Stomach pain you shouldn’t ignore

February 9, 2018| Health and Wellbeing /

There’s no one answer to tummy pain. You can get a stomach ache from eating too much, laughing too much or doing too many sit ups, but when should you worry about abdominal pain?

First things first, if you’re doing a ‘Google Doctor’ and stumbled upon this page – don’t panic! Most tummy pains are completely harmless. If you’re ever worried though, always check-in with your GP, head to an emergency department if it’s urgent or call 000.

So, stomach pain! It can be sharp, dull, achy, crampy, persistent or intermittent and can occur anywhere between the chest and pelvic region.

Pain can be caused by many things, including stress, constipation, diarrhea, vomiting, gastro and inflammation or disease affecting the organs in the abdominal area.

Being able to recognise and describe this pain to doctors makes for a faster and more accurate diagnosis, and gets you the right help quicker!
— Matt Ryan, Director of Emergency Medicine at Epworth Geelong

Not all stomach pain is worth rushing to your emergency department about, but it’s important to know the likely causes and their symptoms, and this can be broken down in to three types of abdominal pain:

  1. Cramp-like pain can be caused by bloating, trapped wind, diarrhea or constipation and is most common in women due to menstruation, miscarriage or complications with reproductive organs. This pain comes and goes and may go away on its own without treatment.

  2. Localised pain is limited to a specific area of the abdomen and usually due to problems with just one organ. This kind of pain is common with stomach ulcers, which is open sores on the lining of your stomach.

  3. Colicky Pain occurs suddenly and may feel like a severe muscle spasm. It can be a symptom of more serious conditions like gallstones, kidney stones or appendicitis.

When to see a doctor? 

If the pain is persistent and hasn’t gone away on its own within 24 hours, if you have unexplained weight-loss/gain or lack of appetite, fever or vomiting, prolonged diarrhea or a burning sensation when you wee then you should book in to see your local GP in the coming days.

If the pain is very severe and persistent, it is generally best to see your GP or attend the ED straight away.
— Matt Ryan, Director of Emergency Medicine, Epworth Geelong

If it’s associated with an accident or injury and if you feel pain or pressure in your chest call 000 for advice.

If you have swelling, trouble breathing or swallowing, persistent vomiting or blood in vomit and/or stools, a high temperature or yellowing skin/eyes then head to your local emergency room and get checked out. If the pain is severe and getting worse, or is sudden agonising pain you should also head to hospital or call 000 as it may be a sign of serious illness such appendicitis, which will quickly get worse without treatment.

When you get there

The cause of your abdominal pain can usually be diagnosed with a series of tests. This often starts with a doctor doing a physical examination; they will press different areas of your abdomen and check for swelling and tenderness. That information, combined with the severity and type of pain, can usually give the Doctor an idea of what’s wrong or which tests to order.

Tests can include blood, urine and stool samples, a colonoscopy (a camera to check out your colon and intestines) or endoscopy (to find inflammation or abnormalities in the stomach and oesophagus), but are more commonly imaging tests. Imaging tests include MRI scans, X-rays and ultrasounds and are used to see organs, tissues, and other structures in the abdomen in more detail. This can help diagnose tumours, fractures, ruptures, and inflammation.

Once your doctor has diagnosed the pain they’ll either treat you with medication, surgery or (if it’s nothing too serious) send you home to rest and recover. The good news is that most abdominal pain is not caused by serious conditions, however uncommonly it can relate to quite serious conditions, some of which require urgent treatment.

Epworth HealthCare provides emergency department services in Geelong (8am – 10pm, seven days) and Richmond (24/7).

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