Abdominal Pain: The Most Common Reason People Call the Nurse Advice Line

This is the final installment of our blog series, “The Top Five Reasons People Call the Nurse Advice Line.” The series, which includes articles on fevers and chills, urinary problems, respiratory problems and COVID-19, wraps up with the number one reason, abdominal pain. Download our e-book to read the entire series.

Our analysis of calls to the Health Dialog Nurse Advice Line between April 2021 and March 2022 found abdominal pain to be the number one reason for those seeking medical advice. From wondering, “was it something I ate,” to “could I need my appendix out,” or “do I have a chronic condition like irritable bowel disease,” abdominal pain covers a broad range of medical causes and raises a lot of questions and worry.

Abdominal pain is common and includes a variety of symptoms like cramping, vomiting, diarrhea, gas, bloating and blood in the stool. These unpleasant symptoms often prompt people to visit their doctor.

In a 2021 study published by the American Gastroenterological Association, nearly 25,000 responded to a questionnaire and 10,300 of them reported experiencing abdominal pain. Of these, 81.0% were symptomatic in the past week of which 61.5% sought medical care for their symptoms.1

Determining the cause of abdominal pain starts with understanding the severity of the pain, its location and other symptoms.

  • Generalized pain occurs in at least half of the belly. This type of pain is often not serious and can occur with illnesses such as indigestion or constipation. The pain can often go away without medical treatment or with the help of over-the-counter medications to provide relief. However, if generalized pain gets worse, it could be a symptom of a more serious condition such as an intestinal blockage.
  • Localized pain is usually a sign of a more serious condition. This pain appears in a smaller, more specific area of the belly. This can occur with conditions such as appendicitis, gallbladder disease or peptic ulcer disease.
  • Cramping is a squeezing type of pain that comes and goes and can change in intensity and location. Cramping is rarely serious and can be felt all over the belly or in one area. This pain is often caused by gas or constipation and is rarely serious.

In general, abdominal pain could be serious and medical treatment should be sought if the pain:

  • Gets worse
  • Moves from a general “all over” pain to a more “localized spot
  • Continues over a period of time

Helping a Member to a Healthy Recovery

A member called the Nurse Advice Line with abdominal pain that had been steadily increasing. According to her medical history, the member had a hernia, but her diet and home treatments were no longer managing her pain. Based on the abdominal pain symptom assessment, the Health Coach recommended that a healthcare provider evaluate the member within the next hour. The member went to the emergency department and, on a follow-up call, reported that she was in the hospital awaiting surgery to repair the hernia. Left untreated, her symptoms could have escalated and caused serious health complications. The member appreciated the guidance from her Health Coach and said she would call back as needed to ensure a healthy recovery.

With so many potential causes of abdominal pain, from gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) to an aortic aneurysm to a hernia, it’s no wonder that abdominal pain is the number one reason people called Health Dialog’s Nurse Advice Line. So, whether your members have questions on abdominal pain, COVID, respiratory problems, urinary issues, a fever or another condition or symptom, offering them our 24/7 nurse advice line provides the guidance they need to make the best choices and get the most appropriate level of care while controlling costs.

Learn how our Nurse Advice Line can help determine the most appropriate level of care for abdominal pain. 

Download our solution overview.

1 Lakhoo K, Almario CV, Khalil C, Spiegel BMR. Prevalence and Characteristics of Abdominal Pain in the United States. Clin Gastroenterol Hepatol. 2021 Sep;19(9):1864-1872.e5. doi: 10.1016/j.cgh.2020.06.065. Epub 2020 Jul 3. PMID: 32629129; PMCID: PMC7779743. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32629129/

Topics: Nurse Advice Line

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Health Dialog’s new e-book summarizes the top five conditions that prompt members to call our 24-Hour Nurse Advice Line. Whether they need information on medications or treatments, our nurses offer guidance on the appropriate level of care.

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