Abdominal pain refers to discomfort in the belly region, which is the home to the stomach, gallbladder, liver, small and large intestines, and pancreas. Together, these organs make up your digestive system, and any disease or disorder that affects them can cause abdominal pain.
But pain can also stem from problems with your abdominal wall, muscles, skin, or other tissues. Sometimes back and chest problems feel like abdominal pain, even though they originate elsewhere.
The pain presents differently depending on the problem and the person — it can be achy, sharp, dull, constant, intermittent, localized, or generalized. And the symptoms of different conditions can overlap, making abdominal pain even more complicated.
To help you wade through the confusion, Dr. Ayub Hussain, our board-certified specialist at Northside Gastroenterology Associates in Houston and Cypress, Texas, offers his expert advice. Here, he explains some of the most common gastrointestinal problems that lead to abdominal pain.
Where does it hurt?
Dr. Hussain starts by talking with you about your symptoms — specifically, where it hurts. In general, we start by narrowing down the quadrant of your abdomen. That’s because the location of your pain narrows down the organs and tissues involved.
The upper right quadrant involves:
- The right kidney
- Bile ducts
The upper left quadrant involves:
- The left kidney
The lower right quadrant involves:
The lower left quadrant involves:
Once we know which quadrant is the problem, Dr. Hussain can run tests on those organs and tissues.
Common gastrointestinal conditions
Abdominal pain can indicate something as simple as temporary indigestion after a large, spicy meal or a condition as serious as cancer. Here are some of the most common conditions we see at Northside Gastroenterology Associates.
Gastrointestinal reflux disease (GERD)
GERD is chronic acid reflux that allows your stomach acid to flow upward past your lower esophageal sphincter and into your esophagus. In addition to severe heartburn, GERD causes abdominal pain, often described as a burning sensation or sour stomach. Uncontrolled GERD can damage the lining of your esophagus — a condition called Barrett’s esophagus — and lead to cancer.
Also known as inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), ulcerative colitis inflames your colon and creates sores or ulcers in your digestive tract lining. In addition to abdominal pain, you may experience diarrhea, rectal bleeding, rectal pain, cramping, weight loss, and fever.
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) also causes abdominal pain, but it’s a gastrointestinal tract disorder, while IBD is a bowel wall problem. You can have both conditions simultaneously.
Stomach ulcers or peptic ulcers are bleeding sores in your stomach lining. They cause abdominal pain, bloating, nausea, and vomiting. About half of all peptic ulcers result from the overuse of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen.
Your gallbladder contains bile and waste materials like cholesterol and bilirubin that can form hard pellets called gallstones. Gallstones typically remain inside the organ or pass without notice. However, if they get stuck in the narrow tube that leads from your gallbladder to your intestines, you develop choledocholithiasis and experience abdominal pain, clay-colored stools, yellow-tinged skin and eyes, loss of appetite, and fever.
Diverticulitis occurs when small pouches in the lower part of your large intestine become inflamed. This typically causes abdominal pain in the lower left quadrant, constipation, nausea, vomiting, and fever.
Abdominal scar tissue
Scar tissue, sometimes called abdominal adhesions, are bands of scar tissue between your organs. They can develop after abdominal surgery and often form around your small intestine between the folds and loops. When this scar tissue binds your organs together, you may experience abdominal pain, bloating, nausea, and vomiting.
Colon cancer has multiple symptoms, such as rectal bleeding, fever, bloody stools, anemia, weight loss, weakness, and abdominal pain. Dr. Hussain offers colon cancer screenings to check your large intestine and rectum regularly and ensure we catch cancer early while it’s still easily treated.
Whatever’s causing your abdominal pain, it’s best not to ignore it. Dr. Hussain can let you know if it involves your GI tract or if your symptoms stem from another body part. To learn more about abdominal pain, contact us online or by phone to schedule a consultation with Dr. Hussain.