Many people use common non-medical terms to describe symptoms like pain. Sometimes these descriptions can be helpful in reach a possible diagnosis. Abdominal pain is one of the most common complaints seen in doctors’ offices and emergency rooms. Often abdominal pain is referred to as stomach pain. However, the stomach is only one of the many organs that are located within the abdominal cavity.
Therefore, abdominal pain may or may not be due to causes specific to the stomach. Strictly speaking, the terms “stomach” and “abdomen” cannot be used interchangeably. Abdominal pain can be caused by problems within the stomach, other organs in the abdominal cavity, tissues of the abdominal wall, or even the organs within the thoracic cavity.
The nature of abdominal pain can vary in different cases. Information about the nature of the abdominal pain can help in diagnosis of the potential underlying causes. One type of abdominal pain that is commonly encountered is described as a “squeezing” pain. Despite the crude description, the term “squeezing pain” can help in deciding upon the most relevant diagnostic tests, because some conditions are known to cause this type of pain.
Read more on twisting abdominal pain.
Causes of Squeezing Abdominal Pain
The following are some of the conditions that are known to cause squeezing abdominal pain. However, it is important to note that this is not an exhaustive list, and there may be many other potential causes of a squeezing abdominal pain.
The thoracic and abdominal cavities are separated by a large dome-shaped muscle called the diaphragm. The diaphragm has a small opening (known as the esophageal hiatus) through which the esophagus passes from the thoracic cavity into the abdominal cavity, where it joins the upper part of the stomach.
In some cases, the upper part of the stomach manages to slip through the esophageal hiatus and enter the thoracic cavity. This condition is termed as hiatal hernia. The typical symptoms of hiatal hernia include upper abdominal pain, burning pain sensation in the chest (heartburn), excessive belching, problem in swallowing, and a bloated sensation.
Gallstones are hard stones that form from the bile within the gallbladder. When the gallstones are small, they can easily pass through the bile duct and be eliminated through feces.
However, large gallstones can get stuck within the gallbladder duct (or bile ducts) and stop the flow of bile into the intestine. The main symptoms that arise in such cases include pain in the upper right or upper middle abdominal region, pain between the shoulder blades in the back, pain in the right shoulder, fever, chills, and jaundice.
The pain due to gallstones can be very intense. Usually, pain due to gallstones has a sudden onset, lasts for about 30 minutes to two hours, and then subsides. The pain may keep recurring intermittently. Since the condition tends to recur, the main treatment for gallstones is removal of the gallbladder.
Read more on gallstones.
Irritable bowel syndrome
Irritable bowel syndrome is a functional gastrointestinal disorder. A functional disorder is one that has no obvious anatomical or pathological causes. In irritable bowel syndrome, the structure of the intestine looks fine. Yet, the bowel habits are altered, leading to constipation or diarrhea. Other signs and symptoms include abdominal distension, abdominal cramps, and excessive gas formation.
These signs and symptoms are usually triggered periodically. The exact cause of irritable bowel syndrome remains unknown. In the absence of any anatomical or pathological changes in the gut, a diagnosis of irritable bowel syndrome is made when all other potential causes have been ruled out. At present, there is no cure for this condition.
Food intolerance is a common condition in which a person is unable to digest certain types of food. For example, a person with lactose intolerance lacks the enzyme lactase that is needed to digest the lactose sugar present in milk. Consequently, a lactose intolerant person falls sick upon consumption of milk and other dairy products.
The main signs and symptoms of food intolerance include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, indigestion, bloating, excessive gas formation, and abdominal distension. These signs and symptoms usually occur within a short while of consuming the problem food. Food intolerance should not be confused with conditions such as food allergies, food sensitivity, and malabsorption syndromes.
Constipation is usually defined as a condition in which a person has bowel movements at a frequency of less than three times a week. The stools usually become very hard and dry in this condition. Consequently, passing stools requires significant straining, which can lead to further complications such as hemorrhoids, anal itching, anal fissures, and rectal bleeding.
Other symptoms of constipation include abdominal cramps and a sensation of fullness in the rectum. There are many causes of constipation. Common causes include low fiber diet, inadequate water intake, lack of physical activity, bowel obstruction, hypothyroidism, nerve conditions, irritable bowel syndrome, pregnancy, diabetes and depression. It is important to note that constipation is not a disease, but a symptom of an underlying condition.
Gas in the intestine is produced by the chemical and microbial digestion of food. Due to these activities, gas is produced continuously within the gut. Some of the gas that we swallow also manages to reach the intestine. Regardless of the source of the gas, all gas within the intestine is expelled through the anus as flatus.
In some cases, the gas may become trapped within the intestine and cannot be expelled. This can occur in conditions such as intestinal blockage and fecal impaction. As the trapped gas accumulates, it stretches the walls of the intestine and triggers reflex spasms. This causes symptoms such as abdominal pain, loud noises in the gut, and even formation of a palpable lump on the walls of the intestine. The pain subsides with defecation or passing of the trapped gas.
Problems with the abdominal wall
Abdominal pain may also be caused by problems within the abdominal wall. For example, trauma or over activity may cause the abdominal muscles to go into a spasm, leading to abdominal cramps. Injury to other components of the abdominal wall, such as the skin, subcutaneous fat tissue, and fascia, may also cause abdominal pain.
In women, certain gynecological conditions may also cause squeezing pain in the lower abdominal region and pelvis.