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Abdominal pain diagnosis

Contents of this page:


Anatomical landmarks, front view
Anatomical landmarks, front view
Digestive system
Digestive system
Normal abdominal anatomy
Normal abdominal anatomy

Alternative Names    Return to top


Definition    Return to top

There are clues to diagnosing the cause and severity of abdominal pain. See abdominal pain for a detailed discussion of the potential causes and what to do for your symptoms.

Information    Return to top

Abdominal pain can represent many different types of problems besides a simple stomachache. It can even be due to pain in the pelvis (such as menstrual cramps), back (such as kidney stones), or chest (such as a heart attack or heartburn).

Your doctor will ask you specific questions to help determine the cause of your abdominal pain:

Two common conditions that you may worry about if you have abdominal pain are appendicitis or an ulcer.

An inflamed appendix generally starts with pain in the center of the abdomen, around the belly button, followed by loss of appetite, nausea, and fever. As appendicitis worsens, the pain generally moves to the right lower abdomen. An inflamed appendix can rupture and should be treated as a medical emergency.

Ulcers often produce pain in the upper, central abdomen, a few hours after eating or during the night. Taking antacids may relieve the pain. The risks from an ulcer include bleeding or rupture.

Go to your the hospital emergency room or call your local emergency services number (such as 911) if:

Call your doctor if:

References    Return to top

Feldman M, Friedman LS, Sleisenger MH, eds. Sleisenger & Fordtran’s Gastrointestinal and Liver Disease. 8th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: WB Saunders; 2006.

Abdominal Pain. In: Marx J. Rosen’s Emergency Medicine: Concepts and Clinical Practice. 6th ed. St. Louis, Mo: Mosby; 2006: Chap 22.

Ebell MH. Diagnosis of appendicitis: part 1. History and physical examination. Am Fam Physician. 2008 Mar 15;77(6):828-30. Review. No abstract available.

Lyon C, Clark DC. Diagnosis of acute abdominal pain in older patients. Am Fam Physician. 2006 Nov 1;74(9):1537-44. Review.

Bundy DG, Byerley JS, Liles EA, Perrin EM, Katznelson J, Rice HE. Does this child have appendicitis? JAMA. 2007 Jul 25;298(4):438-51. Review.

Update Date: 4/25/2008

Updated by: Jacob L. Heller, M.D., M.H.A., F.A.C.E.P., Section of Emergency Medicine, Virginia Mason Medical Center, Seattle, WA. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.

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