Skip to Content
Know what to ask with our GIST Doctor Discussion Guide

Chronic Abdominal Pain

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW:

What is chronic abdominal pain?

Chronic abdominal pain is pain in your abdomen that lasts longer than 3 months.

What causes chronic abdominal pain?

The cause of chronic abdominal pain may not be found. The following are possible causes:

  • Anxiety or stress
  • Lactose intolerance or celiac disease
  • Liver disease, cancer, or chronic pancreatitis
  • Irritable bowel syndrome, ulcerative colitis, or Chron disease
  • An ulcer in your esophagus or stomach, or an infection
  • A hernia or tissue growth that causes organs and tissues to stick together

What are the signs and symptoms of chronic abdominal pain?

Signs and symptoms of chronic abdominal pain will come and go. You may feel pain in all areas of your abdomen, or just in one place. You may not want to eat. You may not want to do your daily activities. You may also have any of the following:

  • Cramping
  • Acid reflux
  • Bloating and gas
  • Constipation or diarrhea
  • Nausea and vomiting

How is the cause of chronic abdominal pain diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider may ask about your family history of abdominal pain. Tell your healthcare provider what medicines you take, and what your symptoms are. Tell the provider what makes your symptoms better or worse, and if you have tried any treatments. The provider will examine you. Based on what your provider finds after the exam, and your symptoms, you may need any of the following:

  • Blood tests may be done to check for inflammation, liver function, blood cell levels, or get information about your overall health.
  • A sample of your bowel movement may be tested to see if you are absorbing nutrients from your diet. It can also be tested for germs that may be causing your illness.
  • X-ray, ultrasound, CT, or MRI pictures may be used to check the organs inside your abdomen. You may be given contrast liquid to help the organs show up better in the pictures. Tell the healthcare provider if you have ever had an allergic reaction to contrast liquid. Do not enter the MRI room with anything metal. Metal can cause serious injury. Tell the healthcare provider if you have any metal in or on your body.
  • An endoscopy is a test to look inside your esophagus, stomach, and small intestine. During an endoscopy, healthcare providers may find problems in your esophagus, stomach, or small intestine. Some problems may be fixed with small tools. Samples may be taken from your esophagus, stomach, or small intestine, and sent to a lab for tests.
  • A colonoscopy is a test that is done to look inside your colon. During a colonoscopy, healthcare providers may find problems in your colon. Some problems may be fixed with small tools. Samples may be taken from your colon and sent to the lab for tests.

How is chronic abdominal pain treated?

Healthcare providers may not find a medical problem that is causing your abdominal pain. If no problem is found, they will prescribe treatments to decrease your symptoms. With treatment, your abdominal pain may decrease, happen less often, or go away. You may need any of the following:

  • Medicines may be given to decrease pain and manage your symptoms. Medicines may also be given to manage anxiety.
  • Therapy can help you learn to cope with stress and anxiety. This may help decrease your abdominal pain.
  • Surgery is rarely needed, but may be done if there is a problem with an organ in your abdomen. Examples include an organ that is stuck to tissue or a hernia.

How can I manage my symptoms?

  • Apply heat on your abdomen for 20 to 30 minutes every 2 hours for as many days as directed. Heat helps decrease pain and muscle spasms.
  • Make changes to the food you eat as directed. Do not eat foods that cause abdominal pain or other symptoms. Eat small meals more often.
    • Eat more high-fiber foods if you are constipated. High-fiber foods include fruits, vegetables, whole-grain foods, and legumes.
    • Do not eat foods that cause gas if you have bloating. Examples include broccoli, cabbage, and cauliflower. Do not drink soda or carbonated drinks, because these may also cause gas.
    • Do not eat foods or drinks that contain sorbitol or fructose if you have diarrhea and bloating. Some examples are fruit juices, candy, jelly, and sugar-free gum.
    • Do not eat high-fat foods, such as fried foods, cheeseburgers, hot dogs, and desserts.
    • Limit or do not drink caffeine. Caffeine may make symptoms, such as heart burn or nausea, worse.
    • Drink plenty of liquids to prevent dehydration from diarrhea or vomiting. Ask your healthcare provider how much liquid to drink each day and which liquids are best for you.
  • Keep a diary of your abdominal pain. A diary may help your healthcare provider learn what is causing your abdominal pain. Include when the pain happens, how long it lasts, and what the pain feels like. Write down any other symptoms you have with abdominal pain. Also write down what you eat, and what symptoms you have after you eat.
  • Manage your stress. Stress may cause abdominal pain. Your healthcare provider may recommend relaxation techniques and deep breathing exercises to help decrease your stress. Your healthcare provider may recommend you talk to someone about your stress or anxiety, such as a counselor or a trusted friend. Get plenty of sleep and exercise regularly.
  • Limit or do not drink alcohol. Alcohol can make your abdominal pain worse. Ask your healthcare provider if it is safe for you to drink alcohol. Also ask how much is safe for you to drink.
  • Do not smoke. Nicotine and other chemicals in cigarettes can damage your esophagus and stomach. Ask your healthcare provider for information if you currently smoke and need help to quit. E-cigarettes or smokeless tobacco still contain nicotine. Talk to your healthcare provider before you use these products.

When should I seek immediate care?

  • Your abdominal pain gets worse, and spreads to your back.
  • You vomit blood or what looks like coffee grounds.
  • You have blood or mucus in your bowel movement.
  • You cannot stop vomiting.
  • You have diarrhea for more than 1 week.
  • You feel weak, dizzy, or faint.
  • Your abdomen is larger than usual, more painful, and hard.

When should I contact my healthcare provider?

  • You have a fever or chills.
  • You have new symptoms.
  • You lose weight without trying.
  • Your pain prevents you from doing your daily activities.
  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your caregivers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

© 2016 Truven Health Analytics Inc. Information is for End User's use only and may not be sold, redistributed or otherwise used for commercial purposes. All illustrations and images included in CareNotes® are the copyrighted property of A.D.A.M., Inc. or Truven Health Analytics.

The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

Hide