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Visceral Hyperalgesia

What is Visceral Hyperalgesia?

Visceral hyperalgesia is an increased sensitivity to pain in the internal organs of the body, like the stomach, pancreas or intestines.

What Causes Visceral Hyperalgesia?

Increased sensitivity usually starts when something causes irritation to a particular organ system. The irritation may occur after a virus, illness or injury, but sometimes there is no clear cause.

The stomach and intestines are often the area that becomes irritated and causes pain. The pain makes the nerves in these areas hypersensitive. These nerves then send a signal to the brain, telling it that things that normally do not cause pain (like eating and drinking) are now causing pain. The nerves keep sending this signal about pain to the brain for an extended period of time.

What Are Symptoms of Visceral Hyperalgesia?

Patients experience pain that they describe in many ways. The pain may feel sharp, dull or burning. It may be constant or may come and go.

Patients may also experience other symptoms such as:

  • Constipation
  • Bloating
  • Diarrhea
  • Nausea and vomiting

How Is Visceral Hyperalgesia Diagnosed?

There is no specific test to diagnose visceral hyperalgesia. It is generally diagnosed after tests for other causes come back negative. Patients should always have a complete medical history and exam done by a doctor to help diagnose this condition.

How Is It Treated?

Treatment is focused on the different ways to help manage the pain. Patients will see a pain psychologist to help them learn how to lessen their pain response. Their doctor may also prescribe certain medications to calm the nervous system.

A pain psychologist will:

  • Use biofeedback to reduce or relieve the pain response
  • Teach the patient relaxation skills that will help reduce the pain
  • Suggest ways the patient can continue to stay involved in school and other regular activities during the recovery period
  • Help the patient and family learn to cope with the stressful effects of chronic pain

Sometimes medications are used to calm the nervous system response when typical activities, such as eating, create a sensation of pain. These medications include:

  • Amitriptyline (Elavil) or nortriptyline (Pamelor) − antidepressants that help with pain
  • Gabapentin (Neurontin) or Lyrica (pregabalin) − help with nerve pain

Typical pain medicines do not help with this type of pain. Strong pain medications, like narcotics, are not used because they can slow down the digestive system and cause increased pain.

Last Updated 11/2021

Reviewed By Debra Wolf, RN

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