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Digestive health centre

Abdomen anatomy, problems, tests and treatments

The abdomen may be better known as the tummy or belly.

It covers the area between the chest (thorax) and the pelvis.

The diaphragm forms the upper surface of the abdomen. When you get to the pelvic bones, the abdomen ends and the pelvis begins.

Illustration of the human abdominal organs

The abdomen contains all the digestive organs, including the stomach, small and large intestines, pancreas, liver, and gallbladder. These organs are held together loosely by connecting tissues (mesentery) that allow them to expand and to slide against each other. The abdomen also contains the kidneys and spleen.

Many important blood vessels travel through the abdomen, including the aorta, inferior vena cava, and dozens of their smaller branches. In the front, the abdomen is protected by a thin, tough layer of tissue called fascia. In front of the fascia are the abdominal muscles and skin. In the rear of the abdomen are the back muscles.

Abdomen conditions

  • Peritonitis: Inflammation of the covering of the abdominal structures, causing rigidity and severe pain. Usually, this is due to a ruptured or infected abdominal organ.
  • Acute abdomen: A medical phrase doctors use to suggest that peritonitis is present and surgery is likely needed.
  • Appendicitis: Inflammation of the appendix that is attached to the large intestine, and located in the lower right side of the abdomen. Usually, an inflamed appendix must be removed by surgery.
  • Cholecystitis: Inflammation of the gallbladder, causing severe right-sided abdominal pain. A gallstone blocking the duct exiting the gallbladder is usually responsible.
  • Dyspepsia: The feeling of an upset stomach or indigestion. Dyspepsia can result from benign or more serious conditions.
  • Constipation: Having fewer, and producing less, bowel movements than usual.
  • Gastritis: Inflammation of the stomach, often causing nausea and/or pain. Gastritis can be caused by alcohol, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs ( NSAIDs), Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) infection or other factors.
  • Peptic ulcer disease: Ulcers are erosions and peptic refers to acid. Peptic ulcers are ulcers in the stomach and duodenum (the first part of the small intestine). The usual cause is either an infection with H. pylori or side effects of regularly taking anti-inflammatory medication like ibuprofen or aspirin.
  • Intestinal obstruction: A single area of the small or large intestine can become blocked or the entire intestine may stop working. Vomiting and abdominal distension are symptoms.
  • Gastroparesis: The stomach empties slowly due to nerve damage from diabetes or other conditions. Nausea and vomiting are symptoms.
  • Pancreatitis: Inflammation of the pancreas. Alcohol and gallstones are common causes of pancreatitis. Other causes include drugs and trauma, but in some cases the cause is not known.
  • Hepatitis: Inflammation of the liver, usually due to viral infection. Drugs, alcohol or immune system problems can also cause hepatitis.
  • Cirrhosis: Scarring of the liver caused by chronic inflammation. Heavy drinking or chronic hepatitis are the most common causes.
  • Ascites: Abdominal fluid build-up often caused by cirrhosis or cancer. Ascites may cause the abdomen to protrude excessively.
  • Abdominal hernia: A weakening or gap in the abdominal fascia allows a section of the intestine to protrude.
  • Abdominal distension: Swelling of the abdomen, usually due to an increased amount of intestinal gas.
  • Abdominal aortic aneurysm: A weakening of the aorta's wall creates a balloon-like expansion of the vessel that grows over years, and may rupture (burst).

WebMD Medical Reference

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