Stomach or abdominal pain often is a symptom of a gastrointestinal issue, such as gas or indigestion, and fortunately most cases are not serious. However, stomach pain could indicate an underlying condition that may require more immediate medical care. Some signs can help the doctor distinguish the difference between manageable issues and those that require more urgent attention. Weight loss, bleeding, or changes in bowel habits can be causes for concern. The location and pattern of the abdominal pain can help, as well as its duration and whether it radiates to other parts of the body.
The differential diagnosis for abdominal pain is very broad. Characteristics of the pain can provide clues for your physician. Related symptoms, other than pain, may include:
- Rectal bleeding
The cause of abdominal pain could be pinpointed by a review of the patient’s history and an exam. It may be helpful to keep a diary that details the pain and when it occurs.
Upon a physical exam, the doctor will look for areas of tenderness, distension, and masses. If the exam does not reveal a cause, other diagnostic tests could be ordered, including:
- Imaging: A number of X-rays, including CT scans, may be orders. The patient may need to drink a barium mixture, which shows up in X-rays.
- Blood analysis: A sample of blood is drawn from the patient and reviewed under a microscope to determine blood count (for fighting infections) as well as blood chemistry.
- Urinalysis: Examining a urine sample for bacteria.
- Stool analysis: Examining stools for signs of blood and/or pus.
- Endoscopy: The insertion of a thin, flexible tube equipped with a camera to view the patient’s GI tract.
Because the physician will address the underlying cause of the abdominal pain, the treatments vary. But oftentimes, prescription or over-the-counter medications will be advised.