By Michael Kirsch, MD
We’ve all experienced a stomachache, from time to time, but have you ever wondered if your abdominal pain was something more serious?
Maybe you have acute abdominal pain, lasting only a few hours to a week or perhaps you have chronic abdominal pain, lasting three or more months.
We get phone calls all the time from patients with stomach distress who want to know if their pain might be serious.
Now, you might think that this is an easy task for a trained physician, but it is one of the most challenging aspects of our jobs. Phone medicine is tough. We do not have the advantages of seeing the patient face to face when we can read body language and perform a physical examination. We have only the patient’s description of events and our own instincts to rely upon.
In addition, many of these phone calls come at night when we are covering for other physicians. This means that many of these calls are from patients we do not personally know. So, determining on the phone if your abdominal pain is serious can be very vexing. On one hand, we don’t want to send every caller to the emergency room. On the other hand, we don’t want to reassure a patient that he can wait until the next day to see his doctor to learn later that he had acute appendicitis.
Some “red flag” symptoms that should prompt medical attention include: fever, diarrhea, bloody stools, persistent nausea or vomiting,, severe belly tenderness and worsening pain.
The most common conditions associated with abdominal pain include:
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), a condition that afflicts 10-15% of the U.S. population. While uncomfortable, this condition does not pose a threat.
Peptic Ulcer Disease – This is a common cause of acute and even chronic abdominal pain.
Gallstones –This is a common explanation for acute abdominal pain and is usually easy to diagnose.
Pancreatitis – Often associated with gallstones and alcohol abuse. Typically causes severe abdominal pain radiating towards the back.
Diverticulitis – a common infection of the large intestine.
Appendicitis – Common in younger folks, but can occur at any age.
Constipation – can cause pain severe enough for Emergency Room care.
Remember, you are not a doctor. If you have stomach pain and are worried, don’t try to diagnose yourself. Leave it to the professionals. Give us a call.
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Special Medical Interest(s):
• Abdominal Pain
• Colon Cancer Prevention
• Constipation/Diarrhea Disorders
• Crohn’s Disease & Ulcerative Colitis
• GERD/Heartburn/Acid Reflux
• Irritable Bowel Disease
• Liver Disease & Hepatitis