When to Seek Medical Attention for Abdominal Pain

abdominal painAbdominal pain is fairly common and is usually not cause for alarm. Every structure in the abdomen can cause pain, including:

  • Stomach
  • Intestines
  • Liver
  • Spleen
  • Kidneys
  • Bladder
  • Appendix
  • Sexual organs
  • Blood vessels
  • Muscles

Since every organ and structure tends to have some type of sensory innervation, they can all be sources of pain.

Almost everyone has experienced pain from the stomach and intestines.  From overeating, to acid reflux and indigestion, to constipation or diarrhea, the problems are common.  Most of these issues are short lived, inconvenient, and not serious.  When they are intense and do not resolve quickly, sometimes they do require medical intervention.

When to Seek Medical Help

The main concern with abdominal pain is when to seek medical attention to help determine the cause.  Signs that indicate a need for further attention include:

  • Fever
  • Inability to eat or drink fluids for over a day
  • Ongoing vomiting
  • Vomiting blood
  • Severely painful abdomen and not being able to touch it
  • Painful urination
  • Passing blood in urine or stools
  • Difficulty breathing due to pain
  • Acute traumatic injury

Since there are so many different organs and structures linked to the abdomen, diagnosing the cause of pain may be difficult.  The starting point is always the history and story provided by the patient. A physical exam gives the next set of information.  With this basic information, the clinician then can determine the best tests to help find the answers to the cause of the pain.  Tests may include blood and urine analysis, X-rays, CT scans, ultrasounds, and sometimes invasive scopes of various systems.

Treating Abdominal Pain

Treatment options for abdominal pain are as variable as the causes.  Since the vast majority of causes are not life threatening, treatment is often simple.  Serious problems often require the intervention of medical specialists to guide the evaluation and treatment.  Self-diagnosis and treatment for minor problems is fine.  But when the symptoms are more serious, find a medical specialist who you can trust.  If looking up information on the Internet, stick to respected medical sites like WebMD, Mayo Clinic, and the NIH (National Institutes of Health).  Do not panic about information you read on the Internet but use it to discuss concerns with your provider.

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Thomas Cohn, MD

Interventional pain doctor helping Minnesotans manage back, neck, foot, and other pain. Board-certified in physical medicine and rehabilitation with additional board-certification in pain management from the American Board of Anesthesiology (ABA), the American Board of Interventional Pain Physicians (ABIPP) and the American Board of Pain Medicine (ABPM).

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