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Abdominal Pain and Pelvic Pain
UT Southwestern Medical Center offers expert, compassionate care for patients experiencing abdominal or pelvic pain. Our experienced specialists, including gastroenterologists, gynecologists, urologists, psychologists, and pain management experts, quickly diagnose the cause of the pain and create a personalized treatment plan to relieve symptoms.
Expert Treatment for Abdominal Pain and Pelvic Pain
Abdominal pain occurs in the area between the chest and groin, also called the belly. Pelvic pain occurs in the lowest portion of the abdomen (below the belly button) and in the pelvis. Pain in these areas can be sharp or dull, constant or intermittent, and mild, moderate, or severe. Pain that occurs suddenly and goes away quickly is acute, and pain that lasts six months or longer is chronic.
UT Southwestern is one of the few pain management centers in Texas with on-site pain specialists, behavioral medicine specialists, and physical therapists. Our program uses therapies derived from the latest scientific advances in pain management, and our specialists use the least invasive procedures available to diagnose, locate, and treat abdominal and pelvic pain.
Causes of Abdominal Pain and Pelvic Pain
Abdominal and pelvic pain can result from a wide range of conditions and disorders. The level of pain a person experiences does not always reflect the severity of the condition causing it. It’s important to know when to seek medical care.
We recommend seeking immediate medical attention for severe pain that develops suddenly.
For lower levels of pain, patients should see their doctors for pain that:
- Is new
- Disrupts daily activities
- Gets worse over time
Possible causes of acute or chronic abdominal pain include:
- Abdominal aortic aneurysm
- Bowel blockage
- Cancer of the stomach, liver, or other organs
- Cholecystitis, with or without gallstones
- Food allergies or food poisoning
- Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), heartburn, or indigestion
- Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), including Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis
- Interstitial cystitis
- Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
- Kidney stones
- Stomach flu
Possible causes of acute or chronic pelvic pain include:
- Endometriosis, ovarian cysts, uterine fibroids, and other gynecologic conditions
- Cancers of the colon, ovaries, or other organs
- Painful periods and heavy bleeding
- Pelvic floor disorders
- Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID)
- Prostatitis and other prostate diseases
- Testicular and urologic disorders
- Ulcerative colitis
- Urinary tract infections
Symptoms of Abdominal Pain and Pelvic Pain
Ways to describe pain in the abdomen and pelvic areas include:
- Generalized pain: Pain felt in more than half of the belly
- Localized pain: Pain in only one area of the belly
- Cramp-like pain: Pain that feels like strong muscle contractions
- Colicky pain: Pain, often severe, that comes in waves and that often starts and stops suddenly
Abdominal Pain in Children
Abdominal pain is common for children. Most often it’s just a tummy ache, but if the problem is more serious, it can affect a child’s quality of life. The UT Southwestern Pediatric Group’s expert gastroenterologists offer comprehensive care for children.
Whether the cause is constipation, acid reflux, irritable bowel syndrome, or another condition, our multidisciplinary Chronic Abdominal Pain Program – the only such program in North Texas – focuses on providing relief. The team includes pediatric neurogastroenterologists, pediatric pain management specialists, and pediatric psychologists.
Diagnosis of Abdominal Pain and Pelvic Pain
Depending on each individual’s situation, the patient may work with specialists from gastroenterology, urology, pain management, or gynecology.
We will conduct a thorough evaluation, which includes a:
- Review of personal medical history, including any injuries
- Discussion of symptoms
- Physical exam, including, if indicated, a pelvic exam for women and rectal exam for men
To confirm a diagnosis, our doctors might recommend one or more tests, such as:
- Blood, stool, or urine tests: Tests that check for infection, abnormal levels of enzymes, or blood in the stool or urine to confirm a diagnosis or rule out other possible causes
- Colonoscopy: A test that examines the large intestine (colon) with a narrow, lighted scope
- Cystoscopy: A test that examines inside the bladder with a narrow, lighted scope
- Laparoscopy: A minimally invasive procedure to examine inside the abdomen and pelvic region
- Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans: Equipment that uses a large magnet and radio waves to produce detailed images inside the abdomen and pelvic region
- Sigmoidoscopy: A test that examines only the lower portion of the colon with a narrow, lighted scope
- Ultrasound: Imaging that uses sound waves to produce images of organs and other structures inside the abdomen and pelvic region
- Upper endoscopy: A test that uses a narrow, lighted scope inserted through the mouth to examine the esophagus, stomach, and upper small intestine
- Anorectal manometry: To assess for pelvic floor issues
- Urodynamic studies: Testing that assesses how the bladder and urethra are performing their job of storing and releasing urine
Treatment for Abdominal Pain and Pelvic Pain
After a comprehensive evaluation, we will thoroughly explain the diagnosis. Our specialists also discuss possible treatment options to decide on a personalized treatment plan to meet each patient’s individual needs.
Nonsurgical options to treat chronic pelvic pain and abdominal pain include:
- Lifestyle changes: Healthy eating plan, regular physical activity, and improved posture
- Medications: Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, muscle relaxants, anti-inflammatory cortisone injections, antispasmodics, or medications that modulate pain pathways and hormones such as serotonin
- Hormonal therapy: Pills, injections, or intrauterine devices that release hormones to regulate the menstrual cycle and control symptoms
- Physical therapy: Strengthening, stretching, and exercises to relax or control pelvic muscles
- Cognitive behavior therapy and other psychological support
For more serious cases of abdominal or pelvic pain, we can perform surgery to treat conditions and relieve symptoms. Surgical options include:
- Cancer surgery
- Female pelvic medicine and reconstructive surgery
- Gastrointestinal surgery
- Hernia and abdominal wall repair
- Minimally invasive gynecological surgery
UT Southwestern’s comprehensive medical resources enable patients to have an initial consultation, testing, follow-up visits, and any needed medical procedures all in one location.
As one of the nation’s top academic medical centers, UT Southwestern offers a number of clinical trials aimed at improving screening, diagnosis, and treatment of all types of abdominal and pelvic pain.
Clinical trials often give patients access to leading-edge treatments that are not yet widely available. Eligible patients who choose to participate in one of UT Southwestern’s clinical trials might receive treatments years before they are available to the public.
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