Abdominal pain is a common symptom that occurs with many diseases affecting the abdominal organs but the nature of the pain may be specific to certain conditions. One type of discomfort is a burning sensation or burning pain in the abdomen which may occur only with certain problems. Pain or discomfort on its own is difficult to identify and other symptoms should also be considered along with the burning abdominal pain. This will aid with the diagnosis.
Causes of Abdominal Burning
There are a host of different causes of a burning abdominal pain. With the abdominal cavity containing the most number of organs from any other cavity, pain may be due to a problem with any one of these organs. The abdominal cavity continues into the pelvic cavity and perineum where organs like the bladder, prostate (males), female reproductive organs and rectum lie. Problems with these organs can also cause pain which may sometimes be incorrectly described as lower abdominal pain.
Read more on abdominal tightness.
The wall of the abdomen is composed of skin, muscles, fat and connective tissue. Within it runs tiny blood vessels and nerves. Burning in the abdomen may emanate from the abdominal wall and this is usually felt as surface burning. It may be due to a host of different conditions including:
- Skin problems like sunburn or other skin diseases.
- Strained muscles with exertion and sometimes even muscle tears.
- Shingles which is a reactivation of the chickenpox virus and other conditions affecting the nerves.
- Trauma to the abdomen which can affect any or all of the layers.
The burning sensation or pain may affect most of the abdominal surface or be isolated to the area where the problem exists.
Stomach and Duodenum
The stomach sits mainly in the upper left quadrant of the abdomen. Often burning in this area is usually due to the stomach which is largely due to the stomach acid that can ‘burn’ living tissue. The stomach then continues into the duodenum of the small intestine. It occurs with conditions like:
- Gastritis which is inflammation of the stomach wall.
- Duodenitis which is inflammation of the duodenal wall.
- Peptic ulcers which are open sores in the stomach or duodenum.
- Mallory-Weiss tear which occurs where the stomach and esophagus meet.
Apart from the burning sensation, a person may also experience nausea, vomiting, bloating and changes in appetite.
Pancreas and Gallbladder
Although the pancreas and gallbladder are separate organs, they lie close to each other and share a common duct through which their secretions are passed into the duodenum. This corresponds approximately to the upper middle abdomen:
- Gallstones where one or more stones forms in the gallbladder and obstructs a duct.
- Cholecystitis is inflammation of the gallbladder often associated with gallstones.
- Pancreatitis is inflammation of the pancreas usually due to excessive alcohol consumption.
The symptoms include nausea, vomiting, change in appetite
Most of the liver sits in the upper right quadrant and extends across the midline to sit partly in the upper left quadrant of the abdomen. Therefore pain is felt mainly in the right side of the upper abdomen but can extend to the left.
- Hepatitis is inflammation of the liver mainly due to viral infections, alcoholism and the intake of poisons.
- Liver abscess is an accumulation of pus within the liver tissue.
- Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease where fat accumulates in the liver without excess alcohol consumption.
Other symptoms include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, changes in body weight and jaundice.
The kidneys are located at the upper part of each side of the abdomen. Problems with the kidneys cause flank pain which is also sometimes descibed as midback pain.
- Pyelonephritis is an infection of the kidney which can sometimes be due to a severe UTI.
- Kidney stones are hard masses that form in the kidney usually from substances in urine.
- Kidney cyst is an fluid filled mass in the kidney tissue.
Apart from the flank pain, there is also urinary symptoms include changes in urine output, blood and pus in the urine, nausea and vomiting.
Read more on flank pain.
The small intestine is coiled towards the middle of the abdomen with the large intestine lying on the right, top and left border of the abdominal cavity. As the intestines occupy most of the space in the abdominal cavity, pain can be felt almost anywhere in the abdomen.
- Enteritis is inflammation of the small intestine while colitis involves the large intestine. It may be due to various causes like infections.
- Bowel obstruction is where a mass within the intestine or compression from outside of it blocks a portion of the intestine.
- Appendicitis is an acute infection of the vermiform appendix that extends from the cecum of the large intestine.
- Diverticulitis is infection of abnormal pockets in the large intestinal wall (diverticula).
- Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is an autoimmune condition marked by intestinal inflammation and ulceration.
Other symptoms that may be present includes diarrhea, constipation, abdominal cramping, nausea, abdominal distension and vomiting
The peritoneum is the lining that covers many of the abdominal organs. It has two layers and in between lies a small amount of fluid which acts as a lubricant. Peritonitis is inflammation of the peritoneum which is mainly due to infections. Apart from pain, there may also be abdominal swelling, tenderness, fever and malaise. Peritonitis can be life-threatening if not treated promptly.
Apart from the organs mentioned above, there are several other structures in the abdominal cavity that may also be responsible for pain.
- Aortic dissection
- Blood vessel obstruction or compression
- Cancer of any of the abdominal organs
- Cardiac and lung conditions (referred or radiated pain)
- Hiatal hernia
- Migraines (abdominal)
- Spleen injury or rupture
Diagnosis of Burning Abdomen
The cause of abdominal pain of any type can be difficult to diagnose without considering other symptoms and conducting further diagnostic investigations. Some of these investigations may include:
- Abdominal x-ray
- Abdominal ultrasound
- CT scan of the abdomen
- MRI scan of the abdomen
- Upper GI endoscopy
Apart from the symptoms and results of diagnostic investigations, factors that trigger, worsen or ease abdominal pain can also be useful in identifying the underlying cause.