If there’s one thing someone with fibromyalgia knows, it’s pain. After all, anyone living with the kind of chronic, excruciating pain that fibromyalgia causes quickly finds that their life becomes all about it.
But did you know that there are actually several different types of pain?
Doctors spend a lot of their time trying to help people in pain. And they’ve developed a system for classifying it over the years. One of these categories is something called “visceral pain.” Visceral pain can be one of the most painful kinds and is often an indication that something is seriously wrong with the body.
So, let’s talk about visceral pain. What is it? What causes it? And what can you do about it?
What Is Visceral Pain?
The most widely accepted system for classifying pain breaks it into two large categories: nociceptive and neuropathic.
Nociceptive pain is a normal response to injury or disease that arises in the tissue of the body. Meanwhile, neuropathic pain is rooted in the nervous system. And within those categories are subcategories, including visceral pain.
Visceral pain is classified under nociceptive pain because it comes from within the tissue of the body. Specifically, visceral pain affects the inner organs, or viscera. This category usually refers to organs inside the abdomen like the liver, lungs, kidneys, and heart.
Doctors used to believe that these organs were actually unable to feel pain. But we now understand that these organs just feel pain differently than the rest of the body. If you were to say, slice your liver with a knife, you may not actually feel that much pain. But if you were to twist or stretch your liver, you would experience a great deal of pain.
That’s because of the way the nervous system around these organs is structured. These nerves are very sensitive to certain types of pain and insensitive to others. And visceral pain is often very felt very differently from other types of pain as well.
The pain is often described as a sort of vague, unpleasant sensation that seems to spread across the abdomen. And it is often hard to identify by the feeling where the pain is actually coming from. In addition, visceral pain can produce symptoms in your mood. Many people who suffer from this type of pain report feelings of malaise or anxiety.
That’s not to suggest that visceral pain isn’t as physically uncomfortable as other types of pain. In fact, when someone develops a medical condition that leads to visceral pain, it can be truly agonizing.
What Causes It?
For instance, one source of visceral pain, kidney stones, is considered by many to be the most intense physical pain that someone can experience. People have even described it being worse than the pain of childbirth. Kidney stones are caused by a build-up of minerals in the kidneys that grow into solid masses inside the organs and have to be passed through the urinary tract, a process which can be miserable to go through.
And generally, any condition that leads to inflammation or distention (being pulled out of place) of the organs can lead to extreme visceral pain. For instance, a heart attack is one of the most common conditions that lead to visceral pain. And conditions like inflammation of the liver (hepatitis) or clots in the veins that prevent blood from flowing to organs are common causes of visceral pain as well.
There are many different, less-common sources of pain in the organs, and a doctor will be able to give you a diagnosis of what is causing your pain. And that diagnosis will determine how your pain is treated.
How Can You Treat It?
The first step in treating visceral pain is to help the patient with the pain itself. There are a number of ways to do this, like opioid pain-relievers or a nerve block, where medication is injected directly into a group of nerves to cut off the sensation of pain.
After finding a way to manage the pain, the doctor will try to identify what is causing it. Treatment will then focus on fixing the underlying issue. For a condition like kidney stones, for instance, doctors can use a machine that sends shockwaves into the kidneys, breaking the stones up into smaller pieces that are easier to pass.
Ultimately, what type of treatment you get will depend on what condition you have. Always consult a doctor as soon as possible if you’re experiencing severe pain. They will be able to recommend effective treatment.