How common is abdominal pain?

Just about everybody at one point or another will experience abdominal (belly) pain. Most causes of abdominal pain are not serious and can be readily diagnosed and treated. However, abdominal pain can also be the sign of a serious illness, and it is important that you learn to recognize which symptoms are severe and when to call a doctor.

How is the cause of abdominal pain determined?

Because there are so many potential causes of abdominal pain, your doctor will perform a thorough physical examination, discuss with you the type of symptoms you are experiencing, and ask you several related questions about the pain you are feeling. These questions could include the following:

  • What type of pain are you experiencing? Is the pain throughout your abdomen or is it confined to a particular area?
  • Where in your abdomen does the pain seem to be located?
  • What type of pain are you experiencing? Is it stabbing and severe? Is it a dull ache?
  • When does the pain occur? Always? More often in the morning or at night? If the pain comes and goes, about how long does it last each time? Does it occur after eating certain types of foods or after drinking alcohol? During menstruation?
  • How long have you had this pain?
  • Does the pain also radiate (branch out) into your lower back, shoulder, groin, or buttocks?
  • Are you currently taking any medications or herbal supplements?
  • Are you pregnant?
  • Does any activity such as eating or lying on one side relieve the pain?
  • Have you been injured recently?

Once this initial evaluation has been completed, your doctor may have you undergo some tests to help him or her make the diagnosis. These may include blood or urine tests, barium swallows or enemas, an endoscopy, X-ray, or ultrasound.