Abdominal pain affects millions of Americans every year. It has various potential causes, ranging from benign and self-limiting conditions, such as lactose intolerance and trapped gas, to potentially life-threatening gastrointestinal (GI) conditions, such as appendicitis and colon cancer.
How do you exactly know when abdominal pain signifies a serious condition? See a doctor if you experience abdominal pain that is sudden in onset, severe, and persists beyond an hour; doesn’t respond to basic remedies, or keeps coming back, and is accompanied by other distressing symptoms.
Below is an outline of a few of the serious causes of abdominal pain along with their other signs and symptoms.
Appendicitis is a medical emergency that occurs when there is a blockage in the lining of the finger-shaped pouch that projects from your colon on the lower right portion of your abdomen (appendix). When your appendix gets blocked, bacteria can multiply, causing it to get inflamed and filled with pus.
Left untreated, an infected appendix can rupture, causing bacteria to spread through the abdominal cavity. This can lead to a serious and sometimes fatal condition known as peritonitis (infection of the silk-like membrane that coats the organs within your abdomen).
Sudden abdominal pain that starts around your navel then shifts to the lower right side of your abdomen, and progressively worsens (especially when you cough, walk, or do jarring movements) is a typical symptom of appendicitis. You could also experience the following:
- Constipation or diarrhea
- Loss of appetite
- Low-grade fever (that can worsen as the condition progresses)
- Nausea and vomiting
Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD)
Inflammatory bowel disease is a blanket term encompassing two disorders that cause long-term inflammation of the digestive tract: Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis.
The difference between the two conditions is that Crohn’s disease can attack all layers of the bowel walls, whereas ulcerative colitis is confined to the large intestine (colon).
Signs and symptoms that are common to both conditions—in addition to abdominal pain—include:
- Bloody stools
- Persistent or severe diarrhea
- Weight loss due to poor appetite
While IBD isn’t usually fatal, it can cause life-threatening complications when left untreated.
Cirrhosis is a severe form of liver disease that occurs when healthy liver tissue is gradually replaced with scar tissue, which renders the liver unable to function properly. The most common causes of cirrhosis are hepatitis and alcohol abuse.
Cirrhosis often produces no signs or symptoms until there is already extensive or irreversible damage. When signs and symptoms do manifest, they could include abdominal pain and some of the following:
- Fluid accumulation in your abdomen (ascites)
- Itchy skin
- Swelling in your legs, feet, and/or ankles (edema)
- Unexplained fatigue
- Weight loss due to poor appetite
- Yellowing of the eyes and skin (jaundice)
Colorectal cancer is one of the leading causes of cancer-related deaths in the adult population in the United States. The condition occurs when the cells that line your colon or rectum grow out of control.
Colon cancer, in its early stages, often produces no signs and symptoms. When they do occur, they’ll likely vary, usually depending on the size and location of the cancer in your colon or rectum. Along with persistent abdominal pain, you may also experience some of the following symptoms:
- An unusual change in bowel habits
- Chronic bloating
- Fatigue or weakness
- Rectal bleeding
- Thin- or narrow-looking stools (often bloody)
- Weight loss
Viral Gastroenteritis (Stomach Flu)
Viral gastroenteritis is a contagious disease that attacks the lining of your gastrointestinal tract and intestines. It is commonly caused by the norovirus or rotavirus.
Common symptoms of viral gastroenteritis include the following:
- Fever (usually low-grade)
- Nausea and/or vomiting
- Occasional muscle aches
- Watery stools (no blood)
Gastroenteritis is mostly self-limiting, meaning it usually resolves on its own after a few days, although you may still need medical attention to prevent dehydration. For infants, the elderly, and people who are immunocompromised, the condition can be deadly.
Abdominal Pain Treatment in Sarasota and Manatee County
At Intercoastal Medical Group, our multispecialty team of highly credentialed physicians includes five gastroenterologists who are all committed to delivering the best patient experience and treatment outcomes. What’s more, we offer state-of-the-art diagnostic imaging and laboratory services for gastroenterological and other types of conditions, and we do have an ambulatory surgery center, should your GI doctor recommend that you go for surgical treatment. All these are part of our goal to provide our patients with comprehensive care.
If you need to see one of our gastroenterologists, get a referral from your primary care physician (PCP). Our gastroenterologists practice at our Cattleridge Medical Building in Sarasota and our Lakewood Ranch II office in Bradenton. If you don’t have a PCP, you can see one of our internal or family medicine physicians. Call our staff today at our office near you for an appointment. You may also fill out this online request form.