Abdominal pain occurs anywhere from your ribs to your pelvis, especially in the stomach area. Acute abdominal pain can be quite common, but when it has been going on for longer than three months, it is considered “chronic” or “ongoing.” Not only can chronic abdominal pain cause serious discomfort and pain, but undiagnosed, it can be worrisome. Here are some of the common causes of chronic abdominal pain and what to do about it.
Symptoms of Chronic Abdominal Pain
Chronic abdominal pain is experienced differently from person to person and may not always have the same symptoms. Common symptoms include:
- Pain in the belly or around the belly button can feel like a dull ache or sharp pain and can last minutes or hours
- Pain that occurs any time of the day or night and may or may not be connected to eating
- Pain in the abdomen that’s accompanied by headaches, vomiting, or pain in the limbs
- No longer feeling hungry, leading to skipping meals but without losing weight
- Severe abdominal pain that makes you sweat, bend over in pain, or cry
Even if your symptoms are mild, your abdominal pain may be an early sign of a serious health issue, such as irritable bowel syndrome, which is why you should monitor your symptoms and let your doctor know what you are experiencing.
People also ask, “Is chronic abdominal pain normal?” “How long should abdominal pain last?” What can cause long-term abdominal pain?” About 2% of adults experience chronic abdominal pain, more commonly in women than men. As for how long the pain should last or whether it is “normal,” it depends on the cause. For example, regular abdominal pain could be caused by lactose intolerance or frequent constipation. In which case, a few lifestyle changes may fix the problem. In other cases, it may be pancreatitis causing stomach pain. What does pancreatic pain feel like? Usually, you will feel upper abdominal pain that feels worse after you eat. Acute cases result in abdominal pain radiating to your back and an abdomen that’s tender to the touch. Women can also experience abdominal pain as the result of menstruating, miscarrying, or reproductive complications.
In many cases, the patient has what’s called “centrally mediated abdominal pain syndrome” (formerly known as “functional abdominal pain”), which is chronic abdominal pain that doesn’t appear to be caused by any serious health condition. The doctor may suggest dietary changes or other recommendations.
Can anxiety cause chronic abdominal pain? Yes — and it can exacerbate the abdominal pain that you have.
What Are the Three Types of Abdominal Pain?
Abdominal pain can be visceral, parietal, or referred. When the pain feels like a dull ache and isn’t really localized, it is visceral pain — caused by nerves running through the organ walls getting stretched. Parietal or “somatic” pain can start as visceral pain. As the disease or condition continues, you can feel sharp, localized pain caused when the parietal peritoneal wall is irritated. Referred pain is when your brain thinks pain is occurring from one place when, in fact, it comes from a different region of the body.
When to See a Doctor for Chronic Abdominal Pain
Many people ask, “When should I be concerned about abdominal pain?” If you experience the following symptoms along with your abdominal pain, you should seek immediate medical attention:
- A high fever
- Pain or cramping strong enough that it wakes you up
- Blood in your urine, stool, or vomit
- Severe nausea, vomiting, and/or inability to keep food down for several days
- Difficulty swallowing or breathing
- Swelling in the legs or abdomen
- Marked loss of appetite or otherwise unexplainable and rapid weight loss
- Pain lasting for several days or is the result of injury to your abdomen within a few days
- The abdomen is tender to the touch
- This abdominal pain occurs during pregnancy
These symptoms may indicate internal infection, inflammation, or bleeding that need to be treated as quickly as possible. Though less common, some of the symptoms could be caused by abdominal, ovarian, or colorectal cancer. That’s why it is best to see a doctor and to discern the cause of your abdominal pain.
Treatment Options for Chronic Abdominal Pain
How do you treat chronic stomach pain? It really depends on the reason for your abdominal pain. If your chronic abdominal pain is caused by a medical condition, you may need to treat the underlying condition. An infection will likely be treated with antibiotics. Ulcers, inflammations, and gastroesophageal reflux disease are usually treated with medicine. Appendicitis, hernia, or other serious conditions may require surgery.
If, however, your doctor has given you tests and can’t find a particular cause, the treatment is focused on minimizing discomfort and can include:
- Dietary changes to add more fiber or fiber supplements
- Stress management and managing anxiety with relaxation and mindfulness, medication, counseling, or other methods
- Medications for pain relief
People also ask, “What is the best painkiller for abdominal pain?” and “What is the best medicine for abdominal pain?” Most over-the-counter medications work just fine. Follow your doctor’s recommendations.
Chronic abdominal pain can be confusing because there are so many possible causes. Do not wait to “see what happens”. Schedule an appointment to get checked by a physician to rule out any serious causes.