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Abdominal Pain

What is Abdominal Pain?

Abdominal pain is any pain felt between your chest and groin. This is often referred to as the stomach region or belly. Pain can originate from any of the many organs within the abdomen, including:

  • Digestive organs (the end of the esophagus, the stomach, the small and large intestines, the liver, the gallbladder, and the pancreas).
  • The aorta
  • The appendix
  • The kidneys
  • The spleen

However, the pain may start from somewhere else -- like your chest or pelvic area. You may also have a generalized infection, such as the flu or strep throat, that affects many parts of your body.


Pain in the abdominal area.


Many different conditions can cause abdominal pain. The key is to know when to seek medical care. Any of the following may cause abdominal pain:

  • Appendicitis
  • Bowel obstruction
  • Cholecystitis (inflammation of the gallbladder) with or without gallstones
  • Chronic constipation 
  • Dissecting abdominal aortic aneurysm
  • Diverticular disease, including diverticulitis
  • Early-stage shingles (a viral infection where pain begins before the appearance of a rash)
  • Excessive gas
  • Food allergy
  • Food poisoning (salmonella, shigella)
  • Gastroesophageal reflux 
  • Heartburn or indigestion
  • Hernia
  • Infectious mononucleosis
  • Inflammatory bowel disease (Crohn's disease or ulcerative colitis) 
  • Intussusception -- while uncommon, this is a serious possible cause of pain in an infant who may be bringing the knees to the chest and crying
  • Irritable bowel syndrome 
  • Kidney stones
  • Lactose intolerance
  • Pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas)
  • Parasitic infections (Giardia)
  • Sickle cell crisis
  • Spinal fracture
  • Ulcers
  • Urinary tract infections
  • Viral gastroenteritis (stomach flu)

Diagnostic tests may include:

  • Barium enema
  • Upper GI and small bowel series
  • Blood, urine, and stool tests
  • Endoscopy of upper GI (gastrointestinal) tract (EGD)
  • Ultrasound of the abdomen
  • X-rays of the abdomen

In infants, prolonged unexplained crying (often called "colic") may be caused by abdominal pain that may end with the passage of gas or stool. Colic is often worse in the evening. Cuddling and rocking the child may bring some relief.


Seek immediate medical help if your child:

  • Is unable to pass stool, especially with vomiting
  • Is vomiting blood or has blood in his or her stool (especially if maroon or dark, tarry black)
  • Has chest, neck, or shoulder pain
  • Has sudden, sharp abdominal pain
  • Has pain in his or her shoulder blades with nausea
  • Belly is rigid, hard, and tender to touch

Call the doctor if your child has:

  • Abdominal discomfort that lasts 1 week or longer
  • Bloating that persists for more than 2 days
  • Burning sensation when you urinate or frequent urination
  • Diarrhea for more than 5 days, or if your infant or child has diarrhea for more than 2 days or vomiting for more than 12 hours -- call right away if a baby younger than 3 months has diarrhea or vomiting
  • Fever (over 100.4°F for children) with pain
  • Prolonged poor appetite
  • Unexplained weight loss 


External Links:

National Library of Medicine