Abdominal Pain During Pregnancy Explained

Causes of Abdominal Pain During Pregnancy

Doctor assisting patient experiencing severe abdominal pain
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Many women who become pregnant are young and healthy. Thanks to advances in medical treatment, however, more older women are becoming pregnant. As we age, we are more likely to develop a variety of disease. About 40 percent of women who become pregnant have some form of chronic disease, including gastrointestinal disease, which can lead to abdominal pain.

Severe Abdominal Pain During Pregnancy

If you are having severe abdominal pain during pregnancy, you need to contact a physician immediately.

Sometimes the source of severe cramps will be something perfectly normal, like round ligament pain, but other times there may be a condition requiring treatment or even a medical emergency, such as ruptured ectopic pregnancy or appendicitis. In any case of severe abdominal pain, you should see a physician right away to find out the source. If the pain is so bad that you're not able to conduct your daily routines, and cramps aren't going away with rest, go to the emergency room.

Some amount of abdominal pain is normal during pregnancy. As your uterus grows and stretches, you may feel various types of abdominal cramps ranging from sharp twinges to dull aches that resemble menstrual cramps. The difference between an urgent medical problem and normal pregnancy cramps is that normal pregnancy cramps usually won't involve extreme pain, and they will usually subside after a few minutes, especially with rest.

With any pain that you would label severe, err on the side of caution and see a physician immediately.

What Causes Abdominal Pain During Pregnancy?

Many women who experience abdominal pain during pregnancy automatically think that the abdominal pain is indicative of miscarriage or some other serious problem.

Rest assured that although it's always best to remain vigilant and contact your physician with any concern, there are many other less serious causes of abdominal pain that commonly affect women who are pregnant.

Here are some other causes of abdominal pain experienced during pregnancy.

  • Gastroesophageal reflux disease or GERD. GERD commonly presents as heartburn. Progesterone produced during pregnancy messes the tone of the sphincter separating the esophagus (food tube) and stomach thus causing acidic stomach contents to flow back into the esophagus. These stomach contents result in abdominal pain.
  • Constipation. We all know what it's like to be constipated. Constipation during pregnancy can present as abdominal pain. Much like GERD, constipation occurs because progesterone relaxes the smooth muscle of the bowels.
  • Urinary retention
  • Contractions
  • Fibroids
  • Pyelonephritis. The relaxing effects of progesterone can also enable infection to ascend the urinary tract and take hold of the kidneys.
  • Adhesions. Adhesions are abnormal unions of membranes, which commonly occur after abdominal injury or surgery.
  • Urinary retention
  • Ovarian torsion
  • Cholecystitis
  • Appendicitis
  • Stress on the round ligament as the uterus expands
  • Placental abruptionVery rarely, the placenta detaches itself from the uterus. The placenta is the baby's lifeline, and if placental blood flow is disrupted, both the baby and mother are in serious danger.
  • Bleeding of ovarian cyst (corpus luteum cyst)
  • Pelvic joint disease (arthropathy)
  • Cholelithiasis (gall stones). Increased estrogen levels during pregnancy can contribute to the formation of gallstones stones in pregnant women.

Source:

Abdominal Pain or Cramping. March of Dimes. Accessed: Nov 14, 2009.

Mehta ND, Chen KK, Monzon C, Rosene-Montella K. Chapter 223. Common Medical Problems in Pregnancy. In: McKean SC, Ross JJ, Dressler DD, Brotman DJ, Ginsberg JS. eds. Principles and Practice of Hospital Medicine. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill; 2012. Accessed March 02, 2016.

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