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Heather Hanks
Written by Heather Hanks

Reviewed by Physician Ignatius Ooi Yong Chin and Dr Eki Wari on October 25, 2022

Abdominal Pain Causes And Treatments To Help You Feel Better

To properly treat your abdominal pain, it's important to first determine what's causing it. Here are the four main types of abdominal pain you should be aware of and tips for treating your pain at home.

Abdominal pain min 1 scaled

Abdominal pain is a broad term that has several possible causes. You may experience it after eating foods that don’t agree with you or during your monthly period. These are some of the most common causes.

However, abdominal pain can also be due to problems with the vital organs around the abdomen. This includes organs located in the portion of your torso from below the chest to the groin.

Read on to learn about the four different types of abdominal pain and treatment options to help you feel better quickly.

What Is Abdominal Pain?

Eating or drinking foods that you cannot properly digest may cause abdominal pain.

Some illnesses like food poisoning cause generalized pain, meaning you feel pain in over half of your abdomen. Meanwhile, others are localized to a particular site, like appendicitis.

The pain could also be constant and crampy, as is the case with menstrual cramps, or colicky (coming in waves), such as that caused by gallstones or kidney stones.

Because the abdomen covers such a large area with various organs, physicians would begin an evaluation by asking you to indicate where you feel the pain. Generally, there are four types of abdominal pain:

Upper left quadrant 

While we usually say “stomach” to refer to the general central front area of the abdomen, the actual organ is, in fact, in the upper left quadrant, right below the heart and your left lung. The organs located in the upper left quadrant are your left kidney, pancreas, and spleen.

Gastritis and other digestive issues commonly cause abdominal pain in this area. However, pain here could also be caused by inflamed or infected organs, such as pancreatitis  

More serious illnesses include pancreatic cancer and stomach cancer. Note that the pain you feel in this area could also be referred pain from above. It also involves serious illnesses such as a developing heart attack, angina, pericarditis, pneumonia, or pulmonary embolism. 

Upper right quadrant

On the other side, in the upper right quadrant, are the liver, right kidney, gallbladder, and bile duct. Pain specific to this area could be due to some issues with the liver, such as hepatitis, or the gallbladder like gallstones and cholecystitis (gallbladder inflammation). Issues in the right kidney could also present as pain in this area, including bile reflux.

More serious illnesses could be due to cancer. Cancer pain is sometimes less prevalent than pain due to the more common and less harmful ailments like menstrual cramps or gas. If you experience any unusual pain, be sure to consult your doctor. 

Lower Abdomen 

We now descend to the lower abdomen, where our lower digestive tract, lower urinary tract, and reproductive organs reside. Gastrointestinal issues are typically confined to this area. This includes irritable bowel syndrome, inflammatory bowel disease, large or small bowel obstruction, functional dyspepsia, or a hernia. 

Cancers, such as small intestinal cancer, are also possible in the lower abdomen. Female reproductive organs are located in the lower abdomen. Therefore, abdominal pain in this area may involve the uterus and the ovaries, such as period cramps, endometriosis, ovarian cysts, or an ectopic pregnancy. The uterus and ovaries may become cancerous, though pain is not always a symptom. 

Lower Left and Right Quadrants 

Pain specific to the left or right side and further below can be traced back to the section at the end of the large intestine, most often involving the colon or the appendix. Pain on the left side could be due to diverticulitis of the colon. This is when the bulges in the colon become infected. 

Meanwhile, pain on the right side is most often caused by an infected or ruptured appendix or appendicitis. While treatable, appendix pain usually sends patients writhing in pain to the emergency room. 

TCM Treatments for Abdominal Pain

In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), abdominal pain refers to pain that results from conditions involving some imbalance in the Spleen or Stomach organ systems as understood in the TCM framework.

“From the TCM perspective, there are many ways to strengthen the Spleen and stomach. Chinese medicine treatment, hands-on body manipulation, and health conditioning can help restore our stomach condition,” ensures TCM Physician Ignatius Ooi.

Acupressure

Acupressure points that may relieve abdominal pain include Zu San Li (ST36), Nei Guan (PC6), and Gong Sun (SP4). You can perform acupressure on yourself at home or consult a TCM practitioner for the best results. If the pain persists, it’s best to check with your medical doctor. 

Herbal remedies

TCM herbal medicine for abdominal pain can also work well. Common traditional Chinese medicines used to treat abdominal pain include:

“TCM health supplements available in the market from trustworthy brands that contain these ingredients can help strengthen the Spleen and stomach,” Physician Ooi further shares.

Many studies have already shown the efficacy of TCM formulations for different types of abdominal pain. For example, ingredients like Atractylodis have mechanisms that make them effective in helping with conditions like indigestion, gastritis, bacterial infection, and other abdominal-related ailments that stem from a Spleen or stomach Deficiency or imbalance.

Abdominal pain due to constipation may be alleviated by taking digestive enzymes or a probiotic to regulate your bowel movements. Meanwhile, Bak Foong pills or a menstrual patch may help reduce period pain located in the abdominal area.

How To Prevent Abdominal Pain 

Abdominal pain due to menstruation can be alleviated by using a menstrual patch or taking Bak Foong pills.

In addition to these physiological modalities, TCM promotes health conditioning to ensure a healthy body that can stave off diseases that lead to abdominal pain.

Heed the following advice from Physician Ooi:  

  • Avoid excessive emotional stimulation such as anger, worrying, overthinking, sadness, fear, and shock 
  • Maintain a peaceful state of mind and a cheerful spirit 
  • Change unhealthy living habits, develop regular work and rest time, avoid overworking or staying up late 
  • Eat light meals, be mindful of the acid-alkali balance of food, and have regular meals in moderate portions 
  • Avoid overly cold, hot, raw, or hard food. Don’t eat too much deep-fried, smoked, marinated, pickled, or spicy food. Chew carefully 
  • Stimulating drinks such as carbonated beverages and liquor can lead to abdominal pain.  
  • Ensure a moderate amount of exercise and be mindful of work-life balance 

Abdominal pain could be due to any number of conditions, both mild and serious. While serious illnesses must be evaluated by a qualified medical professional, it’s important to understand the types and locations of your pain so that you can describe it clearly to your doctor. Fortunately, alternative medicine like TCM can treat many common ailments that lead to abdominal pain.

References

  1. Cleveland Clinic. 2022. Abdominal Pain 
  2. Mount Sinai Health Library. Abdominal Pain 
  3. Journal of Ethnopharmacology. 2021. Atractylodis Rhizoma: A review of its traditional uses, phytochemistry, pharmacology, toxicology and quality control. 
  4. Evidence Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine. 2021. Chinese Herbal Medicine for Functional Abdominal Pain Syndrome: From Clinical Findings to Basic Understandings.  

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