Intestinal pain usually results from an illness, health condition, or injury that affects the organs in the abdomen. While pain may come directly from either the small or large intestine, it is difficult to tell whether the pain is truly intestinal or if it originates from other organs or abdominal areas. The most common causes of intestinal pain are inflammation, intestinal blockage, indigestion, gas, and ulcers.
When an organ or other tissues in the abdominal area swell due to disease or injury, it often results in pain near the intestines. Pain from inflammation often starts suddenly and may be constant or intermittent. Some inflammatory conditions, such as appendicitis, are serious and require emergency medical attention. Others such as diverticulitis, a swelling of the tissues around the colon, usually only result in minor pain and require little to no medical treatment.
Intestinal blockages are one of the most common causes of intestinal pain that truly originates in the intestines. Gallstones can block the bile duct, which obstructs the intestines and leads to pain. Blockages in the small intestine or colon can prevent fluid from passing through the intestines, leading to pain. These blockages are usually caused by hernias, impacted feces, or bands of fibrous tissue that form in the abdomen, though tumors are sometimes responsible as well.
Some intestinal blockages resolve on their own with fluids and a low-fiber diet. More serious obstructions may need to be surgically removed. Blockages that go untreated can cause portions of the intestine to die, and any dead tissue may also be removed during surgery to clear the obstruction.
Indigestion and gas are some of the most common causes of abdominal pain and discomfort that occurs in the intestinal area. Indigestion is often a sign of an underlying condition such as irritable bowel syndrome, gastroesophageal reflux disease, or ulcers. Gas from swallowing excess air or bacteria in the large intestine working to digest food can lead to intestinal pain as well. Gas does not usually require medical treatment, though persistent problems with gas may be a sign of an intestinal problem or disorder.
Ulcers are small sores in the stomach or small intestine. They can cause abdominal pain and pressure that may be felt in or near the intestines. Though anyone can develop ulcers that lead to intestinal pain, people who smoke, drink alcohol regularly, are 50 years old or older, or take nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs regularly are more likely to get ulcers. Many ulcers go away on their own, and most clear up with medications that reduce acid levels in the stomach.