What are the ways to describe abdominal pain?
There are three general categories that are often used to describe abdominal pain:
The location of pain,
The quality or type of pain and
The intensity of the pain.
Other qualifiers and questions are often used to describe these features:
Does the pain radiate anywhere?
Does the pain come and go?
What makes the pain better or worse?
The health-care professional will ask the patient many other questions about the abdominal pain they are experiencing.
Abdominal pain is common, and a person can help their doctor diagnose the source of abdominal discomfort or pain by simply focusing on the location, type, and intensity of pain. Moreover, there are a variety of the reasons why some causes of abdominal pain are often difficult to diagnose initially. It is important to understand that although many times abdominal pain does not represent a serious problem, at other times the pain indicates a medical emergency. Discerning the difference between serious and non-serious causes of abdominal pain is sometimes a difficult challenge that you and your doctors face.
First, to understand the complexity of the diagnosis, a basic knowledge of the abdomen and its contents is needed. The illustration below is a diagram of the abdomen and most of its contents (diaphragm, pelvis, genitals, mesentery and retroperitoneal space are not shown). The diagram also shows the various areas of the abdomen that help define the location of pain and discomfort.
Location of the Pain
The abdomen can be roughly subdivided several ways; all of these ways (terms) have appeared in the medical literature:
Upper abdomen (horizontal line about the level of the umbilicus), lower,
Right upper and lower,
Left upper and lower, and
Pelvis (right and left).
Using the illustration, most of the organs in the abdominal area can be seen. Those that are not shown can be localized easily (for example, the kidneys, ureters and bladder located mainly in the lower abdomen, both left and right kidneys in the retroperitoneal space, behind the intestines with the bladder located in the central pelvis area in front of the lower intestines). Using this type of diagram, you and your doctor may more easily localize abdominal pain and its potential source.
Type of Pain
The type of pain may also give some clues as to the cause of abdominal pain. Unfortunately, sometimes the pain is diffuse; this can complicate the diagnosis. However, there are some types of pain that can help narrow the diagnosis.
There are several types of pain:
Some individuals may describe many other types of pain. The type of pain may be further described as:
modified by movement, eating, bowel movements, walking, or
changed by other situations like stress or certain medications.
Intensity of the pain
The doctor often enquires about the intensity of the pain, usually on a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 as the most pain (causes crying and inability to function or move, for example). Just as the type of pain may be further described, the intensity of pain may be characterized as constant, intermittent, variable, and changed by movement, eating, bowel movements, walking, or modified by other situations like stress or certain medications.