There are three different types of abdominal pain: visceral pain, parietal pain and referred pain. The type of pain varies depending on the organ involved.
Visceral pain is directly related to the organ involved. The majority of organs do not have an abundance of nerve fibers, so the patient might experience mild or less severe pain that is poorly localized. It’s important to understand this does not mean the patient is experiencing a mild or less severe condition.
Parietal pain occurs when there is an irritation of the peritoneal lining. The peritoneum has a higher number of sensitive nerve fibers, so the pain is generally more severe and easier to localize. The patient will typically present in a guarded position with shallow breathing. This minimizes the stretch of the abdominal muscles and limits the downward movement of the diaphragm, which reduces pressure on the peritoneum and helps ease the pain.
Referred pain is visceral pain that is felt in another area of the body and occurs when organs share a common nerve pathway. For this reason, it is poorly localized but generally constant in nature. An example is a patient with liver problems that experiences referred pain in the neck or just below the scapula.
Review the most common causes of abdominal pain that EMT’s and Paramedics encounter in the field.