Common causes of lower abdominal pain in adults« Back to Articles
Abdominal pain can be the result of a large number of common conditions. It’s typically caused by inflammation, abnormal growths, injury, obstruction and intestinal disorders.
Sometimes infections in the throat, blood and intestines can cause bacteria to enter the digestive tract, bringing on some degree of abdominal discomfort. These infections may also lead to changes in digestion, such as constipation or diarrhoea.
Obviously we won’t go into every single possible cause of abdominal pain here. However, common ones to look out for in adults include:
- Menstrual, gynaecological or pregnancy-related pain
- Acid reflux
- Stress and/or anxiety
Diseases that affect the digestive system can also cause chronic lower abdominal pain. In the UK, particularly common ones are irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), Crohn’s disease and lactose or gluten intolerance. Urinary tract infections are also important to consider.
If the abdominal pain is particularly severe, the patient should be thoroughly examined for:
- Organ rupture or near-rupture (such as a burst appendix, or appendicitis)
- Kidney infection
- Kidney stones
Types of abdominal pain
Abdominal pain may be very localised, colicky or crampy. It could also be a sharp ‘electric’ pain, or a dull ache.
Localised pain is often related to a single organ. If the pain is very crampy or includes muscle spasms, constipation, diarrhoea, flatulence or bloating are the usual suspects. In women, such pain could be down to menstruation, miscarriage or ectopic pregnancy.
A big clue as to the cause of the pain is where it’s located in the abdomen. Appendicitis or intestinal obstruction are the common culprits in adults, however, female patients should also be examined for:
- Ectopic pregnancy
- Severe menstrual pain (dysmenorrhea)
- Ovarian cysts
- Pelvic inflammatory disease
- Sexually transmitted infections
A thorough history should be taken from the patient, potentially including sexual and cancer history. It’s also vital to ascertain whether the pain is new or has persisted for some time. Next steps should be based on the pain’s severity and location, with further tests such as urine/stool sampling, ultrasound or CT scanning all a possibility.
A simple stomach ache - or something more serious?
Mild abdominal pain typically disappears without treatment. However, in some cases, abdominal pain may indicate something more serious, especially if it’s accompanied by skin or eye discolouration, sudden weight loss, vomiting or blood in the stool/urine.
Abdominal pain is extremely common but it still requires effective identification, diagnosis and treatment. This has made our 5 day patient assessment workshop and our minor ailments essentials course extremely popular. Both help increase practitioner competence in clinical decision making and safe patient management.
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