Twisting Abdominal Pain – Meaning and Causes

Abdominal pain is one of the most common symptoms that patients around the globe complain about to their doctors. However, it is also a vague symptom which often cannot be immediately ascribed to a definite cause. Other additional accompanying signs and symptoms need to be taken into account in order to arrive at a diagnosis of the cause of the abdominal pain. Usually this requires additional investigations.

Not all instances of abdominal pain are the same. The characteristics of the abdominal pain (such as the location of the pain and the nature of the pain) can provide some clues about the possible cause of the pain. The patients usually describe the nature of the abdominal pain using common everyday words, which may or may not be accurate enough. The abdominal pain may be described as being dull, sharp, gnawing, cramping, or stabbing.

In some cases, abdominal pain may be described as a twisting pain, which may be similar to cramping or squeezing pain. Often, abdominal pain is also referred to as stomach pain. However, this is a misleading term since the stomach is not the same as abdomen. The stomach is one of the many organs that lie within the abdominal cavity. Therefore, abdominal pain can have causes located in any of the internal abdominal organs, including the stomach.

If pain is located in the upper left quadrant of the abdomen, then it might indeed arise from the stomach. People may sometimes refer to twisting abdominal pain as twisting stomach pain.

Read more on stomach pain.

Causes of Twisting Abdominal Pain

Twisting abdominal pain can have many different causes. It is important to note that description of pain is a highly subjective topic. People with the same condition often report the nature of pain differently. For example, two individuals with the same condition may report the nature of their abdominal pain as stabbing or twisting pain. This subjective description of pain should not be used as the sole basis for diagnosis.

One must seek immediate medical help if the abdominal pain worsens progressively, and is accompanied by dizziness, blood loss, breathing difficulties, or loss of consciousness. In addition to the conditions discussed below, twisting abdominal pain may also be caused by heart attacks and labor pains at the end of pregnancy.

Read more on left side abdominal pain and right side abdominal pain.

Food poisoning and gastroenteritis

Gastroenteritis and food poisoning are very common illnesses that are caused by a variety of bacteria, viruses, protozoans, and toxins produced by these pathogens. Consumption of food and water contaminated with these pathogens is the most common way to get these diseases. Abdominal pain is a characteristic feature of these conditions.

The nature of abdominal pain in gastroenteritis and food poisoning may be described by patients as twisting or squeezing pain. Diarrhea, nausea and vomiting are other common signs and symptoms that are present in these conditions. Vomiting and diarrhea may provide temporary relief from the twisting abdominal pain.

Food intolerance and food allergy

Twisting abdominal pain is also a feature of food intolerance and food allergies. Even though both these conditions are triggered by consumption of specific foods to which an individual is sensitive, they are caused by entirely different mechanisms. Food allergies are caused by an abnormal immune reaction against some of the food components. Food intolerance is caused by lack of specific enzymes that normally digest the food in question.

Obstruction of the bowels

Obstruction to the movement of food and stools through the bowels can also lead to twisting abdominal pain. The obstruction of bowels may either be partial or complete. The cause of the bowel obstruction may either be internal or external to the bowels. For example, both partial and complete bowel obstructions may occur due to the presence of a mass (such as an ingested foreign object or an abnormal growth) inside the bowel. The bowel may also get twisted or trapped in a hernia.

In other cases, bowel lumen may become constricted due to pressure from an external mass (such as a tumor inside the abdomen or adhesions around the bowels). Bowel obstruction may also be caused by weak peristaltic movements due to weakening of the muscles of the bowels. This condition is also referred to as pseudo-obstruction of the bowels. Apart from twisting abdominal pain, obstruction of the bowels may also cause abdominal distension, nausea, vomiting, constipation, and watery diarrhea (small volume).

Irritable bowel syndrome

Irritable bowel syndrome is a functional bowel disorder with no clearly identifiable cause. Abdominal cramps (sometimes described as twisting pain) are a hallmark of this condition. Bowel habits are also altered in this condition, causing either diarrhea or constipation. Bowel movements often provide relief from the abdominal pain. Irritable bowel syndrome should not be confused with inflammatory bowel disease, which is a distinct condition that also causes abdominal cramps.

Gallbladder inflammation and gallstones

Gallstones refer to solid stones that form from concentrated bile present in the gallbladder. Middle aged women are commonly afflicted with this condition. In many cases, bile stones are small and pass out along with the bile without causing any symptoms.

However, large stones can get stuck in the bile duct, and cause upper abdominal pain that is colicky in nature. The pain may also extend to the right shoulder and the back region. Twisting abdominal pain can also be caused by gallbladder inflammation (technically referred to as cholecystitis). The inflammation of the gallbladder may be caused by infections, gallstones or other causes.


Twisting pain in the lower abdominal region can be a result of menstrual cramps. The pain caused by menstrual cramps vary widely in intensity. In some women, there may be only a mild discomfort. In others, the abdominal pain may be very severe. The pain caused by menstruation is also referred to as period pain or dysmenorrhea.

Period pains usually resolve on their own as the menstruation stops. Abdominal pain may also be felt by some women in the middle of their cycle. This is referred to as ovulation pain or mittelschmerz. Other gynecological conditions such as endometriosis, polycystic ovarian syndrome, and uterine fibroids may also cause severe abdominal pain.

Ectopic pregnancy

Ectopic pregnancy refers to a condition in which the fertilized embryo implants within a tissue outside the uterus. This is a life-threatening condition that requires immediate medical attention. The fallopian tubes are the most common sites of ectopic pregnancy. Ectopic pregnancy is characterized by worsening abdominal pain, vaginal bleeding, shoulder pain, and lightheadedness.

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