Chances are that if you have guessed you are suffering from a UTI (urinary tract infection) you are probably correct. A UTI is one of the most commonly diagnosed problems that cause lower abdominal pain along with bowel issues and trouble with a woman’s reproductive system.
Pain in the tummy or lower abdomen (below the belly button) can have simple causes that will go away on their own. Most people have experienced these several times in their lives. They are constipation, diarrhea, stomach flu, and stress related pain.
- What are the symptoms? Pain upon urinating? Blood in urine? Discharge? Urine discoloration? Painful sex? Odor?
- Where is the pain? Upper or lower abdomen? Left or right side?
- Did something trigger the pain? Coughing? Food? Alcohol? Stress? Injury?
- What relieves it? Pain medication? Antacids? Changing positions? Avoiding certain foods?
- What accompanies the pain? Swelling? Weight loss? Vomiting? Gas? Rash? Fever? Burning during urination?
Because abdominal pain of any kind is cause for concern, anyone experiencing it should seek a diagnosis and treatment from the doctor if the pain persists, gets worse, or doesn’t go away within a day or two. Blood in the urine, vomiting blood, and excruciating pain that is debilitating are emergency situations. Don’t wait. Seek help immediately.
How do I know it’s a UTI?
Urinary tract infections can have classic symptoms, non-classic symptoms, and female or male related symptoms. Those symptoms related to both genders are easily recognizable.
- Both genders experience burning sensations while urinating
- Both have frequent needs to urinate, but produce less output
- Both may have discolored urine; white, cloudy, pink, red, dark
- Men and women develop a strong odor in the urine output
- Aching pain in the pelvic area
- Urinary retention
- Men may experience pain between the rectum and scrotum
- Men may have dribbling, leakage, or a slow stream
Treatment with antibiotics, drinking plenty of fluid, and taking over the counter pain medications will relieve most patients of a UTI. The doctor will test the urine to find which bacteria is the culprit and order the antibiotic accordingly.
If not a UTI, then what?
Pain in the lower abdomen can be due to a viral, bacterial, or parasitic infection. Also at fault is inflammation. Pain can be localized, usually due to a specific organ, or more widespread with vague symptoms. Once again, only a doctor can give a definitive diagnosis.
- PID, pelvic inflammatory disease, is an infection of the female reproductive tract that is usually caused by a sexually transmitted infection such as gonorrhea or chlamydia. Its symptoms include pain in the lower abdomen, a foul-smelling vaginal discharge, painful sex, and irregular periods. PID is estimated to affect around five percent of the women in the US.
- Genital herpes can cause pain or aches in the abdomen or genital area before other symptoms appear. An outbreak will include blisters that ooze fluid, then scab over. There is no cure for this condition. Medication can only treat the outbreaks.
- Urethral stricture is caused when the opening of the urethra becomes narrowed and restricts the flow of urine. This condition is the result of inflammation or scar issue which can be due to injury, surgery, or catheter use. A doctor often chooses to dilate the urethra. Sometimes surgery is used to widen the opening.
- Kidney stones cause significant, even intense, pain as the body tries to eliminate them trough the urinary tract. There will be pain while urinating, sometimes discolored urine due to infection, and often a fever. Kidney stones can be broken apart with specific medication, which allows them to be passed more easily. Antibiotics for infection and pain medications may also be called for.
How to be certain of the issue
A doctor, usually the primary care physician unless a specialist is needed, will run tests to determine what infection or condition is the cause of the lower abdominal pain. For a urinary tract infection this will normally be palpating the abdomen to seek out pain and swelling, followed by a urinalysis to discover which bacteria is present.
For other illnesses or obstructions further tests may be necessary. These may include, but are not limited to, an MRI, ultrasound, x-rays with or without dye contrast, a colonoscopy (colon or intestine involvement), an endoscopy (esophagus and stomach), an upper GI (ulcers, growths, blockage, or abnormalities involving the stomach), and sometimes blood, urine, or stool samples. These blood, urine, and stool are used to determine if the issue is bacterial, viral, or parasitic.
UTIs in particular can be diagnosed by a simple urinalysis and treated with antibiotics. If caught in the early stages, located only in the urethra and bladder, the patient will need antibiotics for only three days, and the pain will lessen almost immediately once the treatment begins. Once the kidneys are involved the regime will go on for seven to fourteen days. Patients can use over the counter medications, such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen to ease the pain. Heating pads may help as well.
To avoid getting a UTI:
- Drink lots of water
- Keep the area clean and dry. Uncircumcised males clean under foreskin daily.
- Empty the bladder often and totally
- Avoid perfumed products (douches, sprays, powders)
- Skip baths for a shower
- Urinate immediately after sex
- Use condoms
Avoidance of a UTI is far better than experiencing the pain. Remember that pain is a warning that something is wrong. If it doesn’t go away quickly, or worsens, then a patient should see the doctor as soon as possible. Good health is a gift we should value.