Hepatomegaly, Splenomegaly) - Jaundice - Ascites - Fecal occult blood - Halitosis|
|Skin and subcutaneous tissue||disturbances of skin sensation (Hypoesthesia, Paresthesia, Hyperesthesia) - Rash - Cyanosis - Pallor - Flushing - Petechia - Desquamation - Induration - Diaphoresis|
|abnormal involuntary movements (Tremor, Spasm, Fasciculation, Athetosis) - Gait abnormality - lack of coordination (Ataxia, Dysmetria, Dysdiadochokinesia, Hypotonia) - Tetany - Meningism - Hyperreflexia|
|Urinary system||Renal colic - Dysuria - Vesical tenesmus - Urinary incontinence - Urinary retention - Oliguria - Polyuria - Nocturia - Extravasation of urine - Extrarenal uremia|
emotional state and behaviour
|Anxiety - Somnolence - Coma - Amnesia (Anterograde amnesia, Retrograde amnesia) - Dizziness/Vertigo - smell and taste (Anosmia, Ageusia, Parosmia, Parageusia)|
|Speech and voice||speech disturbances (Dysphasia, Aphasia, Dysarthria) - symbolic dysfunctions (Dyslexia, Alexia, Agnosia, Apraxia, Acalculia, Agraphia) - voice disturbances (Dysphonia, Aphonia)|
|General symptoms and signs||Fever (Hyperpyrexia) - Headache - Chronic pain - Malaise/Fatigue (Asthenia, Debility) - Fainting (Vasovagal syncope) - Febrile seizure - Shock (Cardiogenic shock) - Lymphadenopathy - Edema (Peripheral edema, Anasarca) - Hyperhidrosis (Sleep hyperhidrosis) - Delayed milestone - Failure to thrive - Short stature (Idiopathic) - food and fluid intake (Anorexia, Polydipsia, Polyphagia) - Cachexia - Xerostomia - Clubbing|