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Patient care — conditions, diseases

Abdominal pain: This symptom is pain in the abdominal area, stomach region, or belly (often referred to as stomach pain) or in the abdominal area.

Abdominal pain is a nonspecific symptom that may be associated with a multitude of conditions. Some do not occur within the abdomen itself, but cause abdominal discomfort. An example would be the abdominal pain associated with strep throat. Some originate within the abdomen, but are not related to the gastrointestinal tract, such as a dissecting aortic aneurysm. Other pain is related directly to the gastrointestinal tract.

The severity of the pain does not always reflect the severity of the condition causing the pain. Severe abdominal pain can be associated with mild conditions, such as gas or the cramping of viral gastroenteritis, while relatively mild pain (or no pain) may be present with severe and life-threatening conditions, such as cancer of the colon or early appendicitis.

Abdominal pain can be caused by toxins, infection, biliary tract disease, liver disease, renal disease, bladder infections, menstruation, ovulation, female and male genitourinary disease, vascular problems, malignancy, ulcers, perforation, pancreatic disease, hernias, trauma, and metabolic diseases. The list is so extensive that it would be impossible to name all the possible diseases in each of the above groups.

Because abdominal pain is nonspecific, the health care provider will require much more information regarding the time of onset, duration of pain (minutes, hours, days, or even months), location of pain, nature of pain (dull, sharp, steady, crampy, off and on), severity of pain, and relationship to normal functions (such as menstruation and ovulation).

The location of pain and its time pattern may be helpful in suggesting its cause. During physical examination, the health care provider will try to determine if the pain is localized to a single area (point tenderness) or diffuse, and if the pain is related to inflammation of the peritoneum or of the abdomen. If the health care provider finds evidence of peritoneal inflammation, the abdominal pain may be classified as an "acute abdomen", which often requires prompt surgical intervention.

In addition, the health care provider will try to relate the abdominal tenderness to other general symptoms, such as fever, fatigue, general ill feeling (malaise), nausea, vomiting, or changes in stool. Then, the provider will ask about increasingly specific symptoms as the diagnostic considerations are narrowed.

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