Sunday, April 1, 2012

Abdominal Pain and Menopause

Anatomy of the abdomen

Your abdomen extends from below your chest all the way down to your hips.  The abdomen contains many internal organs of the body including the intestines, the appendix, the gallbladder, the pancreas and the liver.  Some people incorrectly call the abdomen "the stomach" but the stomach is only one of many organs that might be causing you pain.  Pain in the abdomen can originate from any of the internal organs.

To better understand abdominal pain, it helps to understand the anatomy of the abdomen.

The internal organs are protected by a muscular abdominal wall:
  • Superficial abdominal muscles 
  • Deep abdominal muscles 

Organs in the abdomen include:

  • Intestines 
  • Kidneys 
  • Liver 
  • Gallbladder 
  • Pancreas 
  • Spleen 
  • Stomach 
  • Uterus and ovaries in females (lower abdomen)

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Symptoms of abdominal pain

Before you think about going to see a doctor for abdominal pain, it's best to learn how to describe your discomfort.  Abdominal pain can be characterized as:
  • dull
  • sharp
  • crampy
  • intense
  • acute
  • chronic

Other symptoms

Definitely, that abdominal pain can be uncomfortable by itself.  But it may not be the only symptom that you are experiencing at the same time.  It helps to keep track of any additional symptoms that may accompany abdominal pain.  Think on anything in your health and body conditions which may be directly or indirectly linked to your pain. Some possible symptoms that might accompany abdominal pain include:
  • constipation
  • cramping
  • diahrrea
  • difficulty swallowing
  • fever
  • painful urination
  • simple gas
  • vomiting
  • weight loss

When to seek help?

Acute localized pain starts suddenly but chronic pain can be present for weeks or months.  Severe pain in the abdomen doesn't always mean a serious problem. Nor does mild abdominal pain mean that a problem is not serious.  So how do you know when to see a doctor? 

If you suspect that your abdominal pain is serious, seek help immediately.  Otherwise, schedule a visit with your doctor to learn more about the cause of your discomfort. Call your doctor if mild abdominal pain lasts a week or more or if you experience pain at the same time as other symptoms. Get medical help immediately if:
  • You have abdominal pain that is sudden and sharp
  • You also have pain in your chest, neck or shoulder
  • You're vomiting blood or have blood in the urine or stool
  • Your abdomen is stiff, hard and tender to touch
  • You can't move your bowels, especially if you're also vomiting

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Pain in Menopause

While abdominal pain can get on your way at any life stage, menopause by itself gives more possible reasons and causes for this troublesome symptom to appear. Abdominal pain in menopause can be caused by many different reproductive disorders, indigestion or even constipation. The abdominal pain may be very similar to pain experienced in menstruation, but you need to understand that these are not menstrual cramps. Any recurrent pain or any instance of spotting should be investigated by a health professional, to pinpoint the exact cause.

Reproductive Diseases

Endometriosis can cause abdominal cramping in menopause. Endometriosis is a condition that causes the uterine lining to form outside of the uterine cavity. These areas can be found anywhere within the body, but mainly occur on the abdominal lining, colon, bladder and ovaries. This tissue can be found in patches on the surface of the ovaries, bladder, colon and abdomen. Although this endometrial tissue is found outside of the uterus, it behaves the same way it does within the uterus during menstruation. In menstruation, the lining within the uterine cavity bleeds and breaks off; however, in endometriosis the areas of endometriosis do not break off although they do bleed. Even though endometriosis is thought of as a condition that affects women who are menstruating, Harvard Medical School states that the condition can also affect women who are in menopause. Endometriosis is fueled by the hormone estrogen and although the estrogen levels are greatly diminished in women during menopause, the ovaries still produce a trace amount of it. Symptoms of endometriosis are lower abdominal pain, pain with bowel movements, pain during or after sex and lower back pain.

Uterine Problems

Women who develop a condition called endometrial hyperplasia are at an increased risk of developing endometrial cancer. Endometrial hyperplasia occurs in women to who take supplement estrogen without progesterone. This causes the uterine lining to over grow -- become hyperplastic -- causing abdominal pain and spotting. If this condition is left untreated the endometrial cells can become cancerous.

Uterine fibroids develop in 75 percent of women at some point in their lives, according to the Mayo Clinic. Uterine fibroids are benign growths that attach to the uterine wall, grow within the uterine lining or grow inside of the uterine muscle. They can be microscopic or large enough to fill the uterine cavity. These growths form from an overgrowth of cells in the uterine myometrium--muscular uterine tissue--though researchers are not sure what causes this. However, they have determined that estrogen fuels the growth of these fibroids, which may be a problem for women taking estrogen replacements to lessen menopause symptoms or women with menstrual irregularities. Symptoms of uterine fibroids are bleeding after menopause, pelvic pain, frequent urination, constipation and backache or leg pain.

Endometrial Cancer

Uterine cancer--endometrial cancer--is one of the most common forms of uterine cancer, according to MedlinePlus. Although researchers have not pinpointed the cause of endometrial cancer, they have concluded that increased levels of estrogen may play a part in its development. Endometrial cancer mainly affects women over the age of 40, with it being most common for women in their 60s and 70s. Risk factors for endometrial cancer are diabetes, the use of estrogen replacements without progesterone, infertility, irregular periods, using the drug tamoxifen to treat breast cancer, obesity, polycystic ovary syndrome, menstruating before the age of 12 and starting menopause after 50. Symptoms of endometrial cancer are abnormal uterine bleeding, vaginal discharge or bleeding after menopause, and abdominal cramping.

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Bleeding in menopause is abnormal, and all instances of bleeding alongside cramping should be investigated by a physician. If left untreated, some of these conditions can become life-threatening. Continuous abdominal cramping in menopause without bleeding should also be investigated as it can be a sign of another condition such as appendicitis, sexually transmitted diseases or abnormal uterine growths.

Abdominal pain treatment

Some types of mild abdominal pain can be treated at home with basic lifestyle or diet changes.  More serious cases of abdominal pain should be treated by a medical professional. 

If you are experiencing mild abdominal pain from eating, indigestion or illness you and your doctor can treat the condition with a variety of therapies. Do not take any medicines for stomach cramps until you have talked with a medical professional.  Especially avoid laxatives, enemas, and painkillers.  These are not proper treatment for abdominal pain and can make your symptoms worse.  Here are some things that you can do on your own to improve abdominal pain at home.

  • Rest - First is rest. Lie down and rest until you feel better. A warm washcloth or heating pad on the stomach for 20 minutes may help speed recovery. When the body is stressed, it needs rest to recover. If your symptoms persist for more than 24 hours, call your doctor and schedule a visit.
  • Diet - Peppermint or ginger teas can help ease nausea or stomache ache. Increase your daily intake of fibre to promote a healthy gastrointestinal system. Also be sure to Drink enough fluids. Bulk-forming laxatives can also help relieve constipation, but check with your doctor first.
  • Relieve constipation - Sit on the toilet and try to pass a bowel movement. This may relieve pain if it is due to constipation or diarrhea.
  • Relaxation techniques - Use relaxation exercises for mild pains. Lie down in a quiet place; take deep, slow breaths; and think about something pleasant. Listen to audiotapes that teach relaxation to learn relaxed breathing, progressive muscle relaxation and autogenic relaxation techniques.

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Sources and Additional Information:

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