Sharp Stomach Pain

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Pain is not counted among the Aristotle’s senses (sight, hearing, smell, taste and touch). It was thought that the pain is an emotion, a feeling, something unpleasant. Recently this concept was abandoned and the pain is discussed from a physiological point of view. The International Association for the Study of Pain defines pain as “unpleasant sensation or emotion which is associated with actual or potential tissue damage”. Today pain is referred to as the experience that not only includes harmful stimuli but also the perception of psychological and physiological responses and their consequences.

Everyone experienced stomach pain at one time or another.  Stomach or acute abdomen pain can be a symptom of various problems some of which are common, but some of which can be quite serious. Let us first define the area where abdomen pains can occur. Abdomen is part of the human body between the pelvis and the thorax. The location of abdominal pain varies, and can depend on the location of the inflamed organ or it can be present in the whole are of the abdomen usually indicating diffuse peritonitis (inflammation of the peritoneum, a thin membrane that covers the organs in the abdomen).

Acute abdomen pain can be caused by many different causes, where the most common ones are: indigestion, constipation, stomach flu, menstrual cramps, food poisoning, food allergies, gas, lactose intolerance, ulcers, pelvic inflammatory disease, hernia, gallstones, kidney stones, urinary tract infection, appendix pains, etc. All these can produce various types of pain, from mild stomach ache and stomach cramps to sharp and stabbing abdomen pain. From the pathophysiological point of view there are two types of pain, acute and chronic. Acute pain is often instant, with a short duration and requires surgical or immediate medical treatment. Chronic pain usually persists over 3 months.

Most of the time when people experience stomach pain, it is related to more common causes and they usually know the pain will pass, weather it was something related to indigestion, menstrual cramps or gas.

Cases when you need to pay extra concern are when acute abdomen pains are accompanied by other symptoms like a fever, inability to keep food down, inability to pass stool, vomiting blood, difficulty breathing, bloody stools, the pain lasts for several days, the pain occurs during pregnancy and similar.

Some of the causes for stabbing pain in the stomach can be heartburn (med. Gastro-esophageal Reflux Disease (GERD)) or ulcers. Peptic ulcer represents painful scores in the wall of the stomach or the small intestine. There is no single cause for the ulcers; however they are the end result of an imbalance between the digestive fluids in the stomach and the small intestine. They can also be caused by a bacterial infection, use of painkillers or by the production of excess acid in the stomach. Ulcers commonly heal on their own but there are also symptoms for which you should see a doctor. Those include dark stool, vomiting blood as well as severe pain in the upper abdomen. If not properly treated ulcers can cause bleeding, perforation (of the stomach wall or the wall of the small intestine) or gastric obstruction. Ulcers are usually treated by medication but represent more chronic and lasting problems.

Another cause of sharp or stabbing pain in the stomach is appendicitis. Appendicitis is the inflammation of the appendix, which is a small part of the colon. Symptoms of appendix pain are abdominal pain which is at first diffuse and poorly localized, as well as loss of appetite. As the inflammation process increases it extends through the appendix to the peritoneum. When that happens the pain changes and becomes localized to a small area. Usually that area is localized between the top of the hip bone and the belly button. Appendix pains are commonly followed by a temperature, and a very tender abdomen. When diagnosed on time, appendicitis is treated by surgically removing the appendix, which nowadays is done by laparoscopy being one of the most common and low-risk procedures. Complications can occur if the appendicitis is not treated in time and it ruptures, spreading the inflammation to other organs. 

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