Abdominal Pain

Digestive Health

By Dr Saravana K.

Abdominal pain has many potential causes. The most common causes — such as gas pains, indigestion or a pulled muscle — usually aren’t serious. Other conditions may require more urgent medical attention.

While the location and pattern of abdominal pain can provide important clues, it’s time course is particularly useful when determining its cause.

Acute abdominal pain develops, and often resolves, over a few hours to a few days. Chronic abdominal pain may be intermittent, or episodic, meaning it may come and go. This type of pain may be present for weeks to months, or even years. Some conditions cause progressive pain, which steadily gets worse over time.


The various conditions that cause acute abdominal pain are usually accompanied by other symptoms and develop over hours to days. Causes can range from minor conditions that resolve without any treatment to serious medical emergencies, including:

• Abdominal aortic aneurysm • Appendicitis • Cholangitis (bile duct inflammation) • Cholecystitis (gallbladder inflammation) • Cystitis (bladder inflammation) • Diabetic ketoacidosis (high levels of ketones in the blood) • Diverticulitis • Duodenitis (inflammation of the initial portion of the small intestine) • Ectopic pregnancy • Fecal impaction (hardened stool that can’t be eliminated) • Heart attack • Injury • Intussusception (in children) • Kidney infection • Kidney stones • Liver abscess (pus-filled pocket in the liver) • Mesenteric ischemia (decreased blood flow to the intestines) • Mesenteric lymphadenitis (swollen lymph nodes in the folds of membrane that hold the abdominal organs in place) • Mesenteric thrombosis (blood clot in a vein carrying blood away from your intestines) • Pancreatitis (pancreas inflammation) • Pericarditis (inflammation of the tissue around the heart) • Peritonitis (infection of the abdominal lining) • Pleurisy (inflammation of the membrane surrounding the lungs) • Pneumonia • Pulmonary infarction (loss of blood flow to the lungs) • Ruptured spleen • Salpingitis (inflammation of the fallopian tubes) • Shingles • Splenic abscess (pus-filled pocket in the spleen) • Torn colon • Urinary tract infection (UTI) • Viral gastroenteritis (stomach flu).

Chronic (intermittent or episodic)

The specific cause of chronic abdominal pain is often difficult to determine. Symptoms may range from mild to severe, coming and going but not necessarily worsening over time. Conditions that may cause chronic abdominal pain include:

• Angina (reduced blood flow to the heart) • Endometriosis • Gallstones • Gastritis (inflammation of the stomach lining) • GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease) • Hiatal hernia • Inguinal hernia • Enlarged spleen (splenomegaly) • Mittelschmerz (pain associated with ovulation) • Nonulcer stomach pain • Ovarian cysts • Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) — infection of the female reproductive organs • Peptic ulcer • Sickle cell anemia • Strained or pulled abdominal muscle • Ulcerative colitis.


Abdominal pain that steadily worsens over time, often accompanied by the development of other symptoms, is usually serious. Causes of progressive abdominal pain include:

• Cancer • Crohn’s disease • Enlarged spleen (splenomegaly) • Gallbladder cancer • Hepatitis (liver inflammation) • Kidney cancer • Lead poisoning • Liver cancer • Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma • Pancreatic cancer • Stomach cancer • Tubo-ovarian abscess (pus-filled pocket involving a fallopian tube and an ovary) • Uremia (buildup of waste products in your blood).

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