Home Symptoms Abdominal pain: causes, diagnosis, risks and tips

Abdominal pain: causes, diagnosis, risks and tips

by Josephine Andrews
Published: Last Updated on 257 views

Everyone knows abdominal pain: oppressive intestinal cramps, pinching abdominal pain on the left or right, sometimes together with nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea. They often occur after a heavy meal or as an upset stomach after eating. The cause is usually nothing to worry about. But abdominal pain can also be dangerous! Here you can find out which signs speak of harmless abdominal cramps and which you should not ignore!

quick overview

  • Description: Abdominal pressure, stabbing, rumbling, or spasms of varying severity, continuous or wavy. The Source of pain is often difficult to pinpoint.
  • Causes: Often harmless (e.g. too heavy a meal), sometimes illnesses such as gastrointestinal flu, gastritis, stomach ulcers, heartburnreflux disease, appendicitis, diverticulitisintestinal obstructiongallstonesherniaheart attackpneumonia, etc.
  • When to the doctor? If you have very severe or increasing abdominal pain, a hard, bloated abdomen, blood in your stools, vomiting, a high fever, or fainting.
  • Diagnostics: Consultation with the patient, palpation, and listening of the abdomen, if necessary additional examinations depending on the suspicion, eg blood tests, ultrasoundgastroscopy, laparoscopy, hydrogen breath test
  • Treatment: depending on the cause, e.g. B. with home remedies (tea, hot water bottle, relaxation, etc.), medication, sometimes surgery

Abdominal pain: description

Pulling, cramping, grumbling – abdominal pain manifests itself in different ways. Sometimes they are the only symptom, but usually, they are accompanied by other symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, fever, diarrhea, constipation, and or bloating.

Abdominal pain can have both harmless and serious causes. For example, a heavy meal or menstruation can cause abdominal pain as well as damage to or disease of internal organs: In addition to the stomach and intestines, the stomach (medical abdomen) houses other organs, all of which can cause symptoms. First and foremost, however, there is something wrong with the digestive organs when it comes to abdominal pain.

Abdominal pain: causes and diseases

The causes of abdominal pain are as diverse as they can be expressed in different ways. Depending on where the pain is noticeable (upper abdomen, lower abdomen, entire abdomen), the cause can be narrowed down.

epigastric pain

Pain in the upper abdomen can originate from one of the organs located there. These include the stomach, duodenum, liver (on the right), gallbladder (on the underside of the liver), spleen (to the left behind the stomach), and pancreas (nearer to the center behind the stomach). Other organs such as the heart or lungs can also be the trigger for upper abdominal pain. The main causes of upper abdominal pain are:

  • Heartburn, reflux disease : Burning, rising pain behind the breastbone, in the upper abdomen and possibly up to the neck as well as occasional acid regurgitation are the main symptoms here. They usually appear after a heavy, high-fat meal. Repeated contact with the aggressive stomach acid can inflame the mucous membrane of the esophagus ( reflux esophagitis ), which causes further pain.
  • Irritable stomach : The digestive problems appear as crampy abdominal pains and independent of eating. This is often accompanied by a feeling of fullness, flatulence and loss of appetite. The irritable stomach is also known as functional dyspepsia.
  • Stomach lining : Common signs of gastritis include bloating, upper abdominal pain, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, heartburn, belching, and bad breath.
  • Stomach ulcer (Ulcus ventriculi) : Typical are severe upper abdominal pain in the middle or on the left side and usually immediately after eating. Over time, the symptoms subside (often until the next meal).
  • Duodenal ulcer (Ulcus duodeni) : Characteristic of this ulcer is fasting pain that appears suddenly in the middle of the upper abdomen at night or a few hours after a meal and improves with eating.
  • Gallstones : Depending on the location and size of the stones, abdominal pain varies in intensity, usually in the right upper abdomen and after a high-fat meal. In the worst case, biliary colic develops with sudden, severe upper abdominal pain that can radiate to the shoulder and back. Fever, chills and vomiting are also common.
  • Liver diseases : Liver damage often manifests itself in the form of tenderness under the right costal arch or upper abdominal cramps. In hepatitis and cirrhosis of the liver, abdominal pain cannot be localized precisely. In addition to the pain, jaundice , a drop in performance, exhaustion and loss of appetite can occur.
  • Inflammation of the pancreas (pancreatitis) : Inflammation of the pancreas causes very severe, colicky abdominal pain that often runs in a belt shape around the upper abdomen. There are usually other symptoms such as vomiting, loss of appetite, nausea, a feeling of fullness, fever or jaundice.
  • Heart diseases : Both with “chest tightness” (angina pectoris) and with a heart attack, pain in the abdomen can also occur in addition to chest pain. A heart attack can cause severe abdominal pain, especially in women. Other signs of such heart problems include shortness of breath and shortness of breath. Then call the emergency doctor immediately!
  • Pneumonia : Due to the anatomical proximity to the chest, upper abdominal pain can also be a sign of pneumonia.
  • Vertebral problems: Problems in the spinal area (such as a blocked thoracic vertebra or a vertebral fracture) sometimes also cause symptoms that radiate into the abdomen and can become noticeable as upper abdominal pain.
  • Abdominal aortic aneurysm : This is an abnormal bulging of the main artery (aorta) in the abdominal area. It sometimes triggers pain in the middle or across the entire abdomen. In addition, from a certain size it can press on neighboring nerves, which can cause pain in the upper abdomen as well as discomfort in the legs. Attention: The aneurysm can suddenly rupture – then there is a risk of death!
  • Cancer : Tumors (such as stomach cancer, liver cancer) can also cause pain or a feeling of pressure in the upper abdomen. Other symptoms then usually occur, such as a feeling of fullness, loss of appetite, weight loss or exhaustion.
  • Porphyria : The collective term porphyria describes a group of metabolic diseases in which the structure of the red blood pigment “heme” is disturbed. Instead, toxic intermediate products are formed that damage the liver, among other things. Affected people often suffer from severe cramping abdominal pain.

abdominal pain

Abdominal pain below the navel often originates in the intestines. But diseases of the urinary tract and gynecological problems can also be responsible for lower abdominal pain.

  • Appendicitis : It usually begins with sudden severe abdominal pain in the navel area, which then moves to the lower right abdomen. They get worse when jumping, walking, sneezing and coughing, the abdominal wall is tense and very sensitive to pressure. This is often accompanied by fever, loss of appetite, nausea and vomiting.
  • Chronic inflammatory bowel disease : Ulcerative colitis manifests itself with bloody diarrhea plus cramping abdominal pain. Crohn’s disease causes painful cramps, especially in the area of ​​the lower right abdomen, but also repeatedly distributed over the entire area. There is also diarrhoea, fever and weight loss.
  • Urinary Tract Infections : A urinary tract infection can also be the reason for lower abdominal pain. The symptoms are often dull, but in the case of a bladder infection they are more cramp-like. In the case of ureteral colic or the passage of a stone caused by it, they appear in waves.
  • Renal colic : Both kidney stones and pelvic inflammatory disease can cause colicky pain in the lower abdomen. These sometimes radiate to the flanks and back. Sometimes they are so severe that nausea and vomiting are the consequences.
  • Inguinal hernia : It is mostly men where the intestine breaks through into the inguinal canal. Signs of this are a pulling pain in the groin with a visible and/or palpable swelling in the groin area.
  • Diverticulitis : This disease is characterized by inflamed protrusions of the intestinal wall . Typical symptoms are dull pain, mostly in the lower left abdomen. Digestive problems such as constipation, diarrhea or flatulence often occur.
  • Gynecological problems : Lower abdominal pain in women can also originate from the genital organs. In addition to menstrual bleeding, diseases such as inflammation of the fallopian tubes , endometriosis and ectopic pregnancy can also cause pain in the abdomen.
  • Inflammation of the prostate : Inflammation of the prostate ( prostatitis ) can cause abdominal pain in the lower abdomen, which sometimes radiates to the back. Pain or feelings of pressure in the perineal area and problems with urination are also possible.

pain throughout the abdomen

The abdominal pain can rarely be located exactly – it usually spreads over the entire abdomen. Even ordinary constipation can cause abdominal pain. But other factors and diseases can also be behind pain in the entire abdomen.

  • Stress : The psyche and a fast, hectic lifestyle often hit the stomach – this leads to gastrointestinal cramps and indigestion.
  • Gastrointestinal infection : Diarrhea with abdominal cramps all over the abdomen, vomiting and nausea, sometimes also fever and general weakness and exhaustion are typical of gastrointestinal infections and mild food poisoning.
  • Intestinal obstruction (ileus) : This acute emergency begins with colic and causes increasing pain as it progresses. In addition, there may be stool retention or vomiting (sometimes from the stool!). The ambulance must be called immediately!
  • Peritonitis : Abdominal pain and fever are common symptoms of peritonitis. Possible triggers are an intestinal obstruction, the rupture of a stomach ulcer or an inflamed appendix, gallstones and infected surgical scars. The same applies here: call the emergency doctor immediately!
  • Intestinal infarction (mesenteric infarction) : It results from the acute blockage of an intestinal artery and begins with severe, knife-like abdominal pain, often accompanied by diarrhea and vomiting. Although the symptoms subside after a few hours, this is deceptive. At this point, the part of the intestine that has been cut off from the oxygen supply is already severely damaged or has even died. In severe cases, there is a risk of circulatory failure and danger to life! If you see signs of an intestinal infarction, go to the doctor immediately!

Acute Abdomen (Acute Abdomen)

Various of the above-mentioned causes of abdominal pain can lead to an “acute abdomen” (acute abdomen) if the course is severe: the abdomen is hardened and bloated and is very painful to pressure. An acute abdomen is always a medical emergency!

Possible causes of an acute abdomen are, for example, intestinal infarction, intestinal obstruction, fallopian tube rupture in the event of an ectopic pregnancy, peritonitis and the rupture of a gastrointestinal ulcer or an inflamed appendix.

abdominal pain in children

Children can usually only say exactly where they have pain from primary school age. Small children in particular are not yet able to locate pain correctly and, for example, point to the stomach as the cause of a sore throat or earache . To be on the safe side, parents should have their child’s recurring abdominal pains checked out by a doctor. There may be a disease to be treated or a food intolerance behind it.

You should see sudden, severe abdominal cramps and accompanying symptoms such as fever, sweating, anxiety, vomiting and diarrhea as alarm signs. Then take your child to the doctor immediately!

abdominal pain in pregnancy

Especially at the beginning of pregnancy, many women experience lower abdominal pain and cramps. This is because as the fetus grows, the uterus and surrounding tissues expand – usually felt as a strong pull. In addition, kicking by the baby or lying on the back often causes abdominal discomfort. In addition, many pregnant women suffer from digestive problems such as constipation.

In such cases, a hot water bottle, digestive teas and sitting in a comfortable position often help to relieve the abdominal pain.

In the following cases, however, a doctor’s visit is advisable :

  • if the pain doesn’t go away
  • if the pain is worse than usual
  • if the pain is accompanied by other symptoms such as fever, vomiting, nausea or bleeding

Sometimes the causes of the symptoms are harmless, for example a simple bladder infection or kidney stones. However, serious complications such as premature birth , miscarriage or ectopic pregnancy can also be hidden behind the symptoms.

Stomach Pain: When Should You See a Doctor?

Abdominal pain that expresses itself differently than usual and goes beyond the usual pinching after a little gluttony or a glass of wine too much should always be taken seriously. Severe abdominal pain that starts suddenly and gets worse over time is always a warning sign. The patient then usually assumes a hunched position while lying down, since this is where he has the fewest symptoms. That alone is reason enough to see a doctor right away. If the following symptoms also occur, you should call the emergency doctor immediately:

  • hard, bloated stomach (so-called defensive tension)
  • severe vomiting
  • Vomiting blood (vomiting red or black), vomiting stools
  • Blood in the stool or bloody diarrhea (stool turning red or black)
  • stool retention or urinary retention
  • high fever
  • blood in the urine , severe back pain
  • Fainting, cold sweat, shock

Abdominal pain: what does the doctor do?

Whether harmless or life-threatening – the doctor must find the source of the abdominal pain as quickly as possible. To do this, he will first collect his medical history in conversation with the patient (anamnesis). He asks about the patient’s diet, digestion and lifestyle and has the complaints described in detail (location and characteristics of the abdominal pain and any other symptoms).

This information often provides the doctor with clues as to the possible cause of the symptoms. For example, blood in the stool indicates a source of bleeding in the intestinal tract, and colorless or light-colored stool can indicate liver problems or bile disorders.

During the physical exam , the doctor feels the abdomen for areas of pain, swelling, or hardening. In addition, the doctor will listen to the abdomen with a stethoscope for intestinal sounds.

This can be followed by further examinations as required, for example:

  • Laboratory tests : Blood values ​​can indicate whether an organ is no longer working properly or whether there is inflammation. Stool and urine are examined for blood, pathogens and signs of inflammation.
  • Ultrasound examination : Ultrasound can be used to quickly and painlessly identify pathological changes in the abdomen. The doctor can also perform what is known as an endosonography. A flexible ultrasound probe is inserted through the esophagus or anus into the digestive tract. This ultrasound from the inside provides even better images.
  • Endoscopy of the stomach and intestines : In the case of the gastroscopy and the colonoscopy , the digestive organs are examined from the inside using an inserted optical device (tiny video camera). As part of the examination, the doctor can also take tissue samples ( biopsy ) and carry out minor surgical interventions.
  • Abdominal endoscopy: In a laparoscopy , the doctor inserts a tiny camera into the abdominal cavity through small incisions in the abdominal wall. In this way, he can diagnose diseases of the abdominal organs and carry out small surgical interventions without leaving large surgical scars.
  • Hydrogen breath test : This allows the suspicion of certain food intolerances to be clarified (e.g. lactose intolerance or fructose intolerance).

In order to confirm or rule out certain causes of abdominal pain, examinations by specialists, such as a gynaecologist, urologist or cardiologist, may also be necessary.

Treatment for abdominal pain depends on the cause. Sometimes general measures such as a change in diet are sufficient. In other cases, medication or surgery may be required.

Home remedies for stomach pain

You don’t always have to go to the pharmacy or to the doctor when your stomach hurts. If the abdominal pain has a harmless cause such as overeating or a mild gastrointestinal infection, you can often help yourself – with home remedies and naturopathy.

The following tips often help against abdominal pain:

  • Artichokes , as juice or tablets, help prevent stomach pressure after a high-fat meal.
  • In the case of a gastrointestinal infection with vomiting and diarrhea, the body loses fluid and salts. A water-salt-sugar mixture (made by yourself or from the pharmacy) compensates for the losses.
  • Soda (baking powder) is said to help with stomach pains : A small pinch of it is dissolved in lukewarm water and drunk.
  • Reduce stress – Too much work and a hectic lifestyle are often the triggers for abdominal pain.

Tea for stomach pain

Medicinal plant teas soothe the stomach and help against abdominal pain and flatulence. are most suitable

You can read how to prepare the tea correctly in the relevant medicinal plant article.

Warmth for abdominal pain

Heat is a tried and tested home remedy for abdominal cramps. Place a hot-water bottle or a heated grain pillow (cherry stone pillow) on the painful area. This often relieves the symptoms. Other heat applications that may be helpful include potato wraps and chamomile belly pads.

potato wrap

A potato wrap emits heat for a very long time – this relaxes the muscles, relieves pain and promotes blood circulation. Boil the potatoes until soft, drain and let the steam evaporate. Place on a towel and mash with a fork. Place an intermediate cloth on your stomach, close the pad to form a packet and place on top. Fix with an outside cloth (e.g. towel) and leave to work for 30 to 60 minutes. Then rest.

You can read more about this in the article Potato wraps.

Belly pad with chamomile

A damp, hot abdominal pad with chamomile also often helps against abdominal pain. To do this, pour half a liter of boiling water over one to two tablespoons of chamomile blossoms and leave covered for five minutes. Then strain off the plant parts.

Place a rolled-up inner towel in a second towel and roll up to form a wrap. Let the ends hang out in the hot tea and then wring them out. Now place the inner cloth around your stomach without any creases. Wrap a dry cloth around. Remove the pad after 20 to 30 minutes. Then rest for half an hour.

You should use a stomach pad a maximum of twice a day.

If the heat becomes uncomfortable, remove the wrap or pad immediately.

Embrocation and massage

Aside from tea and heat, what else you can do to relieve stomach ache: massage your stomach gently or rub essential oils into it.

abdominal massage

A gentle abdominal massage can stimulate the natural movement of the intestines, relieve tension and thus alleviate gastrointestinal complaints. To do this, use both hands and gentle pressure to stroke the abdomen in a clockwise direction for several minutes.

This home remedy is particularly good for children.

belly rub

A belly rub with diluted fennel, lemon balm, chamomile or caraway oil warms, relieves cramps and pain, calms, and stimulates digestion. To do this, warm a few drops in your hands and rub gently on your stomach in a clockwise direction for a few minutes. Don’t work with too much pressure. Then let it rest, well covered, for about half an hour.

The abdominal rub can be carried out several times a day if necessary.

Some essential oils can cause shortness of breath in babies and young children. Therefore, always speak to your pediatrician before use.

Home remedies have their limits. If the abdominal pain (or another discomfort) persists for a long time, does not get better, or even gets worse, you should always consult a doctor.

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