What causes lower abdominal pain?

Often, lower abdominal pain is related to conditions of the digestive tract, but can also be related to conditions of the body wall, skin, blood vessels, urinary tract, or reproductive organs.

Digestive tract causes of lower abdominal pain

Lower abdominal pain may be caused by digestive tract conditions including:

  • Appendicitis
  • Bacterial, parasitic or viral infection of the gastrointestinal tract
  • Celiac disease (severe sensitivity to gluten from wheat and other grains that causes intestinal damage)
  • Chronic constipation
  • Diverticulitis (inflammation of an abnormal pocket in the colon)
  • Food intolerance such as lactose intolerance (inability to digest lactose, the sugar in dairy products)
  • Inflammatory bowel disease (includes Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis)
  • Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS; digestive discomfort that does not cause intestinal damage or serious disease)
  • Meckel’s diverticulum (congenital, abnormal pouch near the lower end of the small intestine)

Other causes of lower abdominal pain

Lower abdominal pain can also be caused by conditions of other body systems including:

  • Abdominal hernia (weakened area of the abdominal wall, 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
  • Ovarian cysts (benign sacs in an ovary that contain fluid, air, or other materials)
  • Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID; infection of a woman’s reproductive organs)
  • Shingles (painful, blistering rash, often forming a stripe, resulting from a reactivation of the varicella-zoster, or chickenpox, virus)
  • Urinary tract infection
  • Uterine fibroids (abnormal growths of uterine muscle tissue that can cause uterine enlargement or discomfort)

Serious or life-threatening causes of lower abdominal pain

In some cases, lower abdominal pain may be a symptom of a serious or life-threatening condition that should be immediately evaluated in an emergency setting. These include:

  • Abdominal abscess
  • Bowel obstruction or perforation
  • Colonic volvulus (twisting of the colon)
  • Ectopic pregnancy (life-threatening pregnancy growing outside the uterus)
  • Intestinal ischemia (loss of blood supply to the intestines leading to death of intestinal tissue)
  • Intussusception (telescoping of the intestines into themselves, which can cause intestinal ischemia)
  • Occlusion, embolism, or thrombosis of the mesenteric artery
  • Ovarian torsion (twisting of the ovary)
  • Peritonitis (infection of the lining that surrounds the abdomen)
  • Ruptured appendix
  • Significant abdominal trauma
  • Testicular injury
  • Testicular torsion (twisting of the spermatic cord)

Questions for diagnosing the cause of lower abdominal pain

To diagnose your condition, your doctor or licensed health care practitioner will ask you several questions related to your lower abdominal pain including:

  • When did you first notice pain in your lower abdomen?
  • Have you had pain like this before?
  • Do you have any other symptoms?
  • Does anything make your symptoms go away or make them worse?
  • What medications are you taking?
  • Have you been injured?
  • Is there any possibility you might be pregnant?

What are the potential complications of lower abdominal pain?

Because lower abdominal pain 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:

  • Abdominal abscess
  • Adverse effects of treatment of lower abdominal pain
  • Bowel obstruction, perforation or infarction (severe injury to an area of the bowel due to decreased blood supply)
  • Fistula (abnormal hole or tube between organs or tissues)
  • Infertility
  • Internal hemorrhage
  • Intestinal obstruction and rupture of the intestinal wall
  • Ruptured appendix
  • Spread of cancer
  • Spread of infection
  • Surgery to remove parts of the digestive tract due to inflammation, rupture, obstruction, serious infection, or a malignant condition

References:

  1. 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.
  2. Abdominal pain syndrome. American College of Gastroenterology. http://www.acg.gi.org/patients/gihealth/aps.asp.
  3. Collins RD. Differential Diagnosis in Primary Care, 5th ed. Philadelphia: Lippincott, Williams & Williams, 2012.
  4. Kahan S, Miller R, Smith EG (Eds.). In A Page Signs & Symptoms, 2d ed. Philadelphia: Lippincott, Williams & Williams, 2009.
  5. McNamara R, Dean AJ. Approach to acute abdominal pain. Emerg Med Clin North Am 2011; 29:159.
INTRODUCTION

What is lower abdominal pain?

Pain in the lower abdomen is often related to the digestive tract, but can also be related to conditions of the body wall, skin, blood vessels, urinary tract, or reproductive organs. The area may be tender to the touch or the pain may be severe and the whole abdomen might be rigid.

Lower abdominal pain can be extremely uncomfortable and with that comes severe Read more about lower abdominal painintroduction

SYMPTOMS

What other symptoms might occur with lower abdominal pain?

Lower abdominal pain may accompany other symptoms, which vary depending on the underlying disease, disorder or condition. Symptoms are frequently associated with the digestive tract, but they may also involve other body systems.

Digestive tract symptoms that may occur along with lower abdominal pain

Lower abdominal pain may accompany other symptoms affecting the digesti... Read more about lower abdominal painsymptoms

Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS Last Annual Review Date: Sep 6, 2013 Copyright: © Copyright 2014 Health Grades, Inc. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or reprinted without permission from Health Grades, Inc. Use of this information is governed by the HealthGrades User Agreement.

This Article is Filed Under: Digestive System


Did You Know?

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Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is one of the most common disorders diagnosed by doctors. In fact, it's estimated that as many as 20 percent of adults have symptoms of IBS.