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Abdominal Pain

What is abdominal pain?
What causes abdominal pain?
How does my doctor tell if I have abdominal pain?
How is abdominal pain treated?

What is abdominal pain?

Abdominal pain is a general term for any discomfort felt in or around the stomach or abdomen. Because there are many organs in the abdomen, pain in the abdomen can come from any one of them, including the stomach, the intestines, the liver, the gallbladder, the pancreas, and the kidneys.

What causes abdominal pain?

Many different gastrointestinal (digestive) conditions can cause abdominal pain, including:

Other common causes include:

  • Stomach flu
  • Excessive gas
  • Lactose intolerance (milk intolerance)
  • Appendicitis (inflammation of the appendix)
  • Food allergies
  • Food poisoning (salmonella, shigella)
  • Hernia
  • Kidney stones
  • Urinary tract infections
  • Parasite infections (Giardia)

Most of the time, abdominal pain does not require urgent medical attention. However, if the pain is severe, or if the pain continues for several days, see your doctor.

How does my doctor tell if I have abdominal pain?

Your doctor will want to ask you questions about the location and severity of your abdominal pain, and how often it occurs. In addition, he or she may wish to perform one or more of these common tests:

  • Blood, urine, and stool tests
  • A barium enema X-ray test. Barium is a white substance that allows problem areas of the intestines to show up on an X-ray. You will be given a barium enema before taking the X-ray.
  • An upper gastrointestinal X-ray (upper GI series) shows the condition of your esophagus and stomach. Before the test, you will drink a chalky material that helps the esophagus and stomach show up on the X-ray.
  • In an upper GI endoscopy, the doctor uses an endoscope - a tiny video camera mounted on a thin, flexible tube with a light at the end - to look inside your esophagus and stomach. The doctor inserts the endoscope through your mouth, and guides it into the esophagus, where he or she uses a tiny tool to take a sample (biopsy) for later examination under a microscope. You will be given medication to make you relaxed and drowsy during the procedure, which only takes 15-20 minutes.
  • An ultrasound, which uses sound waves to create images of the inside of your body

How is abdominal pain treated?

The treatment of abdominal pain depends on the root cause of the pain.

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