Understanding abdominal pain and when to seek help

Abdominal pain occurs as a result of a broad range of conditions but can be divided into two main categories: acute abdominal pain, which comes on very suddenly and is severe in intensity, and chronic (long-term) abdominal pain, which is less severe but persistent, though it may come and go. 

Common causes of abdominal pain

The most common causes of acute abdominal pain that require surgery include appendicitis, blockage of the bowel, inflammation of the gallbladder, gallstones getting stuck in a bile duct and kidney stones.

Chronic abdominal pain can also be caused by gallstones as well as gastroenteritis and inflammation of the bowel. In women, the pain may be caused by problems with the reproductive organs, such as ovarian cysts or endometriosis

Symptoms that accompany abdominal pain

Depending on the underlying cause of your abdominal pain, you may also experience a change in your bowel habits, loss of appetite, nausea and vomiting. You may notice rectal bleeding, weight loss and/or fatigue

If your abdominal pain is caused by a problem with your urinary system, you may have difficulty passing urine or notice blood in your urine

In women, if the cause of your abdominal pain originates in your reproductive organs, you may notice unusual vaginal discharge and a change in your menstrual cycle. 

When to see your GP

If you are worried about your abdominal pain or you have chronic abdominal pain that is worsening or not improving, see your GP

It is also important to see your GP if, alongside your abdominal pain, you also notice a sustained change in your bowel habits (eg diarrhoea or constipation), rectal bleeding or unintentional weight loss.

When to seek urgent medical attention

If you have abdominal pain that is severe and/or is accompanied by feeling generally unwell or weak, a fever or dizziness, seek medical attention as soon as possible.

Author biography

Miss Zaynab Jawad is a Consultant General Surgeon at Spire St Anthony's Hospital and London North West Healthcare University NHS Trust, specialising in general surgery with an interest in hernia surgery, gallbladder surgery and laparoscopic surgery. She also has an interest in benign upper gastrointestinal and hepatobiliary disease and minimally invasive surgery, and is a JAG-accredited upper GI endoscopist.

We hope you've found this article useful, however, it cannot be a substitute for a consultation with a specialist

If you're concerned about symptoms you're experiencing or require further information on the subject, talk to a GP or see an expert consultant at your local Spire hospital.

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