Most of the important abdominal organs have muscles in their walls. Food and wastes are moved along by contractions of these muscles, but ordinarily one is not aware of such muscular activity. However, when inflammation or obstruction is present, severe and painful contractions may occur. These pains generally come and go rhythmically, may mount in intensity and then decrease somewhat, and are often referred to as painful spasms, colic, or griping pains.
Severe colicky pains may be experienced with the movement of gallstones or urinary stones, or when intestinal obstruction is present. The pain of appendicitis often starts as a colicky pain perhaps due to obstruction in the canal within the appendix. Colicky pains felt in the lower abdomen preceding a bowel movement, as in dysentery and diarrhea, generally point to involvement of the large intestine. In certain disorders the pain may also be felt in the back and occasionally may radiate to other parts of the body. Thus the pain of gallbladder disease may be felt not only in the back but also in the right shoulder, and occasionally a kidney stone may produce pain which shoots down to the groin and upper thigh.
Sometimes the pain of inflammation within the abdomen is a steady one. This is true in appendicitis once the initial crampy pains have subsided. The pain then experienced will be a localized pain in the region of the appendix itself. A somewhat similar course of events may occur in inflammation of the gallbladder, the pancreas, the colon, and other organs. Often such pain is accompanied by nausea and sometimes by vomiting. In addition, a few points to remember about abdominal pain are:
1. Never assume that abdominal pain is due to constipation nor take a laxative when you are experiencing pain, unless so directed by a doctor.
2. Most forms of abdominal pain can be helped to some degree by heat, as by a heating pad.
3. Abdominal pain is only a symptom: an explanation for it should be forthcoming. Check it out with the doctor. Thus in pregnancy acute appendicitis may produce atypical abdominal pains felt in a location higher or different from the usual one. Sometimes a blood count or other special tests may be necessary to determine the cause of any particular pain.