Everyone experiences abdominal pain at some point. Whether it's heartburn, gallstones, cramps or last night's seafood dinner, there are many triggers that cause pain. Learn what could be causing your pain, as well as how to treat it.
Heartburn and GERD
Heartburn causes that burning, tingling and sometimes painful sensation in the upper abdomen, chest and throat. It occurs when stomach acid and food come back up the esophagus. Want to take control of your heartburn? Watch your diet. What you eat (and drink!) influences your risk. Other ways to ward off heartburn include losing weight, not eating too close to bedtime and medications.
If you're suffering from heartburn at least twice a week, you could be experiencing a more serious condition called GERD, an ongoing irritation in the esophagus that can lead to bleeding, trouble swallowing, breathing problems and even precancerous changes in the esophagus.
Your gallbladder stores bile, which helps you digest. If something is blocking the flow of bile, it's usually a gallstone. While gallstones that aren't causing symptoms do not require treatment, gallstone attacks could cause some pretty unpleasant symptoms such as vomiting, nausea and pain in the abdomen, back or under the right arm. And once you've had a gallstone attack, you're more likely to have another. While a low-fat diet can help alleviate the frequency of a gallstone attack, it cannot make the stones disappear. There aren't many medications that can treat gallstones, so gallbladder removal surgery is usually the best option.
Appendicitis usually begins with a minor or sudden pain around the belly button that becomes more sharp and severe over time. About 12 to 24 hours later, the pain transitions to the lower right side of the abdomen. In addition to pain, you may experience nausea, loss of appetite, vomiting, a fever and your abdomen may be hard or tender to the touch.
If symptoms last longer than four hours, call your doctor for an urgent medical exam. Appendicitis is considered a medical emergency and usually requires surgery.
We've all been there: it's time for a big meeting, and suddenly you need to find the nearest restroom--stat. Stress can wreak havoc on our bodies in more embarrassing ways than one, including digestive issues. When our brain faces a fight or flight situation, digestion slows down or stops completely, causing part of the gut to spasm, leading to symptoms such as cramping, diarrhea, nausea, loss of appetite and constipation.
While stomach ulcers are typically caused by a bacterial infection, smoking and excessive drinking could increase your risk. These sores occur in your stomach, first part of the intestines or lower esophagus, and can cause pain anywhere in your abdomen between the breastbone and belly button. Treatment usually includes medication. If the ulcer doesn't go away, your doctor may recommend an endoscopy to explore other reasons for your symptoms.
There are two types of pancreatitis: acute and chronic. Acute pancreatitis, often caused by gallstones, occurs suddenly and usually goes away in a few days with treatment. Heavy alcohol use and some inherited disorders such as cystic fibrosis can cause chronic pancreatitis. Treatment usually requires a hospital stay and medications, IV fluids and possibly tube feeding. Symptoms of chronic pancreatitis include vomiting, weight loss, oily stools and nausea. In addition to medications, IV fluids and tube feeding, treatment for chronic pancreatitis may require a hospital stay if it's severe or if there are complications.
Food poisoning It's midnight and you suddenly wake up with a jolt. Your stomach doesn't feel quite right and your mind immediately flashes back to the oysters you had for dinner. That queasy feeling in your stomach, along with vomiting and/or diarrhea, is probably due to food poisoning. Typically, food poisoning lasts for 24 hours, but can sometimes take a few days to get over. Just make sure you're getting enough liquids to compensate for any lost fluids.
Endometriosis happens when the tissue that lines the uterus grows elsewhere such as the ovaries, behind the uterus, or on the bladder or bowels. Women with this condition will often experience pain in the abdomen, lower back and pelvic areas before or during periods. Endometriosis may be treated with pain medications, hormone therapy or surgery, depending on its severity and location.
Ovarian cysts vary in size, with smaller cysts rarely causing symptoms. Larger cysts could cause pain in the lower abdomen, pressure, bloating and swelling. Severe, sudden pain could occur when a cyst ruptures. Treatment depends on the size and type of cyst, but doctors may recommend pain medications or surgery.
Did you know that one of the most common foods in your refrigerator could be making you sick? If you're lactose intolerant, that big glass of milk could make your stomach turn. Symptoms include bloating, gas, diarrhea, cramps and nausea after dairy consumption. Obviously, if milk and other dairy products are to blame for your digestive problems, you should avoid them. Luckily, there are plenty of alternatives for your favorite dairy foods.
Inflammatory bowel disease
The two most common forms of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) are Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis. Crohn's disease is chronic inflammation of any part of the digestive tract. Ulcerative colitis is chronic inflammation of the large intestine. This sometimes-debilitating disease could be life-threatening, so it's important to talk to your doctor about treatment options that are right for you. He or she could suggest diet and lifestyle changes, drug therapy and, often, surgery.
Irritable bowel syndrome
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is not the same as inflammatory bowel disease. In IBS, the colon doesn't function normally, but there is no damage. IBS only affects the large intestine and causes cramping, bloating and irregular bowel movements. Treatment for IBS includes diet, medicine and sometimes probiotics and/or psychological therapies.
Many people think parasites are a third-world problem, but they're actually quite common in the US. Swimming in a lake, drinking unsafe water, eating raw or undercooked meat - all are ways to pick up parasites. Most of the time your body can take care of the parasites itself, but sometimes they can cause diseases that need medical attention. The first sign of parasites is usually unexplained weight loss. Other symptoms include changes in bowel movements, chronic exhaustion and cramping. Doctors can diagnose parasites through stool tests. While many parasitic infections can be prevented with good hygiene practices, they all can be treated with medication.