All Abdominal Pain Is Not Created Equal

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What are the different types of abdominal pain and how can I differentiate between them?

All Abdominal Pain Is Not Created Equal

The nature and quality of abdominal pain symptoms speak volumes in figuring out what is causing them. Sometimes the discomfort can be mild and annoying, other times it can pack a wallop and take your breath away. Some abdominal problems may last for years, periodically coming and going, while the acute nature of others demand immediate attention.

Matching the symptoms to the various types of abdominal pain is a little like completing a jigsaw puzzle, but if the pieces are all there seeing the whole picture is a lot easier. Keeping track of what you feel and how often you feel is vital information to help you and your physician in determining the cause of the problem. Consider this:

  • Intermittent, crampy waves may result from an obstruction of the intestine, such as from being constipated.
  • True cramp-like pain usually means excessive contracting of the smooth muscles lining the intestine due to diarrhea, bowel obstruction or conditions such as diverticulitis, where the outer wall of the large intestine becomes infected with craters of food stuck there.
  • Sharp, unrelenting pain can indicate an acute inflammation or blockage such as appendicitis or gallstones.
  • A burning sensation is often caused by gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), where acid from the esophagus/stomach junction leaks back up into the throat, or an ulcer somewhere in the digestive tract.
  • Pain and symptoms that are aggravated by coughing, sneezing, or jarring motions generally result from inflammatory conditions such as appendicitis, diverticulitis or colitis.
  • Nausea, fever or chills typically come from an infection, flu or virus.
  • Functional pain is a catch-all phrase for pain that shows no visible cause. An example is the pain associated with irritable bowel syndrome, a painful condition whose true cause has yet to be determined.
All that is just fine, but abdominal pain symptoms can be quite crafty and atypical; just because appendix pain should be in a certain place, doesn't mean it's going to be there. In addition, the characteristics of the pain may change, and different diseases or conditions can mimic one another, further complicating matters. The key is to get a sense of what you're feeling and track your symptoms. You'll go a long way towards getting to the root of your problem. If you need to locate a clinician in your area to help you overcome your abdominal pain, use the free clinician finder on



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