Abdominal Pain

Pain in the abdomen (the part of the body from below the ribs to above the pelvis) is a common complaint. Frequently, phrases such as 'stomach ache', 'belly ache' or 'tummy ache' are used to describe this. The causes of pain are often not the same and require careful questioning and examination to find the exact cause.

When you should go and see a doctor

In some cases abdominal pain may indicate a serious medical condition and it is important to seek medical advice where you have any of the following symptoms alongside the pain

  • where severe pain lasts for longer than one hour or comes and goes over more than 24 hours
  • shortness of breath
  • persistent vomiting
  • any difficulty eating, drinking or swallowing (over a period of several hours)
  • fever (over 39C), sweatiness or clamminess
  • any blood in your stool (poo), either fresh red blood or a black/tar like consistency
  • any blood in your vomit
  • inability to move bowels
  • inability to pass wind
  • progressive unintentional weight loss
  • loss of appetite

Causes of abdominal pain

There is an extensive list of causes for abdominal pain. The following are some of the more common causes of abdominal pain

  • Gallstones
  • Pancreatitis
  • Helicobacter Pylori
  • Ulcer
  • Diarrhoea
  • Constipation
  • Infection/Food poisoning
  • Irritable bowel syndrome
  • Inflammatory bowel disease
  • Ulcerative colitis
  • Crohn’s disease
  • Appendicitis
  • Diverticulitis
  • Cancer

Diagnosis of abdominal pain

Your doctor will first take a history to get obtain a rough idea what your abdominal pain is like. This will be followed by a thorough examination to help determine the likely cause of abdominal pain. Other examinations that may be necessary include a rectal examination.

Further tests are often necessary to narrow down the cause which may include blood, urine or stool tests. Scans such as an x-ray or CT scan or more direct tests such as an endoscopy can help make a diagnosis.

Sometimes abdominal pain will resolve by itself without any treatment. It is also often in many people triggered by specific foods, and with dietary avoidance can sometimes lead to a resolution without any specific treatment such as in lactase deficiency and irritable bowel syndrome.