Abdominal Pain Management
What Causes Abdominal Pain?
Nearly everyone experiences abdominal pain of one kind or another at some point. Some abdominal pain causes and conditions are more critical than others. If you are experiencing abdominal pain, it’s important to note whether the pain is mild or intense, dull or sharp, achy or cramp-like. These are important symptoms to share with your healthcare provider at Balcones Pain Consultants when you seek treatment.
Gastrointestinal Abdominal Pain
Simple gastrointestinal conditions such as constipation, gas, diarrhea and indigestion can cause mild to moderate abdominal pain and discomfort. Food poisoning and stomach viruses can both cause acute stomach cramping, along with vomiting and diarrhea. The symptoms of food poisoning and a stomach virus can be difficult to distinguish from one another, as both tend to develop suddenly and usually do not last longer than two to three days. (Note that though stomach viruses are often called “stomach flu,” these illnesses are unrelated to the influenza virus.)
Most types of abdominal pain resulting from the conditions above are not serious and can often be treated at home. Dehydration, however, is a serious complication linked to vomiting or diarrhea; medical attention is necessary if dehydration develops.
Some people who experience chronic gastrointestinal distress and abdominal pain are diagnosed with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS). Lactose intolerance and food allergies can cause symptoms similar to IBS, including gas, cramping, diarrhea, nausea, bloating, and general abdominal discomfort. A key difference among these conditions relates to the onset of symptoms. While IBS symptoms tend to flare regardless of diet, symptoms of lactose intolerance or a food allergy come on quickly, typically within 30 minutes of consuming a particular type of food or drink.
Menstrual Cramps and Endometriosis
Menstrual cramps are another common cause of abdominal pain. For most women, this type of pain manifests as mild to moderate cramping in the lower abdomen or pelvis. Some women also feel cramping in their lower backs. Mild to moderate nausea and diarrhea can coincide with menstrual cramps for some women, adding to abdominal discomfort. Particularly severe menstrual cramping can be caused by endometriosis, a chronic condition caused by the development of uterine tissue outside the uterus.
Other Abdominal Pain Causes and Conditions
Still somewhat common but more serious causes of abdominal pain include ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease. Symptoms of these conditions can vary, and both conditions can cycle through active periods and periods of remission. Both conditions tend to cause abdominal tenderness, pain, and cramping usually associated with diarrhea.
Appendicitis is another relatively common, yet serious cause of abdominal pain that requires prompt medical attention. Most common in people who are between the ages of 10 and 30, appendicitis causes pain in the lower right abdomen that may range in severity from dull to sharp. This condition can also cause dull or sharp pain anywhere in the abdomen or rectum, along with gas, constipation and abdominal bloating. For this reason, it can be difficult to self-diagnose at home, making an assessment by a medical professional even more critical.
Kidney stones can cause sharp pain that moves in waves through the side, back, and lower abdomen, accompanied by nausea and vomiting. Similarly, gallstones typically cause pain in the upper abdomen and back, also accompanied by nausea and vomiting, along with bloating, gas, indigestion and other digestive complaints. Both conditions can be quite critical and require diagnosis by a medical professional.
When to Seek Help for Abdominal Pain
Abdominal pain can be alarming when it strikes, especially if you experience symptoms which may indicate a serious condition. If your abdominal pain is severe or accompanied by fever, constipation and vomiting, bloody stools or marked tenderness, contact your health care provider promptly for a timely diagnosis. Balcones Pain Consultants can play an important and caring role in diagnosing, treating, and managing abdominal pain, whether caused by chronic or acute conditions.
How is Abdominal Pain Treated?
Abdominal pain treatments depend on the cause or condition that led to the pain. Treatments for abdominal pain can range from conservative therapies like acupuncture, biofeedback, and personal lifestyle changes to more aggressive means, such as nerve blocks and medications to manage or reverse certain conditions. Your doctor at Balcones Pain Consultants will work with you to find the safest and most effective treatment for your abdominal pain.
Biofeedback and Acupuncture
Biofeedback is a noninvasive technique involving electrical sensors that provide feedback about the body’s functions, such as heart rate, temperature, sweating, and blood pressure. Individuals can use this information to make subtle changes in their body functions, thereby improving their overall health. Biofeedback can teach you to relax certain muscles, for example, in order to reduce chronic pain related to stress or gastrointestinal issues. Biofeedback can be an essential component of treating abdominal pain from irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), constipation and several other conditions.
Acupuncture is another noninvasive technique that can be effective at treating pain. This ancient healing technique of Traditional Chinese Medicine involves stimulating specific points on the body with extremely fine, sterile needles. Acupuncture can be a beneficial component of treatment for abdominal pain conditions ranging from gastroenteritis to ulcerative colitis.
Many causes of abdominal pain can be managed with personal lifestyle changes. The caring experts at Balcones Pain Consultants work with patients to identify pain triggers related to lifestyle choices and generate a personalized plan to modify those choices for a positive outcome. Mild stool softeners or laxatives can be very effective for abdominal pain from constipation, for example, especially when paired with lifestyle changes such as getting more exercise, drinking more water, and incorporating high-fiber foods into the diet.
When lactose intolerance, food allergies, or IBS are causing recurrent abdominal pain, dietary changes are also important to address the underlying problem. The same is true for kidney stones, which can be alleviated and even prevented by eliminating certain foods and ingredients from the diet while substituting others.
Treatment with Medication
When abdominal pain is caused by inflammation, infection, or ulcers, medication may be needed to manage or reverse the symptoms. Certain medications can also be helpful in managing chronic conditions like IBS. Treatment for severe menstrual cramps, especially those caused by endometriosis, might include pain medications as well as supplemental hormone therapy.
Treatment for ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease depends on the severity of the condition, and normally includes medication along with dietary changes to address nutritional deficiencies. Treatment for both Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis may require medications that suppress the immune system’s inflammatory response. These medications provide symptom relief, and also allow the intestinal tissue to heal.
Gallstones can sometimes be dissolved with medication, but some people will need gall bladder removal surgery to alleviate gallstone pain.
When Seeking Help
When seeking treatment for abdominal pain at Balcones Pain Consultants, it’s important to note not only the location of your pain but also whether it is mild or intense, dull or sharp, or achy or cramp-like. Also, be sure to note whether discomfort is constant or intermittent, and if intermittent, what foods, conditions, or other triggers seem to aggravate the pain. These symptoms can help your healthcare provider at Balcones Pain Consultants determine the appropriate treatment.
If your abdominal pain is severe or accompanied by vomiting and constipation, bloody stools, fever, or marked tenderness in the abdomen, you may have a severe condition requiring immediate medical attention.
Advanced Treatments for Abdominal Pain Management
Severe or chronic abdominal pain which does not respond to other treatments, or which significantly impacts your life or activity level, may be treated with more advanced methods. It’s important to let your healthcare provider at Balcones Pain Consultants know about all your symptoms, so that we can help you to return to living life as smoothly and quickly as possible. We will be happy to answer any questions you have about the many treatment options available, including: