Stomach pains making you feel yucky? Paying attention to your gut could turn your frown upside down.
by Dr. Amelia Averyt
What exactly is abdominal pain? Your abdomen houses your stomach, liver, gallbladder, pancreas, small/large intestines, and blood vessels among other connective tissues that keep these organs in place and oriented correctly. The abdomen and the organs it holds have their own nervous system that helps the organs perform their functions like digestion. Abdominal pain is a signal that it sent the central nervous system – your brain and spinal cord – after the nerves in your abdomen detect a change in feeling. Sometimes this change in feeling is from the abdominal organs stretching – like what happens with too much gas or constipation, or inflammation of an organ – like when there are infections present. At other times, there is a miscommunication between the nervous system of the abdomen and the central nervous system and the body perceives normal sensations as incredibly painful. This group of disorders is called disorders of the mind-gut axis.
Pain can come in many forms as well – from aching to sharp, burning to icy. There are other forms of discomfort like bloating, or changes in bowel habits like diarrhea or constipation. On occasion, pain felt in the stomach or abdomen comes from a different organ. Some examples of this are passing kidney stones, menstrual cramps, or on occasion a heart attack.
It is always important to note if there are dangerous symptoms associated with your abdominal pain, called “red flags”. If you have severe abdominal pain that makes it difficult to do your normal activities, if it comes with vomiting, pain in your chest or upper body, watery diarrhea, bleeding, or fever, it is important to seek medical attention as soon as possible. For other more mild forms of abdominal pain, pay close attention to anything that could be triggering the pain. Common triggers could be stress, certain foods, a lack of sleep, or difficulty having a bowel movement. Just as important is figuring out what makes the pain better. For some, it is a heating pad, acetaminophen, a walk around the block, or a soothing tea (like chamomile, ginger, or peppermint). Gathering this information will make it easier for you to discuss with your doctor what could be causing the pain and a treatment plan to help you feel better.
When visiting a provider, they will ask you detailed questions to determine the cause. It’s hard for providers to measure your pain, so be upfront about your experiences. Following your provider’s advice will have you wearing green instead of looking green this St. Patrick’s Day!
If you have any questions, concerns, or would like to schedule an appointment with us, please visit us online or call (832) 548-5000.