Abdominal pain is a common complaint. The causes of abdominal pain are usually benign, but certain signs and symptoms should alert you to the possibility of a serious condition. Other characteristics of the pain that are important in assessing its cause include its location, its duration and associated symptoms.
Location of Pain
The abdomen is divided into four quadrants, right upper and lower and left upper and lower. According to the The Merck Manuals Online Medical Library, each quadrant contains a set of abdominal organs that, when affected, will localize the pain to that area. For example, the pain of appendicitis usually locates to the right lower quadrant, which is where the appendix is situated. Gastritis and other stomach ailments cause pain in the upper quadrants of the abdomen, along the midline. Liver conditions locate pain in the right upper quadrant, right below the rib cage.
Duration of Pain
The duration of the pain is important in determining whether the cause is an acute or chronic condition. According to MedlinePlus, acute pain, which starts suddenly, can be caused by surgical conditions such as appendicitis, diverticulitis, kidney stones or ovarian cysts. Chronic pain is of longer duration, and it is often a dull, nagging pain that gets worse as the days and weeks go by. Some possible causes of chronic abdominal pain include gallstones, gastritis, gastroesophageal reflux, chronic pancreatitis and inflammatory bowel disease.
Often, the symptoms that accompany the abdominal pain can also help in diagnosing its cause. Vomiting and diarrhea are signs of a gastrointestinal infection, also known as the stomach flu or food poisoning. Fevers can accompany gastroenteritis, appendicitis, pancreatitis and kidney infections. Jaundice is usually associated with liver disease, like hepatitis or liver cirrhosis, a chronic condition of scarring of the liver tissue. Blood in the stool can be related to inflammatory bowel disease, which includes Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis; to chronic liver disease; and to colon cancer.
Signs of Serious Conditions
Certain signs and symptoms should alert one of the possibility of a serious condition. A rigid abdomen with severe pain, an accompanying fever, paleness and a rapid heart rate is associated with peritonitis, an infection of the lining of the abdominal wall that can result from intestinal perforation, like a ruptured appendix, and which can lead to sepsis, or and overwhelming bacterial infection, and death. Abdominal distention and pain and the absence of bowel movements or bowel sounds can indicate a bowel obstruction. Persistent bloody diarrhea and weight loss can be a sign of inflammatory bowel disease or cancer.