Abdominal pain is a common symptom and often occurs for no clearly identifiable reason. In most instances the pain quickly subsides and we do not give it any further thought. Isolating the cause of abdominal pain can be difficult when there are no other symptoms to indicate which organ may be the problem. Burning in the abdomen is technically abdominal pain as well. The nature of pain can vary, like burning, stabbing and cramping. While the burning sensation may be indicative of some conditions, it can occur in just about any cause of abdominal pain.
Causes of Burning Abdominal Pain
There are many possible causes of abdominal pain and sometimes the pain arises from outside of the abdominal cavity. Most of the organs in the abdominal cavity are part of the digestive system. Therefore abdominal pain is often associated with other digestive symptoms like nausea, diarrhea and excessive flatulence. Below are some of the possible causes of abdominal pain that presents with a burning sensation. Most of these conditions are related to the digestive organs but there are also other non-digestive causes of abdominal pain.
The overlying skin can be injured or diseased in many ways thereby resulting in a host of symptoms such as burning abdominal pain. Sudden stretching of the skin like with abdominal distension over a short period of time can leading to burning. Sometimes it is not pain but rather a burning sensation as may sometimes be seen in pregnancy. Injury to the abdominal wall like with a blow to the abdomen can also cause burning of the skin.
Sunburn is another common cause that is not often considered. The abdomen is as prone to sunburn when exposed to intense sunlight without the use of sunscreen or protective clothing. Most skin diseases that affect the abdomen will result in burning along with itching and a skin rash. This includes contact dermatitis, atopic dermatitis, psoriasis and so on. Herpes zoster, also known as shingles, typically presents with symptoms like itching and burning of the skin along certain zones known as dermatomes.
The abdominal muscles are well known for the ‘six pack abs’ appearance when in a muscular person. Apart from the aesthetic factor, the abs also plays several important roles like stabilizing the trunk when walking and even assisting with breathing in some instances. These muscles can be easily strained particularly when it is stretched suddenly or forced to bear more force than it is physically conditioned to handle. Muscle strain is among the most common causes of burning abdominal pain.
Most inflamed muscles cause a burning and cramping sensation when strained. The abdominal muscles make the abdominal wall so any injury to these muscles are felt superficially. There are some deep lying muscles that can also be strained and may therefore be the cause of a deeper burning sensation in the abdomen. Movement where these muscles will have to contract and relax will also elicit pain or worsen it if the problem lies with the abdominal muscles.
The stomach is another common organ from where a burning sensation may arise. It contains strong acid and powerful digestive enzymes which can erode living tissue. Fortunately the stomach has mechanisms to prevent this from happening. However, in conditions like gastritis and stomach ulcers these mechanisms may falter. Gastritis is most commonly due to H.pylori bacteria and the excessive use of anti-inflammatory drugs. It leads to the stomach tissue being exposed to the acid and enzymes which often results in a burning sensation in the left upper quadrant (LUQ) of the abdomen.
The pancreas produces hormones and digestive enzymes. These enzymes are very strong and remain inactivated until it is in the small intestine where it will aid with the digestion of food. However, in some conditions like pancreatitis the enzymes are prematurely activated and can then damage the pancreatic tissue. The pancreas lies around the upper middle portion of the abdomen. In acute pancreatitis the pain is excruciating and extends to the back. Other pancreatic conditions could also cause a burning sensation in this area.
The liver sits in the upper part of the abdomen, and most of it lies in the right upper quadrant (RUQ). As with any other organ a host of diseases can affect the liver but liver pain is not a common symptom. Hepatitis, alcoholic liver disease, fatty liver disease, cirrhosis and liver cancer are some of the conditions that may afflict the liver. It often presents with related symptoms like weight loss, jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes), itchy skin and abdominal distension.
The gallbladder sits underneath the liver and more towards the midline. It collects and stores bile from the liver which is then passed out into the small intestine to be expelled with stool. One of the common gallbladder problems is gallstones, particularly where the stones block the ducts leading out of the gallbladder. It causes an episodic gallbladder pain that usually starts or worsens after meals. Inflammation of the gallbladder (cholecystitis) and the bile ducts (cholangitis) due to infectious and non-infectious causes can also lead to pain.
Inflammation of the small intestine is known as enteritis and in the large intestine it is known as colitis. When both the small and large intestine are inflamed together then it is known as enterocolitis. There are many reasons why enteritis and colitis may occur. Infections are a common cause and in most cases it is acute like with food poisoning and the stomach flu. Diarrhea, vomiting and nausea are common symptoms along with abdominal pain.
Appendicitis is an infection of the appendix, a protrusion from the cecum of the colon. The pain is more localized in the right lower quadrant (RLQ). Diverticulitis is another intestinal condition which is mainly seen in older people. It is due to infection of the diverticula (outpouchings in the intestinal wall). There are many other conditions that can affect the intestine and leading to burning abdominal pain among other symptoms. Apart from altered bowel habit that usually arises with intestinal conditions, there may also be excessive flatulence and related symptoms.
The kidneys sits towards the back of the upper part of the abdomen. Kidney pain is usually experience in the flanks or back but may also present with abdominal pain. Kidney stones, kidney infections and kidney cysts are some of the conditions that can cause pain. Urinary tract infections usually start lower down and can eventually rise to involve the kidneys. In these cases the pain may run all the way from the genitalia, to the bladder in the pelvis, up the ureters along either flank and to the kidneys.
Picture of a kidney stone
The peritoneum is the membrane that lines the abdominal cavity. It holds organs in place, lubricates the area to allow for some degree of movement of the organs and also holds blood vessels that supply the organs. Infection of this membrane is known as peritonitis. Bacteria or fungi are the more likely microbes to lead to peritonitis. The condition is very painful and the pain may be diffuse throughout the abdomen. Diarrhea, fever, nausea and vomiting are some of the other symptoms that may be present.
- Abdominal migraines
- Hiatal hernia
- Injured spleen
- Aortic dissection
- Lung infections
- Heart attack