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Chronic Abdominal Pain


What is chronic abdominal pain?

Chronic abdominal pain lasts longer than 3 months.

Abdominal Organs

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 may 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 will examine you. He or she may ask about your family history of abdominal pain. Tell your provider about your symptoms and the medicines you currently take. Tell him or her if anything makes your symptoms better or worse. 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.
    Upper Endoscopy
  • 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. You may need any of the following if a cause is found:

  • NSAIDs , such as ibuprofen, help decrease swelling, pain, and fever. NSAIDs can cause stomach bleeding or kidney problems in certain people. If you take blood thinner medicine, always ask your healthcare provider if NSAIDs are safe for you. Always read the medicine label and follow directions.
  • Acetaminophen decreases pain and fever. It is available without a doctor's order. Ask how much to take and how often to take it. Follow directions. Read the labels of all other medicines you are using to see if they also contain acetaminophen, or ask your doctor or pharmacist. Acetaminophen can cause liver damage if not taken correctly. Do not use more than 4 grams (4,000 milligrams) total of acetaminophen in one day.
  • Prescription pain medicine may be given. Ask your healthcare provider how to take this medicine safely. Some prescription pain medicines contain acetaminophen. Do not take other medicines that contain acetaminophen without talking to your healthcare provider. Too much acetaminophen may cause liver damage. Prescription pain medicine may cause constipation. Ask your healthcare provider how to prevent or treat constipation.
  • Medicines may be given to manage symptoms such as vomiting or constipation. Medicines may also be used to help manage a cause of your pain, such as 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, if needed. Do not eat foods that cause abdominal pain or other symptoms. Eat small meals more often. The following changes may also help:
    • 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. Examples include fried foods, cheeseburgers, hot dogs, and desserts.
    • Limit or do not have caffeine. Caffeine may make symptoms, such as heart burn or nausea, worse.
    • Drink more 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.
    Black Family Walking for Exercise
  • Limit or do not drink alcohol. Alcohol can make your abdominal pain worse. Ask your healthcare provider if it is okay for you to drink alcohol. Also ask how much is safe for you to drink. A drink of alcohol is 12 ounces of beer, ½ ounces of liquor, or 5 ounces of wine.
  • 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 call my doctor?

  • You have a fever or chills.
  • You have new or worsening 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 healthcare providers 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.

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Further information

Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.