What causes abdominal symptoms?
Abdominal symptoms often originate in the digestive tract, although they can also be due to disorders of the circulatory system, urinary tract, reproductive system, respiratory system, or the body wall.
Digestive causes of abdominal symptoms
Abdominal symptoms may be caused by digestive conditions including:
- Bacterial, parasitic or viral infection of the gastrointestinal tract
- Celiac disease (severe sensitivity to gluten from wheat and other grains that causes intestinal damage)
- Food intolerance such as lactose intolerance (inability to digest lactose, the sugar in dairy products)
- Diverticulitis (inflammation of an abnormal pocket in the colon)
- Gall bladder disease or stones
- Gastritis (inflammation of the stomach lining)
- Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
- Inflammatory bowel disease (includes Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis)
- Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS; digestive discomfort that does not cause intestinal damage or serious disease)
- Liver disease, including hepatitis (inflammation of the liver)
- Pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas)
- Ulcers of the stomach or duodenum (first section of the small intestine)
Other causes of abdominal symptoms
Abdominal symptoms can also be caused by conditions involving other body systems including:
- Abdominal or hiatal hernia (weakening in the abdominal wall or diaphragm, through which internal organs can pass)
- Cancer of an abdominal or pelvic organ
- Endometriosis (condition where tissues resembling the uterine lining grow in other areas of the body)
- Kidney stones
- Menstrual cramps
- Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID; infection of a woman’s reproductive organs)
- Pleurisy (inflammation of the lining around the lungs)
- Shingles (painful, blistering rash, often forming a stripe, that results from a reactivation of the varicella-zoster, or chickenpox, virus)
- Urinary tract infection
Serious or life-threatening causes of abdominal symptoms
In some cases, abdominal symptoms may signal a serious or life-threatening condition that should be immediately evaluated in an emergency setting. These include:
- Abdominal abscess
- Aneurysm of the abdominal aorta (life-threatening bulging and weakening of the wall of the abdominal aorta that can burst and cause severe hemorrhage)
- Bowel obstruction or perforation
- Chemical or heavy metal poisoning
- Colonic volvulus (twisting of the colon) or intussusception (telescoping of the intestines into themselves)
- Ectopic pregnancy (life-threatening pregnancy growing outside the uterus)
- Intestinal ischemia (loss of blood supply to the intestines leading to death of intestinal tissue)
- Myocardial infarction (heart attack)
- Ovarian or testicular torsion (twisting of the ovary or spermatic cord)
- Peritonitis (infection of the lining that surrounds the abdomen)
- Significant abdominal, pelvic or testicular trauma
Questions for diagnosing the cause of abdominal symptoms
To diagnose your condition, your doctor or licensed health care practitioner will ask you several questions related to your abdominal symptoms including:
- How long have you had your abdominal symptoms?
- What types of abdominal symptoms are you having?
- Does anything make them go away or make them worse?
- Have you had symptoms like this before?
- Do you have any other symptoms?
- What medications are you taking?
- Is there any possibility you might be pregnant?
What are the potential complications of abdominal symptoms?
Because abdominal symptoms can be due to serious diseases, failure to seek treatment can result in serious complications and permanent damage. Once the underlying cause is diagnosed, it is important for you to follow the treatment plan that you and your health care professional design specifically for you to reduce the risk of potential complications including:
- Bowel infarction (severe injury to an area of the bowel due to decreased blood supply)
- Internal hemorrhage
- Intestinal obstruction and rupture of the intestinal wall
- Organ failure or dysfunction
- Ruptured appendix
- Spread of cancer
- Spread of infection
Abdominal pain. Medline Plus, a service of the National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health. http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/003120.htm. Accessed May 11, 2011.
What are the signs of abdominal problems?
Abdominal symptoms are sensations and conditions that seem to originate in the belly or belly wall. The digestive tract occupies a large portion of the abdomen and is often the source of abdominal symptoms, although they can also be due to conditions of the body wall, skin, blood vessels, or urinary tract. Occasionally, conditions related to the reproductive organs or the chest can create ... Read more about abdominal symptoms introduction
What other symptoms might occur with abdominal symptoms?
Abdominal symptoms may accompany other symptoms, which vary depending on the underlying disease, disorder or condition. Abdominal symptoms are often related to the digestive tract, but they may also involve other body systems.... Read more about abdominal symptoms symptoms