Stomach pain and/or abdominal pain bothers most of us at some time in our lives. Pain located from the ribs to below the waist is often broadly referred to as “stomach pain” by sufferers when, in fact, the stomach is only a relatively small organ in the digestive system and may not be the actual cause of symptoms. There are many organs in the abdomen which could be contributing to the abdominal distress – including the stomach, small intestine, liver, gallbladder, pancreas, and large intestine (or colon).
To determine the cause of abdominal pain, it is necessary to correctly identify the symptoms.
Pressure, burning pain, and spasm are the primary symptoms of digestive disorders that you may feel. Other symptoms that you may experience, but not necessarily feel, include constipation, diarrhoea, bleeding, belching, flatulence, and weight loss.
Although the range of symptoms appears limited, the number of possible disorders is long. It’s not always easy to identify a GI disorder by the symptom it produces. Nor is the degree of pain always an indication of the severity of the disorder. Some serious disorders produce relatively little abdominal pain, while many minor problems can create pain out of proportion to their importance.
Abdominal pain can be tricky to diagnose. You may mistakenly believe you have one kind of GI problem, and really have another. Or more than one. Spasms, for example, can occur anywhere along the digestive tract. When spasm occurs in the oesophagus, it is often indistinguishable from a heart attack. Spasm of the oesophagus may also cause difficulty in swallowing. It can occur suddenly without cause, or in response to cold or hot liquids, acid reflux, or stress.
A spasm further down the GI tract may produce sharp pain in the abdomen that causes you to double over. Spasm here may be associated with diarrhoea, blockage of the bowel, gallstones, or irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
So, location of the symptoms can sometimes help to determine the cause. Burning pains usually involve the upper GI tract. Burning may be felt in the middle of the chest beneath the breast bone (heartburn) or in the upper abdomen (ulcers) or pancreatitis.
Feelings of abdominal distension and cramping are symptoms often involving the middle and lower GI tract (small and large intestines). Irritable bowel syndrome, diverticulitis, and excessive intestinal gas are typical problems that arise in this region.
Unexplained weight loss, difficulty swallowing, rectal bleeding, frequent urge to move your bowels, and recent onset of constipation are symptoms that should receive prompt attention and diagnosis from your physician as they may be signs of serious disease.
If you suffer from GI distress but have never had your symptoms properly diagnosed by a physician, it is important to do so before embarking on any self-help nutritional program.
Many intestinal disorders – such as dysbiosis, dyspepsia, gastritis, ulcers, constipation, diarrhea, IBS – can be successfully treated with dietary modifications and natural supplements. I’ve documented all the most successful remedies from my clinical practice and research in my book Stomach Saviour – The Guide You Should Have Got With Your Gut
Relying solely on self-diagnosis is risky because symptoms of mild disorder such as irritable bowel syndrome may be identical to symptoms of a life-threatening disease such as bowel cancer. Only your doctor can make specific diagnosis of your GI problem. Often diagnosis can be made during regular office visits, but sometimes further tests are required.
The following quiz can help you inventory GI complaints. Many GI sufferers ultimately come to accept as normal levels of distress that healthy individuals would find unacceptable. The quiz will allow you to gain a sense of control over what may seem to be an escalating range of symptoms. Answering “yes” to any of the questions listed below means that you should see your physician for a specific diagnosis. If the diagnosis falls within the range of common digestive orders, you are a good candidate for a self-help nutritional program, such as Stomach Saviour.
27 Symptoms of Abdominal Pain and GastroIntestinal Distress
- Do you frequently have a sour taste in your mouth when you lie or down bend over? (This means acid has refluxed from the stomach up the oesophagus to your mouth.)
- Do you occasionally regurgitate undigested food? (You may have a defective sphincter – valve – at the end of your oesophagus, which allows gastric contents to reflux back up into the oesophagus.)
- Do you frequently wake up in the middle of the night coughing? (This could be caused by acid reflux being aspirated into the lungs when you lie down. If you have this particular symptom your physician will first rule out heart or lung problems.)
- Do certain foods such as citrus juice burn on the way down to your stomach? (Burning indicates that the oesophagus is inflamed, usually caused by acid reflux. If you are immune compromised in any way – you take drugs that suppress the immune system or if you have an advanced cancer or AIDS – your physician will first rule out infection of the oesophagus caused by yeast or herpes simplex.)
- Do you experience heartburn, that burning feeling underneath the breastbone, more than twice a month?
- Do you frequently belch? (If the belching occurs because you are swallowing air, therapy such as counselling or relaxation techniques can help treat the underlying cause of anxiety. If the belching is caused by reflux problems, my self-help nutritional program is for you.)
- Do you have trouble swallowing solids or liquids? (Your oesophagus may be obstructed or it may not be contracting properly. See your physician before embarking on any dietary changes.)
- Do you get a burning or gnawing pain in the upper abdomen between the breastbone and the navel? (This could be a symptom of gastric ulcers, gastritis – inflammation of the stomach lining, duodenal ulcers, duodenitis – inflammation of the duodenum, or pancreatitis. Must less commonly this symptom is associated with cancer of the stomach.
- Do you ever get black, tarry bowel movements? You may have a bleeding ulcer. See your doctor immediately.
- Do you feel full right after you start eating? This so-called “early satiety” may indicate significant stomach problems, especially if it is recent in onset. Slow stomach emptying, called gastroparesis, or even a stomach tumour can cause early satiety. See your doctor as soon as possible.
- Have you recently had episodes of waxing and waning sharp or dull pain just below your rib cage on the right side? (This symptom suggests gallstones. After correct diagnosis, Stomach Saviour can help relieve symptoms.)
- Do you have a yellowish tinge to your skin or the white of your eyes (best seen in natural sunlight)? This may be associated with itching, dark amber urine, and light clay-coloured stools. (These symptoms may indicate you have liver disease or your bile duct system is blocked. See your doctor immediately.)
- Do you have frequent episodes of pain in both sides of the lower abdomen? (If your doctor says you have IBS, start my self-help nutritional program, Stomach Saviour.)
- Do you have frequent episodes of pain in the left lower abdomen? (If your doctor says you have IBS diverticulosis, start my self-help nutrition program. If the diagnosis is diverticulitis, meaning that the little pouches, or diverticula, are inflamed, postpone my program until you have received appropriate medical treatment for the acute inflammation.)
- Do you have frequent episodes of pain in your right lower abdomen? (See your doctor. You may have appendicitis, ovarian cysts, or ileitis – Crohn’s disease. If your physician rules out these conditions and makes a diagnosis of IBS, you can start my program.)
- Do you have a history of chronic diarrhoea and rectal bleeding? (You could have inflammatory bowel disease – ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease, colon polyps, haemorrhoids, or dysentry – bacterial infection of the bowel. See your doctor.)
- Do you have a long history of loose stools, constipation, or constipation alternating with diarrhoea? (This is a likely case of IBS, which responds well to my professional nutritional program. If this is a new symptom, however, it’s important to see a doctor for diagnosis.)
- Have you recently become constipated? (This could signal a tumour blocking the colon, especially if you are more than 40 years old. Other possible causes of constipation are recent travel, irritable bowel syndrome, and side-effects of drugs. Consult your doctor as soon as possible.)
- Are your stools pencil-thin in shape? (Again, this could reflect a blockage of the colon by a tumour. See your doctor).
- Do you constantly feel the need to move your bowels, even if you can’t, or even if you just had a bowel movement? This symptom, called tenesnus, is sometimes caused by partial blockages of the colon. It can also be caused by haemorrhoids. See your doctor right away.
- Do you experience frequent episodes of flatulence that bother you? (Some flatulence is normal but some people have excessive flatulence. My Stomach Saviour program can help.)
- Are you losing weight without trying? (Unexplained weight loss is associated with several potentially serious diseases. See your doctor as soon as possible.)
- Do you suffer from hemorrhoids or anal fissures? (My nutritional program can definitely help you, but your doctor will first want to make certain you do not have an associated colon problem.)
- Do you notice blood on the surface of the stool? This usually means you have haemorrhoids or a fissure. Occasionally, inflammatory bowel disease confined to the rectum known as proctitis can cause this symptom. See your doctor.)
- Do you notice blood mixed in the stool? This usually means that the blood has entered the stool higher up in the colon. You could have a polyp, tumour, bleeding diverticulum, or inflammatory bowel disease. See your doctor.)
- Do you have itching around the anus? (You could have haemorrhoids, but pinworms is another possibility, especially if you have small children. See your doctor.)
- Excluding the above possibilities, abdominal pain is often caused by what or how or when you eat – see 7 Food-Related Causes of Stomach Pain
In most cases, having GI symptoms does not necessarily mean that you have a serious disease. Nevertheless, I recommend that you see your doctor so your problem can be accurately diagnosed.