Abdominal Pain, Age 12 and Older
The cause of abdominal problems can be hard to pinpoint. Sometimes minor and serious abdominal problems start with the same symptoms. Fortunately, most abdominal problems are minor, and home treatment is all that is needed.
Many times the exact cause of abdominal pain is hard to find. The severity of your pain, its location, and other symptoms you have may help determine what is causing the pain.
- Generalized pain occurs in half of the abdomen or more. Generalized pain can occur with many different illnesses and will usually go away without medical treatment. Indigestion and the stomach flu are common problems that can cause generalized pain. Home treatment may help relieve some of the discomfort. Generalized mild pain or crampy pain that becomes more severe over several hours may be a symptom of a blockage of the intestines (bowel obstruction).
- Localized pain is located in one area of the abdomen. Localized pain that comes on suddenly and gets worse is more likely to be a symptom of a serious problem. The pain of appendicitis may start as generalized pain, but it often moves (localizes) to one area of the abdomen. The pain from gallbladder disease or peptic ulcer disease often starts in one area of the abdomen and stays in that same location. Localized pain that gradually becomes more severe may be a symptom of inflammation of an abdominal organ.
- Cramping, which can be very painful, is rarely serious if it is relieved by passing gas or a stool. Many women have cramping pain with their menstrual periods. Generalized cramping pain is usually not a cause for concern unless it gets worse, lasts for longer than 24 hours, or localizes. Cramping that starts suddenly with diarrhea or other minor health problems can be quite painful but is usually not serious.
Occasionally, severe pain that comes on suddenly may be a symptom of a rupture of the stomach or intestines (perforation), torsion of the testicle or ovary, a kidney stone, gallbladder disease, or blood vessel problems, such as an aortic aneurysm. The pain caused by appendicitis or gallbladder disease may increase when you move or cough. Pain that increases with movement or coughing and does not appear to be caused by strained muscles is more likely to be a symptom of a serious problem. A visit to a health professional is usually needed when severe abdominal pain comes on suddenly, or new and different mild pain slowly becomes more severe over several hours or days.
After a minor abdominal injury, pain, nausea, or vomiting may occur but often gets better in a few minutes. Pain and other symptoms that continue, increase, or develop following an injury may mean an abdominal organ has been damaged.
Many medicines can cause abdominal pain. Some medicines also cause side effects, such as constipation, that can make abdominal pain worse.
Specific abdominal symptoms have been linked with ovarian cancer. These symptoms include abdominal or pelvic pain, increased abdominal size or bloating, and difficulty eating or feeling full quickly. If you have had these symptoms 12 or more times each month over the past 12 months, talk with your doctor.
Use the Check Your Symptoms section to decide if and when you should see a doctor.
Most of the time, abdominal pain improves with home treatment and you do not need a visit to a health professional. Specific home treatment for abdominal pain often depends on the symptoms you have along with the pain, such as diarrhea or nausea and vomiting.
If you have mild abdominal pain without other symptoms, try the following:
- Rest until you are feeling better.
- Drink plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration. You may find that taking small, frequent sips of a beverage is easier on your stomach than trying to drink a whole glass at once. Do not drink carbonated or caffeinated drinks, such as soda pop, tea, or coffee.
- Try eating several small meals instead of 2 or 3 large ones. Eat mild foods, such as rice, dry toast or crackers, bananas, and applesauce. Do not eat spicy foods, other fruits, alcohol, and drinks that have caffeine until 48 hours after all symptoms have gone away.
- Do not eat foods that are high in fat. Foods high in fat may increase your abdominal pain.
- Do not use aspirin and other nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medicines, such as ibuprofen and naproxen. These medicines may irritate your stomach and increase your pain.
Symptoms to Watch For During Home Treatment
Use the Check Your Symptoms section to evaluate your symptoms if one or more of the following symptoms occur during home treatment.
- Pain increases or localizes to one specific area of the abdomen.
- Pain does not improve in 24 to 48 hours.
- Other symptoms develop, such as diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, a fever, or a change in urination.
- Symptoms become more severe or frequent.
Abdominal pain can often be prevented.
- Develop regular bowel habits to prevent abdominal pain caused by constipation. For more information, see the topic Constipation, Age 12 and Older.
- Develop regular eating habits. Overeating is a common cause of abdominal discomfort. Eat slowly and stop when you feel full.
- To prevent abdominal pain caused by swallowing air (aerophagia), do not chew gum or drink carbonated beverages.
- Prevent abdominal injuries by wearing your seat belt
safely and correctly every time you drive or are a passenger in a car.
- Wear both your lap and shoulder belts. The shoulder strap should cross the collarbone, and the lap belt should fit low and tight.
- Do not wear your shoulder strap slipped behind the back or under the arm. This dangerous habit can cause severe injury, especially in cars with air bags.
Preparing For Your Appointment
To prepare for your appointment, see the topic Making the Most of Your Appointment.
You can help your health professional diagnose and treat your condition by being prepared to answer the following questions:
- How long have you had the pain?
- What were you doing when the pain started?
- Did the pain start suddenly or develop gradually?
- How severe is your pain? Rate your pain on a scale of 1 to 10.
- Is your pain generalized or localized? If you have localized pain, where is it located?
- Is your pain cramping, a steady ache, burning, or a tearing sensation?
- Is your pain changing? If so, how?
- Is the pain constant, or does it come and go?
- Have you had other symptoms, such as nausea, vomiting, constipation, diarrhea, a change in urination, or fever?
- Have you had this type of pain before? If so, did you see a health professional? How was the pain treated?
- What makes the pain better? What makes the pain worse?
- Have you recently traveled outside of the country?
- Have you drunk any untreated well, stream, or lake water?
- Do you have any health risks?
|Author||Jan Nissl, RN, BS|
|Editor||Susan Van Houten, RN, BSN, MBA|
|Associate Editor||Tracy Landauer|
|Primary Medical Reviewer||Steven L. Schneider, MD - Family Medicine|
|Primary Medical Reviewer||William M. Green, MD - Emergency Medicine|
|Specialist Medical Reviewer||H. Michael O'Connor, MD - Emergency Medicine|
|Specialist Medical Reviewer||Adam Husney, MD - Family Medicine|
|Last Updated||January 13, 2009|