Most of us have experienced episodic abdominal pain that we would describe as being uncomfortable. With that knowledge, imagine suffering from chronic abdominal pain. Perhaps you do not have to imagine. Maybe chronic pain is a part of your daily life.
Unfortunately, there are a number of different things that can cause abdominal pain. Getting an accurate diagnosis on a first visit to the doctor is not guaranteed. In many cases, doctors have to combine symptom analysis with a variety of tests to figure out what is truly going on.
According to the pain specialists at Texas-based Lone Star Pain Medicine, chronic abdominal pain can be the result of a variety of things ranging from gallbladder problems to something known as complex regional pain syndrome. Here are three of the most common non-gastrointestinal causes of chronic abdominal pain:
1. Crohn’s Disease
Crohn’s disease is an inflammatory bowel disease that causes inflammation of the digestive tract. Inflammation can penetrate deep into bowel tissue to eventually become quite debilitating. The disease can even be life-threatening if not treated.
Symptoms of Crohn’s disease can include:
- abdominal pain
- weight loss
- bloody stool
- severe diarrhea
- chronic fatigue.
The exact cause of Crohn’s disease is unknown to science at this time. Limited studies suggest it could be an immune system problem or a hereditary condition. At any rate, there is currently no effective cure.
2. Ulcerative Colitis
Ulcerative colitis is another inflammatory bowel disease capable of leading to more long-term damage. It occurs when persistent inflammation in the digestive tract leads to ulcers in the large intestine and rectum. One of the unique aspects of ulcerative colitis is that symptoms appear gradually rather than suddenly.
- abdominal pain and cramps
- diarrhea and bloody stool
- rectal pain and bleeding
- difficulty defecating, even when urgent
- weight loss and fatigue.
There are different forms of ulcerative colitis classified according to where the ulcers are found. Thankfully, most cases present with mild to moderate symptoms. As long as it is treated, the likelihood of the condition becoming life-threatening is fairly low. Long periods of remission are possible.
3. Chronic Pancreatitis
Pancreatitis is inflammation of the pancreas, an upper abdomen gland that produces both enzymes and hormones. Its main function is to regulate digestion and glucose processing. Though most cases of pancreatitis resolve without treatment, the condition can become chronic.
Symptoms of acute pancreatitis include:
- abdominal pain
- nausea and vomiting
- increased heart rate.
These symptoms are also observed with chronic pancreatitis. However, chronic pancreatitis can present additional symptoms including weight loss and oily, foul-smelling stool.
As for the abdominal pain caused by chronic pancreatitis, it is actually pretty specific. It is limited to the upper abdomen and can radiate into the back. The abdomen is tender to the touch and pain seems to increase immediately after eating.
4. When to See a Doctor
All three of the conditions discussed in this post can present only with minor symptoms. As such, it is not necessary to immediately run to the doctor on the first sign of abdominal pain. Give it at least a couple of days to see if it improves. Minor issues may resolve without intervention.
A visit to the doctor is called for if your abdominal pain persists for more than a week. Do not wait that long if the pain becomes intense, as this could be a sign of something life threatening.
Abdominal pain is fairly routine. When it becomes chronic, it can also be debilitating. See your doctor if you are experiencing abdominal pain that is chronic and moderate to severe in intensity.