Abdominal pain can be difficult to diagnose, but your Dignity Health doctor will help you to get to the bottom of your discomfort. Your doctor will take a detailed medical history as well as the history of your specific symptoms.
Your care team’s goal will be first to determine whether the pain is structural, meaning there is something abnormal about an organ, or functional, which would mean the organ or organs are not working correctly. It is possible to have an organ that does not look normal and also does not work properly. Medical imaging will help your doctor make this determination.
Purely functional disorders are challenging to diagnose because it is not easy to see problems with the nerves or muscles in the gastrointestinal tract, and the gastrointestinal system has its own nervous system.
You will want to arrive at your visit ready to describe the location of your pain, the type and intensity of your pain, and the history of your pain. Knowing where the pain is located, how it moves, what it feels like, and what triggers it or makes it better will give your doctor important information for a diagnosis.
For example, if your pain is severe and sharp in the middle of your abdomen, and you have accompanying nausea, vomiting, or fever, your doctor may suspect pancreatitis. Or, if you have the same fever, nausea, and vomiting, but the pain is in the lower-left area of the abdomen, you may be suffering from diverticulitis, which is the inflammation of small pouches inside the large intestine.
Your doctor will likely conduct additional tests, depending on your symptoms. These could include:
- Blood, urine, or stool tests
- Ultrasound of the abdomen
- CT scan or x-rays of the abdomen
When you seek care for abdominal pain, your doctor will ask questions about your symptoms, medical history, and the type and location of your pain. Then, they may order blood and urine tests, along with an ultrasound or CT scan. Female patients may require a pelvic exam or vaginal ultrasound to evaluate lower abdominal pain.
Treatment will vary depending on the diagnosis given by your doctor. For emergency situations such as a ruptured appendix, you will need to have surgery. In less severe cases such as stomach flu, you may just need fluids, rest, and mild foods. If your doctor believes you may have a food allergy, you will need to see an allergist and eliminate the offending food from your diet. You will work with your doctor to find the treatment that is best for you.
Recovery from abdominal pain will also vary widely depending on the cause. If you need to have surgery for appendicitis, for example, you can expect a several week recovery as your body heals. With indigestion, you can generally expect to feel better within several hours.
With any pain that is severe enough to need medical attention, it is essential to follow instructions from your care team regarding food to eat, when to start exercising again, and when you may return to work or school. With mild pain, there are some steps you can take to ease your discomfort and promote recovery. These include:
- Sipping water or clear fluids.
- Taking antacids if the pain is high in your abdomen and occurs after eating, especially if you are experiencing heartburn or indigestion.
- Avoiding citrus, fried or greasy foods, foods that are high in fat, tomato products, caffeine, carbonation, and alcohol.
- If you’ve been vomiting, wait six hours to eat small amounts of mild foods.
The information contained in this article is meant for educational purposes only and should not replace advice from your healthcare provider.