Testing Options to Consider to Determine What's Causing Your Abdominal Pain

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Testing Options to Consider to Determine What's Causing Your Abdominal Pain

Abdominal pain is a common health complaint, but the reasons for it can be widely varied. While an inflamed appendix may need only a physical exam, complex problems could require diagnostic imaging or specialized testing.

Your abdomen is a busy place, containing many of the body’s most important organs. When you suffer from abdominal pain, it might be something as simple as gas or one of many more complicated problems.

Pain can be mild, dull, and achy or sharp and severe. The underlying health issue may be acute (sudden) or chronic (ongoing and long-lasting). 

Because of the potential complexity, you need an abdominal pain specialist when you’re suffering. The doctors at Metro Anesthesia & Pain Management in West Des Moines and Des Moines, Iowa, can quickly home in on your physical symptoms and order the testing necessary to confirm your condition.

Regions of the abdomen 

The location of your pain often provides vital clues about the origin of your problem. The abdomen divides into four regions, each with its own symptoms: 

  • Upper, sometimes involving the chest
  • Lower, including the pelvis
  • Left side
  • Right side

Upper abdominal pain

Pain in this region is often related to the early stages of the digestive process. Common issues causing pain include acid reflux, appetite loss, bloating, gas, and nausea. Heart attack can sometimes produce symptoms in the upper abdominal area too. 

Lower abdominal pain

Pain here may point to problems with the large intestine, urinary system, or menstrual cycle or reproductive organs of women. 

Left side abdominal pain

Kidney problems, including kidney stones, and diverticulitis are frequent causes of pain on the left side of the abdomen. 

Right side abdominal pain

Appendicitis and gallstones are common causes of right side pain. Appendicitis presents lower in the abdomen while gallstones cause pain higher in the abdomen and, in some cases, referred pain to the right shoulder blade. 

Tests for abdominal pain

The diagnosis of your pain starts with a physical exam, usually focusing on the area in which your symptoms concentrate. Your doctor checks for visible signs, like bruising or skin changes. Using a stethoscope, they may listen to the intestines for the presence or absence of digestive noise. 

The size of internal organs can be estimated using manual percussion, and palpation reveals more about the location of the problem with gentle pressure on various regions of the abdomen. If necessary, your doctor may perform pelvic and rectal exams.

Lab tests include complete blood count, liver enzyme tests, amylase and lipase testing of the pancreas, tests for blood in the stool, sexually transmitted infection (STI) testing, and pregnancy testing as needed. 

Diagnostic imaging tests include CT scanning, MRI, upper endoscopy for the upper gastrointestinal tract, colonoscopy for the large intestine, X-rays (commonly for the kidney, ureter, and bladder), and ultrasound (typically for the gallbladder and kidneys). 

Due to all the potential causes of abdominal pain, you may need to undergo a range of tests to pinpoint some sources of pain. As pain management specialists, we can help you stay comfortable through the diagnostic process. 

Schedule a consultation by phone or online to start the process today.