Abdominal pain is aching or cramping in your belly. The abdomen, or belly, is the area between the chest and the pelvis. The pain can range from mild discomfort to severe pain.
Many things can cause abdominal pain and it can sometimes be hard to know the exact cause of the pain. Some of the common causes of pain in the abdomen are:
Indigestion or heartburn
Infections, such as food poisoning or stomach flu
Stress and anxiety
Gastritis (an irritation of the stomach lining) or ulcers
Urinary tract infection
Diseases of the intestine
Pancreatitis or liver problems
Disease or infection in the uterus
Sometimes abdominal pain is caused by a problem in another part of the body, such as the lungs or the heart. For example, a heart attack can cause upper abdominal pain.
You cannot always tell how serious the cause is from how bad the pain is. Mild conditions such as gas or stomach flu may cause severe pain, while more serious problems, such as cancer, may cause relatively mild pain.
What can I expect in the hospital?
You may need to stay in the hospital so your healthcare provider can find the cause of your abdominal pain and treat it. Several things may be done while you are in the hospital to monitor, test, and treat your condition. They include:
You will be checked often by the hospital staff.
Your heart rate, blood pressure, and temperature will be checked regularly.
A cardiac (heart) monitor may be used to keep track of your heart’s rate and rhythm.
Testing may include:
Blood tests to check for an infection or blood loss
Tests of bowel movements to check for blood
Tests to look for abnormalities in the abdomen, which may include:
X-rays: Pictures of the inside of your abdomen to find the cause of the pain.
Barium enema: An X-ray taken of your belly after a special dye is inserted through your rectum to show the walls of the intestine and any possible problems.
Computed tomography (CT) scan: A series of X-rays taken from different angles and arranged by a computer to show thin cross sections of the abdomen.
Ultrasound scan: Sound waves are used to show pictures of the inside of your abdomen.
Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI): A powerful magnetic field and radio waves are used to take pictures from different angles to show thin cross sections of the abdomen.
Sigmoidoscopy or colonoscopy: A test in which a thin, flexible tube and tiny camera is put into your rectum and up into the colon to look for causes of the pain. Sometimes one or more pieces of tissue are removed to help make a diagnosis. This is called a biopsy.
Laparoscopy, which uses a small lighted tube put into the belly through a small cut to look at the organs and tissues inside the abdomen. A biopsy is taken to help make a diagnosis.
The treatment for abdominal pain depends on its cause.
You will have a small tube (IV catheter) inserted into a vein in your hand or arm. This will allow for medicine to be given directly into your blood and to give you fluids, if needed.
You may need changes to your diet to prevent irritating the cause of the abdominal pain.
You may have a tube put through your nose down into your stomach, called a nasogastric or NG tube. The tube may be used to give fluids or medicine, or with suction to help relieve pressure from air or fluids in your stomach and intestine.
You may need surgery to treat the cause of the pain.
Your provider may prescribe medicine to:
Treat or prevent an infection
Relieve gas and bloating
Reduce the acid in your stomach
What can I do to help?
You will need to tell your healthcare team if you have new or worsening:
Chest pain or pressure, squeezing, or fullness in the center of your chest that lasts more than a few minutes, or goes away and comes back (may feel like indigestion or heartburn)
Pain or discomfort in one or both arms or shoulders, or in your back, neck, jaw, or stomach
Breaking out in a cold sweat for no known reason
Along with the previous symptoms, feeling very tired, faint, or sick to your stomach
Feeling like your heart is beating too fast, too slow, or skipping beats
Pain, redness, or swelling in your legs or arms
Pain or cramping in your belly that:
Is steady and sharp
Gets worse when you move
Feels better when you sit or lean forward
Makes you vomit
Change in bowel habits, such as pain, mucus, diarrhea, constipation, or other intestinal problems
Pain or burning with urination
Urgent need to urinate often
Redness, swelling, pain, warmth, or drainage from your surgical wound
Fever, chills, or muscle aches.
Ask questions about any medicine or treatment or information that you do not understand.
How long will I be in the hospital?
How long it takes to get better depends on many factors. The average amount of time to stay in the hospital with abdominal pain is 3 days.
Developed by RelayHealth.
Acute Care Advisor 2015.1 published by RelayHealth. Last modified: 2014-12-19 Last reviewed: 2014-11-20
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
Abdominal Pain: References
Marx, J, Hockberger, R., and Walls, R. (2014). Abdominal Pain in Rosen’s emergency medicine [8th ed.], 27, 22-231.e1. Philadelphia: Elesevier Saunders. Retrieved from http://www.clinicalkey.com.
US Department of Health & Human Services. (2012) National and regional estimates on hospital use for all patients from the HCUP nationwide inpatient sample. Agency for healthcare research and quality website. Retrieved 07/22/2014 from http://hcupnet.ahrq.gov/HCUPnet.jsp