WHEN YOUR BELLY HURTS
Several years ago, I received two late-night calls within minutes of each other. Both callers were generally healthy men in their mid-forties. Both had diffuse belly pains, accompanied by nausea and vomiting. And both had had an appendecto-my in the past. There the similarity ended: The first caller also had diarrhea and fever; the second didn’t. Which one was sicker?
You might think the fellow with more symptoms was in worse shape. But that man’s fever and diarrhea—two signs of probable infection—were actually good signs. By the next j morning, his symptoms were starting to subside on their own. The problem appeared to be a case of mild gastroenteritis—an j inflamed intestinal lining—which cleared up over the next few days.
The other man was in trouble. He needed emergency j surgery for a blocked small intestine, caused by a band of scar tissue from his old appendix operation. Another few hours, 1 and that segment of the bowel might have died, which would \ have meant removal of that portion.
Belly pain can be confusing. There are many organs in and around the abdomen. Any of them can develop pain, j And you can’t always judge the severity of the problem by how bad the pain is, how sick you feel, or how many other j symptoms you have.
Still, there is information that can help you figure out whether you should call your doctor right away or try to treat the problem yourself for a while.
Probably not serious
The most common causes of abdominal pain are generally the least serious ones, even though they often produce disabling symptoms.
Gastroenteritis that stems from a virus, for example, can cause pain, nausea, fever; vomiting, and diarrhea. But the symptoms usually subside in two to three days. The most prevalent kind of food poisoning causes similar symptoms and runs an even shorter course, usually without fever. Both of those intestinal infections produce generalized belly pain, rather than pain confined to a single area. If the symptoms prove to be tolerable and begin to wane within a day or so, there’s probably no need to seek medical attention. Just drink plenty of fluids and handle any pain with acetaminophen (Actamin, Tylenol).
Certain pain relievers, often used in high doses for arthritis, are another common cause of belly pain. If you develop pain in the central part of your upper abdomen while you’re taking aspirin or an anti-inflammatory drug such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin-IB) or naproxen (Aleve), stop taking the drug immediately. The pain should disappear within a few days, with the help of an over-the-counter antacid, such as Maalox or Turns, or an acid-reducer like famotidine (Pepcid AC) or ranitidine (Zantac 75).
Signs of danger
One clue that you may need immediate medical help is pain that’s confined to just one area of the belly. Such pain is more likely to involve a single organ than pain that’s diffuse or that moves from area to area. And problems that involve a single organ are more likely to be serious.
Call your doctor immediately if you experience acute abdominal pain accompanied by:
• Severe weakness, dizziness, or sweating. All are signs of internal bleeding, either from the stomach or bowel or from a ruptured aortic aneurysm (a bulge in the body’s largest blood vessel).
• Bloody stools. Possibly due to an ulcer, diverticulitis, a blocked blood vessel to the bowel, or telescoping of one segment of the bowel into another. Bleeding from the stomach usually results in black stools; rapid or lower-bowel bleeding turns the stools reddish. (Iron supplements and bismuth sub-salicylate, the active ingredient in Pepto-Bismol, can also blacken the stools, while beets and cranberries can turn them red.)
• Possible pregnancy. Lower abdominal pain could indicate a spontaneous abortion or an ectopic pregnancy. (When not linked to pregnancy, acute abdominal pain in women of childbearing age can signal a twisted ovary.)
• A bulge in the groin. Likely due to a strangulated hernia.
• Chills and high fever. That could signal peritonitis, a severe infection of the abdominal lining caused by rupture of the appendix, a diverticulum, or the gallbladder.
• Pain spreading into either flank. That’s a sign of kidney stones, especially if accompanied by bloody urine.
With or without those symptoms, severe belly pain that starts abruptly and doesn’t let up merits a doctor’s attention. Even when belly pain is mild, you should still call your doctor if it persists for more than two or three days or recurs over a period of more than a week or two.
Health handbook introducing you to read the article: DIGESTION AND INDIGESTION
Copyright ownership rights: The Best of Health – Consumer Reports