The abdomen is a large area of the body and contained within the abdominal cavity are several organs that can cause pain at one time or another. Generally abdominal pain, also known as stomach pain, is not serious and resolves quickly. In contrast, serious conditions such as cancer frequently do not cause pain until they are at a later stage.
The nerves serving the various abdominal organs determine where your pain may be felt: either in the upper region under your ribs, across your middle around your belly-button, in the lower abdominal area or all over. Stomach pain can be described in various ways, depending on the cause.
Types of abdominal pain
Cramps may be caused by gas and are often associated with diarrhoea. Colicky pain, which rises and falls in waves, can be associated with organs such as the gallbladder or kidney. Generalised, ‘all-over’ pain can be a sign of a range of problems, such as a stomach bug, food allergy or simple gas. Then there is the localised pain, which can be felt over a very specific and defined area of the abdomen – this is typical of pain coming directly from an organ, such as the appendix when it is inflamed causing appendicitis.
Long term conditions can also cause abdominal pain. Crohn’s disease, Irritable Bowel Syndrome, Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease, Endometriosis and hernia are examples. You can also get abdominal pain from ulcers, gallstones, kidney stones and as all women know, menstrual cramps. Intolerance to lactose or glucose can also cause stomach pain.
Avoiding abdominal pain
When your symptoms are not severe you can usually manage to avoid or treat stomach pain with a few simple remedies. These can include:
- Simple pain killers such as paracetamol or anti-spasm drugs such as buscopan
- Antacids or medication to relieve gas
- Drinking plenty of fluids
- A warm bath or applying heat to the area using a hot-water bottle.
Smoking can irritate the lining of the throat and can make an upset stomach worse, so cutting out cigarettes could help. The same goes for alcohol, which is difficult to digest and can irritate the liver and stomach lining.
In addition, keeping a good general health can nip straight-forward causes of stomach pain in the bud. So, regular exercise and a diet with plenty of fibre will help keep good gut health. Avoiding trigger foods and foods that are difficult to digest can play a part, for example cutting out fried, creamy and fatty foods and foods that you know are a challenge. Furthermore, home remedies may help: some people swear by herbal treatments such as regularly drinking spearmint tea or including plenty of ginger and aloe juice in their diet.
When to see a doctor
There are a few red flag symptoms which should prompt you to see a doctor if you are experiencing them in addition to your abdominal pain. These include:
- Weight loss that is unexplained
In addition, consult a doctor if your pain does not resolve with medication, it becomes suddenly severe and makes your abdomen very sensitive to pressure but improves when you lie flat and still, or if it radiates into your chest.