William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR
Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.
- Abdominal pain facts
- What is abdominal pain?
- What causes abdominal pain?
- How is the cause of abdominal pain diagnosed?
- Characteristics, symptoms, and signs of the abdominal pain
- Associated signs and symptoms of abdominal pain
- Physical examination
- Exams and tests
- Special problem in irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) of diagnosing the cause of abdominal pain
- Why can diagnosis of the cause of abdominal pain be difficult?
- How can I help my doctor to determine the cause of my abdominal pain?
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Abdominal pain facts
- Abdominal pain is pain that is felt in the abdomen.
- Abdominal pain comes from organs within the abdomen or organs adjacent to the abdomen.
- Abdominal pain is caused by inflammation, distention of an organ, or by loss of the blood supply to an organ. Abdominal pain in irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) may be caused by contraction of the intestinal muscles or hyper-sensitivity to normal intestinal activities.
- The cause of abdominal pain is diagnosed on the basis of the characteristics of the pain, physical examination, and testing. Occasionally, surgery is necessary for diagnosis.
- The diagnosis of the cause of abdominal pain is challenging because the characteristics of the pain may be atypical, tests are not always abnormal, diseases causing pain may mimic each other, and the characteristics of the pain may change over time
What is abdominal pain?
Abdominal pain is pain that is felt in the abdomen. The abdomen is an anatomical area that is bounded by the lower margin of the ribs and diaphragm above, the pelvic bone (pubic ramus) below, and the flanks on each side. Although abdominal pain can arise from the tissues of the abdominal wall that surround the abdominal cavity (such as the skin and abdominal wall muscles), the term abdominal pain generally is used to describe pain originating from organs within the abdominal cavity. Organs of the abdomen include the stomach, small intestine, colon, liver, gallbladder, spleen, and pancreas.
Technically, the lowermost portion of the area described previously, is the pelvis, which contains the urinary bladder and rectum, as well as the prostate gland in men, and the uterus, Fallopian tubes, and ovaries in women. Practically speaking, it often is difficult to know if lower abdominal pain is coming from the lower abdomen or pelvis.
Occasionally, pain may be felt in the abdomen even though it is arising from organs that are close to, but not within, the abdominal cavity. For example, conditions of the lower lungs, the kidneys, and the uterus or ovaries can cause abdominal pain. On the other hand, it also is possible for pain from organs within the abdomen to be felt outside of the abdomen. For example, the pain of pancreatic inflammation may be felt in the back. These latter types of pain are called "referred" pain because the pain does not originate in the location that it is felt. Rather, the cause of the pain is located away from where it is felt (i.e., it is referred to a different area).
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