Call Us

Contact Us

Decoding Abdominal Pain: Common Causes and Diagnostic Approaches

young woman sitting with her hands on her stomach

Abdominal pain is a common symptom that can arise from a wide range of underlying conditions, varying from mild discomfort to severe distress. Deciphering the cause of abdominal pain requires a systematic approach, considering factors such as the location, duration, and associated symptoms. In this article, we explore the common causes of abdominal pain and the diagnostic approaches used by healthcare providers to identify and treat the underlying conditions.

Understanding Abdominal Pain

Abdominal pain is characterized by discomfort or pain felt in the area between the chest and pelvis, known as the abdomen. The abdomen contains various organs, including the stomach, liver, gallbladder, pancreas, intestines, and kidneys, any of which can be involved in causing abdominal pain. The nature and intensity of abdominal pain can vary widely depending on the underlying cause.

Causes of Abdominal Pain

Abdominal pain can stem from numerous conditions, ranging from benign gastrointestinal disturbances to life-threatening emergencies. Some common causes of abdominal pain include:

1. Gastrointestinal Causes

Gastrointestinal issues such as gastritis, gastroenteritis, acid reflux, peptic ulcers, inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), and constipation can all manifest with abdominal pain. The location, timing, and associated symptoms can help differentiate between these conditions.

2. Gallbladder and Biliary Tract Disorders

Gallstones, cholecystitis (inflammation of the gallbladder), and other biliary tract disorders can cause severe right upper quadrant abdominal pain, often accompanied by nausea, vomiting, and jaundice.

3. Pancreatic Conditions

Pancreatitis, inflammation of the pancreas, can cause severe, persistent abdominal pain, usually located in the upper abdomen and radiating to the back. Chronic pancreatitis can lead to recurrent episodes of abdominal pain and pancreatic insufficiency.

4. Appendicitis

Appendicitis is inflammation of the appendix and typically presents with sudden-onset, severe right lower quadrant abdominal pain, often associated with fever, nausea, vomiting, and rebound tenderness.

5. Renal Causes

Kidney stones, urinary tract infections (UTIs), and other renal disorders can cause abdominal pain, typically localized to the flank or lower abdomen. Hematuria (blood in the urine) and urinary symptoms may accompany renal-related abdominal pain.

6. Gynecological Conditions

In females, gynecological conditions such as ovarian cysts, ectopic pregnancy, pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), and menstrual cramps can cause abdominal pain. The nature and timing of pain in relation to the menstrual cycle can provide clues to the underlying gynecological cause.

Diagnostic Approaches for Abdominal Pain

Diagnosing the cause of abdominal pain often involves a comprehensive evaluation, including history-taking, physical examination, and various diagnostic tests. Healthcare providers use a stepwise approach to identify the underlying condition:

1. History and Physical Examination

The healthcare provider will inquire about the onset, duration, location, severity, and characteristics of the abdominal pain. They will also ask about associated symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, fever, changes in bowel habits, urinary symptoms, and gynecological symptoms. A thorough physical examination, including palpation of the abdomen and assessment of vital signs, may provide additional diagnostic clues.

2. Laboratory Tests

Blood tests may be performed to assess for signs of inflammation, infection, organ dysfunction, and electrolyte imbalances. Common laboratory tests include a complete blood count (CBC), comprehensive metabolic panel (CMP), liver function tests (LFTs), pancreatic enzymes (amylase, lipase), and urinalysis.

3. Imaging Studies

Various imaging modalities may be utilized to visualize the abdominal organs and identify any structural abnormalities. These may include abdominal ultrasound, computed tomography (CT) scan, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), and X-rays. Imaging studies can help detect conditions such as gallstones, kidney stones, appendicitis, and abdominal masses.

4. Endoscopic Procedures

In some cases, endoscopic procedures such as upper endoscopy (esophagogastroduodenoscopy or EGD) and colonoscopy may be performed to directly visualize the gastrointestinal tract and obtain biopsies if necessary. Endoscopy can help diagnose conditions such as peptic ulcers, gastritis, gastrointestinal bleeding, and colorectal cancer.

5. Specialized Tests

Additional specialized tests may be ordered based on the suspected underlying cause of abdominal pain. These may include tests for H. pylori infection (urea breath test, stool antigen test), imaging of the biliary tract (MRCP), functional gastrointestinal testing (e.g., gastric emptying studies, lactose intolerance tests), and gynecological evaluations (transvaginal ultrasound, pelvic exam).

Treatment of Abdominal Pain

The treatment of abdominal pain depends on the underlying cause. Management strategies may include:

  • Medications to relieve pain, reduce inflammation, treat infections, or alleviate symptoms associated with specific conditions.
  • Dietary modifications to address gastrointestinal issues such as GERD, IBD, and food intolerances.
  • Lifestyle changes such as stress management, regular exercise, and smoking cessation.
  • Surgical interventions for conditions requiring prompt surgical management, such as appendicitis, cholecystitis, and bowel obstruction.


Abdominal pain is a common symptom with numerous potential causes, ranging from benign gastrointestinal disturbances to serious medical conditions. The diagnostic approach to abdominal pain involves a thorough evaluation, including history-taking, physical examination, laboratory tests, imaging studies, endoscopic procedures, and specialized tests as needed. 

Prompt and accurate diagnosis is essential for initiating appropriate treatment and optimizing patient outcomes. If you experience persistent or severe abdominal pain, it is important to seek medical attention promptly for further evaluation and management. By understanding the common causes of abdominal pain and the diagnostic approaches used to identify them, healthcare providers can effectively manage this challenging symptom and improve patient care.

Introducing Curasia Endoscopy Centre

Our host, Jerald Foo, will be taking you to our first centre at Jurong East.

Make An Enquiry

Leave us your details and we’ll get back to you shortly.
Prefer to talk? Call our clinic directly to make an enquiry at +65 6679 1229

or Whatsapp us at +65 9750 8783

We are available 24 hours

Let's Get in Touch!

Clinic Details

Other Related Articles

Curasia Endoscopy

Call Us

Contact Us