Abdominal Pain

author/s: Dr Mª Carmen Peña Cala


What is abdominal pain?

Tummy ache or abdominal pain is one of the most common digestive disorders. Abdominal pain can be caused by several things and can originate in different organs such as the stomach, duodenum, small intestine, colon, appendix, pancreas, gallbladder, etc.

Depending on the cause and its intensity, the pain will be more or less important. It is also fundamental to determine whether the pain is acute (that is, if it has appeared all of a sudden with no previous episode) or chronic (the patient had experienced pain before).


What are the most frequent causes of acute abdominal pain?

The most frequent causes are:

    • Appendicitis.
    • Biliary pain.
    • Acute pancreatitis.
    • Gastric or duodenal ulcer (with penetration or perforation).
    • Intestinal ischemia (lack of blood supply to the intestine).
    • Diverticulitis (inflammation of the diverticulae of the colon).
    • Digestive spasms.

Sometimes, in women, the pain in the abdomen is not caused by the digestive system but by the reproductive system because of:

    • Rupture of an ovarian cyst.
    • Extrauterine pregnancy.

Or in both genders by:

    • Nephritic colic.

Or even by the heart or lungs:

    • Acute myocardial infarction.
    • Pneumonia.


Where can the pain be located?

Depending on the cause of the pain, it can be located in different areas: Appendicitis, biliary colic, pancreatitis, ulcer, diverticulae, spasms.


How is the diagnosis established?

The tests needed to establish diagnosis will be based upon what is suspected:

    • Blood test
    • Ultrasound
    • Endoscopy
    • Scanner

You should seek medical advice immediately whenever there is acute abdominal pain, especially if intense.


What are the most frequent causes of chronic abdominal pain?

The most frequent causes are:

    • Gastric or duodenal ulcer.
    • Chronic pancreatitis.
    • Chronic intestinal ischemia (chronic lack of blood supply).
    • Tumours inside or outside the digestive system.
    • Non organic causes: pain with no evident lesion.


How is the diagnosis performed?

The tests needed to establish a diagnosis will depend on the type, duration and intensity of the pain.

When a patient experiences chronic abdominal pain, it is advisable to see a doctor. If there is a lesion, it is better to diagnose the condition as soon as possible, and if there is no lesion, there will not be anything to worry about. In any case, treatment will have to be sought to alleviate the patient discomfort.