Abdominal Pain

Introduction

Stomach ache or abdominal pain is a common complaint. Abdominal pain by itself is not a disease but is a symptom of a variety of underlying disorders. May have symptoms of heartburn, gas, bloating and burping.

Causes of Abdominal Pain

  • Psychogenic causes
    The abdominal pain occurs in non-diseased organs. Pain is believed to arise from stress, anxiety and depression. The real mechanism by which this process happens is not known.
  • Functional causes
    In this type, the affected organs are not diseased but there is an abnormal or changed functioning as a result of certain interactions between the body and the environment. Examples include:

    • Lactose intolerance
    • Dysmenorrhoea
    • Constipation
    • Diarrhea
  • Organic causes
    This type of abdominal pain is secondary to an underlying disease in the body. Examples include :

    • Inflammatory bowel disease
    • Peptic ulcer disease – up to 50% is related to Helicobacter pylori disease
    • Worm infestation
    • Pelvic inflammatory disease
    • Ovarian cyst
    • Urinary tract infection
  • Direct Injury – accident to the abdomen

Treatment

Most of the time pain improves with home treatment. If you have abdominal pain without other symptoms, try the following :

  • Rest until you are feeling better
  • Drink plenty of fluids to prevent loss of fluid (frequent sips of beverage is easier on your stomach)
  • Avoid carbonated or caffeinated drinks such as soda pop, tea or coffee
  • Try eating small but frequent meals
  • Avoid spicy foods, fruits, alcohol
  • Avoid foods that are high in fat
  • Avoid aspirin and nonsteroidal anti-imflamatory medications

Other treatment would depend on the underlying cause.

  • Goals of treatment
    Return to normal function and relief of symptoms

    • Try simple pain killer such as paracetamol for dysmenorrhea (period pain).
  • When to see a doctor?
    • Pain following injury or accident
    • Your pain does not improve in 24 to 48 hours
    • Pain becomes more severe or frequent
    • Pain increases or localises to one specific area of your abdomen
    • You develop other symptoms such as diarrhoea, nausea, vomiting and cannot pass flatus, a change in urination, fever, breathless, drowsy or fainting
    • Distension of your abdomen
    • Pregnancy
    • Vomiting out blood like coffee grounds
    • Passing blood in your stool
    • If you feel a lump in the abdomen
    • If you suspect medication is causing your pain
    • Unexpected vaginal bleeding or vaginal discharge

Prevention

Abdominal pain can often be prevented

  • Regular bowel habits to prevent abdominal pain caused by constipation
  • Develop regular eating habits.
  • Avoid over-eating to prevent abdominal discomfort
  • Eat slowly and stop when you feel full
  • Avoid chewing gum and carbonated beverages to reduce swallowing air
  • Wear your seat belt safely every time you drive to avoid abdominal injuries
Last Reviewed : 26 April 2012
Writer : Dr. Jamilah Abdullah
Reviewer : Dr. Fuziah Paimin