Abdominal pain: causes, diagnosis, and treatment

Written by: Mr Charles Evans
Edited by: Conor Lynch

Abdominal pain is often described as general discomfort that one experiences in and around the abdomen area. In many cases, it can be a real cause for concern. 


In our latest article, Leamington Spa and Coventry-based consultant general surgeon, Mr Charles Evans, explains the main causes of abdominal pain, outlines what tests are typically used to diagnose and investigate a patient’s abdominal pain in further detail.


What can cause abdominal pain?

There are many causes of abdominal pain. It is ultimately down to the doctor to work out the exact cause by taking into account the patient’s medical history. The main causes of abdominal pain can range from something to do with the patient’s bowl, intestines, kidneys, bladder, and gynaecological organs.


It also just might be caused by a general generic systemic illness that might be causing abdominal pain, such as diabetes. Therefore, the exact cause of abdominal pain really does require a detailed history and examination.


What tests are used to investigate and diagnose the cause of one’s abdominal pain?

It’s really centred around feeling for lumps, seeing if they are blown up or not, looking for hernias in the patient’s groin area, making sure there is no tenderness around the back area, and overall getting a general feel of the patient’s abdomen and pelvis.


Typically, around 90 per cent of the patient’s overall diagnosis will be made simply on that thorough history and examination. The patient will also typically require urine tests as well as blood pressure tests.


Then, we would typically look at the kidneys and liver to check if they are working alright, With this, we would almost always need some sort of radiological investigation, with the most straightforward one being an X-Ray, and this would be the first test if we thought that the patient might potentially have a blockage in the bowel.


For patients who have been suffering from small chronic pains, we would generally carry out a scan (either an ultrasound or a CT scan). We can also, if required, use an MRI scan which gives us very specific views looking around the liver and gallbladder.


When should I see a doctor about abdominal pain?

If you feel very unwell and the abdominal pain is associated with symptoms such as a high temperature, feeling weak, vomiting, and/or unable to eat, then it is definitely a time to seek medical help.


Then, there also patients who suffer from recurrent abdominal and stomach pain. This would, again, be a point where I would recommend seeking help.


What methods can temporarily relieve abdominal pain?

Temporarily, you’re talking about symptom control, which will be pain relief. Unfortunately, some medications can actually aggravate stomach pain, but generally, paracetamol or ibuprofen will temporarily ease pain.


You need to make sure that you’re eating and drinking well, staying well hydrated. Overall though, relieving abdominal pain really boils down to diagnosing the cause of it.


Can surgery be necessary to cure abdominal pain?

Surgery can absolutely be necessary to treat abdominal pain. It, of course, very much depends on the cause. Any blockage within the bowel often leads to surgery to treat that. Patients who have trouble with their gallbladder may also require surgery.


If a patient has had hernias, they might need surgery to fix those, and occasionally, surgery may so too be required for patients who suffer from stomach inflammation in the intestine.


If a woman has a problem with a cyst or a twisted ovary, that again might need urgent surgical input from a gynaecologist. Then, in terms of urological problems, you may not need an urgent surgical procedure for a kidney stone, but sometimes they can cause a blockage in the duct system, which might need to be relieved with a drain.


Mr Charles Evans is an extremely experienced, expert consultant general surgeon who specialises in abdominal pain and how to effectively treat it. If you are suffering from any symptoms associated with abdominal pain, make sure you book an appointment with Mr Evans today by visiting his Top Doctors profile today.

By Mr Charles Evans

Mr Charles Evans is the Head of Gastrointestinal Surgery at the University Hospitals of Coventry and Warwickshire. He is a leading consultant general surgeon and one of a small number of UK surgeons specially trained in robotic surgical techniques. He specialises in robotic rectal cancer surgery and is an international trainer in robotic colorectal surgery training across Europe and the UK. 

Working across Leamington Spa and Coventry, Mr Evans has a wide practice covering hernia surgery, diagnostic and interventional endoscopy, bowel resection for cancerous and non-cancerous conditions, anal fissure and fistula, haemorrhoids, and appendix removal. Following paediatric surgical training through experience working in the Oxford Paediatric Surgical Department and at the Royal Berkshire Hospital, Mr Evans also performs general paediatric surgery including procedures such as hernia and hydrocele repairs, and circumcisions.

Mr Evans completed basic surgical training in London and was awarded an MD from the University of London following research into colorectal cancer and minimally invasive surgery. He undertook higher surgical training at the Oxford Deanery following which he was selected for the National Ethicon Fellowship in Advanced Colorectal Surgery. He completed his training with a further fellowship in complex colorectal surgery at St Mark's Hospital, London. He has an interest in perianal conditions including haemorrhoids, fistula, and fissures. He performs laparoscopic and open hernia repairs and holds specialist accreditation for therapeutic colonoscopies.

Mr Evans continues to have an active role in surgical research, presenting at national and international conferences. He is a regular reviewer for journals including the British Journal of Surgery and Colorectal Disease, and at UHCW he is heavily involved in research focusing on early cancer detection and advances in robotic surgical techniques.

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