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What is Visceral Pain?

Hillary Flynn
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Physical pain is the awareness of a displeasing and uncomfortable physical sensory stimulus. The human body experiences three types of physical pain, which are called somatic, neuropathic, and visceral. Of these, visceral pain is the most common type. Viscera refers to internal parts of the body that are enclosed in a cavity, so pain in the viscera is that which is felt when internal organs and body tissues are injured or inflamed. This includes the heart and lungs found in the thoracic cavity; the reproductive organs and bladder found in the pelvic cavity; and the digestive organs, spleen, and kidneys found in the abdominal cavity.

Unlike neuropathic pain which is typically a stabbing pain, or somatic pain which is usually an aching pain in a specific area of the musculoskeletal system, visceral pain location is more ambiguous. It is a dull pain from within caused by infiltration, expansion, perforation, blockage, stretching, or irritation of internal organs. It is often described as pressure or a squeezing sensation which radiates throughout a cavity. The level of intensity can vary from mild to excruciating, however, depending on the malady causing the pain receptors to alert the brain that an issue exists. Though pain is unpleasant, it is a necessary element in the diagnosis and treatment of disease and disorders.

Some organs are more sensitive to visceral pain than others. Any injury or issue with the stomach or bladder is likely to cause a considerable amount of pain, but the lungs and kidneys may sustain much damage with little indication by the pain receptors located in those organs. It is entirely dependent on the quantity of sensory neurons, called nociceptors, found within each organ. So, the level of pain is not always indicative of the true amount of damage experienced by a particular organ. Some common examples of visceral pain are indigestion, menstrual cramps, constipation, pain caused by cancer, gall stones, and appendicitis.

This type of pain is either referred or unreferred. Unreferred visceral pain is pain felt in the area or organ actually affected by the irritant or damage. Referred visceral pain is pain felt in areas other than those where the damage has occurred. Referred pain is a phenomena that is not fully understood and is still being investigated. This is especially important as it relates to visceral pain, as it is sometimes hard to pinpoint the location of damage, and patterns of referred pain have given physicians an additional diagnostic tool.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Hillary Flynn
By Hillary Flynn
Hillary Flynn's insatiable curiosity led her to join the The Health Board team, where she contributes well-researched articles on various topics. In addition to her work with The Health Board, Hillary manages an electronic publishing business that allows her to develop her skills in technical writing, graphic design, and business development. With a passion for satirical writing and traveling to historical places, Hillary brings a distinctive voice to her content.
Discussion Comments
By hamje32 — On Sep 25, 2011

@Mammmood - I wouldn’t feel dumb. Any chest pain should be taken seriously in my opinion. In my case, however, I didn’t have somatic pain – I had real, visceral pain.

It was a deep cramp in my stomach. It felt like someone had taken a sharp blade, dipped it into a flame, and stabbed my stomach. It finally went away after a few days – and a few trips to the bathroom.

Upon reflection, I remembered that the night before the pain I had stopped at a gas station and picked up one of their greasy jumbo hot dogs that sit on the grill all day. It looked like sickness on a bun, but I couldn’t resist.

I think that’s what caused the inflammation I felt the next day. That’s the last time that I’ll do that again.

By Mammmood — On Sep 24, 2011

The question becomes, how do you determine the difference between visceral pain and somatic pain, in situations where they appear to be similar?

This is the challenge doctors face, and I know, because I had some chest pain some years ago for which I went to the doctor. He asked me questions like how often I had had the pain, was the pain still there when I turned my body and so forth.

Clearly, trying to differentiate somatic vs visceral pain was not easy in my case, so he finally put me through a battery of heart tests. Everything came out normal.

He then asked me if I had taken up any sports. I told him I had started playing tennis a few days earlier, and he just gave me a blank stare. It was muscle chest pain, after all, and I felt kind of dumb, but I was glad that I had it checked out anyway.

Hillary Flynn
Hillary Flynn
Hillary Flynn's insatiable curiosity led her to join the The Health Board team, where she contributes well-researched...
Learn more
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