Visceral Pain

What is visceral pain?

Visceral pain is defined as pain that originates from internal organs of the body.16Maloney RD et al. Stress-induced visceral pain: toward animal models of irritable-bowel syndrome and associated comorbidities. Frontiers in Psychiatry. February 2015, Vol 6, Article 15, p1. Visceral pain is mediated by nociceptors in the cardiovascular, respiratory, gastrointestinal, and genitourinary systems.17Smith CB. Holland-Frei Cancer Medicine. John Wiley & Sons, 2017, Ch 46, p523 Some organs are more sensitive to visceral pain than others.18Maloney RD et al. Stress-induced visceral pain: toward animal models of irritable-bowel syndrome and associated comorbidities. Frontiers in Psychiatry. February 2015, Vol 6, Article 15, p1. Relatively minor lesions in viscera such as the stomach or the bladder can produce excruciating pain.19Urden LD et al. Priorities in Critical Care Nursing. Eighth edition. Evolve. 2019. p57

What causes visceral pain?

There are multiple etiologies for visceral pain including inflammation (acute and chronic), disruption of normal mechanical processes, neoplasms (benign or malignant), alterations in neurotransmission from the viscera, and ischemia.20Maloney RD et al. Stress-induced visceral pain: toward animal models of irritable-bowel syndrome and associated comorbidities. Frontiers in Psychiatry. February 2015, Vol 6, Article 15, p1.

Types of visceral pain

Visceral pain is associated with a variety of disorders including gallstones, acute pancreatitis, acute appendicitis, diverticulitis, painful functional bowel syndromes such as irritable-bowel syndrome (IBS) and functional dyspepsia (FD), inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), interstitial cystitis/bladder pain syndrome (IC/BPS), male chronic pelvic pain syndrome, and gynecological pain associated with endometriosis, vulvodynia, menstrual pain, polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). Moreover, and less commonly known is that visceral pain also encompasses chronic chest pain and colic.21Maloney RD et al. Stress-induced visceral pain: toward animal models of irritable-bowel syndrome and associated comorbidities. Frontiers in Psychiatry. February 2015, Vol 6, Article 15, p2.

Symptoms of visceral pain

Visceral pain can be identified by location (e.g., abdomen) and by its general features such as deep, aching, squeezing or colicky sensations that are poorly localized. It is often dispersed throughout the body and referred to cutaneous sites, which may be tender.22Smith CB. Holland-Frei Cancer Medicine. John Wiley & Sons, 2017, Ch 46, p523.

How is visceral pain diagnosed?

Visceral pain is commonly felt in sites distant from the location of the organ itself. This referred pain is a key feature of visceral pain and is used by many clinicians in the diagnosis of certain diseases.23Maloney RD et al. Stress-induced visceral pain: toward animal models of irritable-bowel syndrome and associated comorbidities. Frontiers in Psychiatry. February 2015, Vol 6, Article 15, p1.

Visceral pain cannot be evoked from all viscera, and there is often no relationship between internal injury and visceral pain. Some viscera, like the liver or the kidneys, are insensitive to all forms of stimulation so that no sensations can be evoked by even the most damaging stimuli.24Cervero F. Sensory innervation of the viscera: peripheral basis of visceral pain. Physiol. Rev 1994. 74, p97, 99.

Updates for Professionals.

US healthcare professionals can register to be notified when new resources and information become available.

register icon