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Abdominal Pain

Solutions to abdominal pain

Abdominal pain is a common medical complaint that can have a wide variety of causes, ranging from digestive difficulties, infections, emotional upset, menstrual problems, heart problems or even the presence of a tumor. While diagnosis can be difficult, dealing with abdominal pain is sometimes the bigger challenge. This is especially true with chronic abdominal pain, since the cause can be hard to identify, and effective treatments are still being sought.

Diagnosis involves first ruling out life-threatening conditions such as appendicitis, obstruction of the intestine or bowel, perforated or bleeding peptic ulcers, tumors, and also any problems with the heart, spleen, pancreas, liver or kidneys. Sudden onset of severe abdominal pain, possibly accompanied by fever or vomiting or especially with blood, warrants emergency medical attention.

The doctor will also ask about the frequency and quality (constant or intermittent, sharp or dull) of the pain and any vomiting, intolerance to food or changes in bowel habits such as constipation or diarrhea. A physical examination will be performed, possibly including blood tests, ultrasound or other non-invasive tests, and sometimes endoscopic procedures.

Where is the pain?

It is common to think of upper abdominal pain (above the navel) as an indicator of problems with the stomach, liver, gallbladder or pancreas, and lower abdominal pain as a sign of problems with the intestine or bowel. However, the location of the pain is not always a reliable indicator of its source. For instance, pain from an ulcer or from gallbladder problems may be felt in the upper back or shoulder. It is important to report to the doctor any pains in the back, arm, neck or jaw, as well as the abdomen.

Chronic Abdominal Pain

Chronic abdominal pain is a far more common complaint than sudden pain. It usually does not signal any life-threatening condition, but it can severely affect quality of life. This type of pain (especially lower or upper right abdominal pain) is sometimes associated with problems that affect the way the nerves and muscles of the digestive tract function. Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is an example of such a diagnosis. Treatment may include increased dietary fiber intake, and the use of laxatives, antidiarrheals, and / or antispasmodics.

Zelnorm and Abdominal Pain

Until March 2007, Zelnorm (tegaserod maleate) was commonly prescribed to treat IBS, but its use has been completely discontinued as of April 2008, pending further study of possible cardiovascular risk.

Chronic Functional Abdominal Pain

This is a category of abdominal pain not associated with any changes in bowel patterns or abnormal diagnostic findings. Unlike IBS, it is not thought to arise from problems of motility in the digestive tract, but rather from faulty transmission of pain signals from the digestive system to the brain.

Though psychological traumas or stresses may be identified as the underlying cause of the pain, the impact of the physical discomfort should not be minimized. Effective treatment involves keeping a diary of events that trigger pain, and working closely with your doctor in using the latest pain relief techniques and medications, which may sometimes include antidepressant medications.

By Margaret Johnson Doran

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