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Abdominal Pain

How Can an Abdominal Pain Specialist Help You?

Chronic abdominal pain (CAP) or recurrent abdominal pain (RAP) can interfere with your life and affect your everyday activities. If you experience severe pain anywhere between the chest and groin at least three times over 3 months, you should consult an abdominal pain doctor to identify the causes and figure out a treatment plan that allows you to go back to your normal life.

RAP can affect both children and adults. Besides pain, it can produce other symptoms, like constipation and urinary infections.

Possible causes
Constipation, cancer, menopause, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), Crohn's disease, lactose intolerance, urinary infections, parasites, hernia.

Functional abdominal pain
When there’s no evident cause for RAP, it’s called functional abdominal pain. This type of pain can increase with stress and other psychological factors.

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Facts About Abdominal Pain

Sharp, severe pain. It can last for a few minutes or several hours and can sometimes occur with other symptoms, like vomiting, diarrhea, and headaches.

Alert signs
If you also feel the loss of appetite, high fever, nausea; or if you lose weight or start noticing blood in your urine or stool, it could be a sign of an important medical problem.

RAP in children
Chronic abdominal pain is also common among children between 5 and 16. In these cases, pain is usually caused by lactose intolerance, as well as psychological factors like stress.

Treating Abdominal Pain RFA

Abdominal pain can vary from patient to patient. Your doctor needs to analyze your symptoms and perform the necessary tests to accurately diagnose your condition and define an abdominal pain care plan. One procedure one of our abdominal pain specialists might recommend is radiofrequency ablation. This procedure uses radio waves to stop nerves from sending pain signals to the brain.

RFA is an outpatient procedure that involves applying heat directly to specific nerves using needles.

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Important Facts About Radiofrequency Ablation

Quick procedure

A minimally invasive procedure, it lasts about 30 minutes and you can go home in a few hours.


The effects of RFA can last for several months and even for two years. You can repeat this procedure.

FAQ About Radiofrequency Ablation

What types of abdominal pain are there?

Based on how fast pain appears and how long it lasts, we can identify three types of abdominal pain:

  • Acute pain. Appears in a matter of hours. May also be accompanied by other symptoms.
  • Chronic pain. It can last from weeks to months or longer. Pain may be intermittent.
  • Progressive pain. Progressively worsens and is frequently accompanied by other symptoms.

When should I visit a doctor about abdominal pain?

If your abdominal pain is severe, persists, or keeps returning, you should see a doctor.

Contact your doctor as soon as possible if you are experiencing other symptoms as well, including:

  • Blood in stool or vomit
  • Fever
  • Vomiting
  • Dehydration
  • Constipation
  • Loss of appetite
  • Swelling
  • Pain while urinating
  • You feel the need to urinate frequently

Are there risk factors for developing recurrent abdominal pain (RAP)?

CAP or RAP is more often seen in children and teens. It affects 1 out of 10 children and about 2% of adults, mostly women.

The causes can vary greatly from patient to patient. Common causes are bowel disorders, constipation, lactose intolerance, among others. When there’s no specific physical cause to be found, the pain is often diagnosed as functional abdominal pain.

Usually, functional abdominal pain is not a product of a serious underlying condition. Anxiety, depression, and other psychological issues make people more susceptible to functional abdominal pain, particularly in children.

What is a Radiofrequency Ablation (RFA)?

RFA is a minimally invasive treatment that uses radiofrequency to heat the nerves that cause pain. By burning these nerves, this procedure stops the flow of pain signals to the brain.

RFA is often used to treat chronic pain in the abdomen and other parts of the body, such as the spine, the neck, the head, the limbs, and others.

What are the benefits of RFA?

There are several advantages to radiofrequency ablation, including:

  • It helps patients avoid surgery
  • Provides fast pain relief
  • It has a quick recovery time,
  • Lessens the need for pain medication
  • Helps patients recover their function.

What nerves are treated to alleviate abdominal pain?

Splanchnic nerves travel from the spinal cord to the celiac plexus.

The splanchnic nerves send pain signals from the stomach, kidneys, liver, intestines, pancreas, and other abdominal organs to the spinal cord, where they travel to the brain. We can treat these nerves using nerve blocks or radiofrequency ablation.

Treating splanchnic nerves is an effective way to provide long-lasting pain relief to patients with chronic abdominal pain, even in cancer-related cases.

Am I a good candidate for splanchnic nerve radiofrequency ablation?

This procedure is a good alternative for patients with chronic abdominal pain who haven’t found pain relief in traditional therapies, such as medications. It can also help them elude unwanted side effects, like dizziness and nausea. In some cases, RFA can even be the best option for those who want to avoid surgery.
Radiofrequency ablation is a very safe, minimally invasive procedure, and one of the most effective ways to treat persistent abdominal pain. Nevertheless, your pain doctor will determine if this is the best abdominal pain treatment plan for you.

How should I prepare for an RFA?

  • Ask someone to take you home after the procedure, since you won’t be able to drive for the next hours.
  • You should not eat or drink 6 hours before the procedure.
  • Before the procedure, avoid taking Aspirin and other blood-thinning medications.

What will I feel during and after the procedure?

The abdominal pain doctor will use a local anesthetic, so you won’t feel any pain during the RFA.

You could feel some temporary soreness and discomfort after the procedure. This usually lasts for two or three days.

How is the RFA procedure performed to treat abdominal pain?

Radiofrequency ablation in splanchnic nerves treats this specific area without affecting other nerves.

As in treating other types of pain, during this procedure, an abdominal pain specialist injects a local anesthetic.

The doctor uses fluoroscopy (x-ray) to identify where the nerves are. Then, the doctor uses a special needle to send an electrical current that heats the nerve and stops it from sending pain signals to the nervous system. You’ll be awake the entire time and may feel a tingling sensation and some pressure during this process.

This treatment produces long-term pain relief for patients with chronic abdominal pain.

How effective is RFA to treat chronic pain?

According to studies, radiofrequency ablation procedures significantly reduce pain for 70% - 80% of patients. For some of them, RFA has been reported to reduce pain by up to 100%. Pain relief can last for up to two years and can be repeated if needed.

The reason why some patients need to repeat the procedure after some time is because nerves can regrow.

Does the RFA procedure hurt?

We use a local anesthetic before inserting the RFA needles, so you won’t feel any pain.

However, the procedure involves inserting a needle through the skin and underlying tissues, so you may feel some discomfort during the procedure.

How long does the recovery take?

You can usually go back to your normal activities in 24 hours. During this time, you must follow all the instructions your doctor gives you.

When will I start to feel relief?

You may need to repeat the procedure when the effect has worn off. This usually happens between 6 months to a year after the RFA.

Who can’t get an RFA?

You should not have this procedure if you are pregnant, you have bleeding problems; you are taking blood-thinning medication, or if you have an infection.

Let your doctor know if you have any of these conditions.

Does RFA have risks or side effects?

Common side effects include numbness and pain, which fade away quickly.

Radiofrequency ablation is very safe, most patients don’t experience any serious complications after this procedure. Nevertheless, as in any procedure that involves penetrating the skin, there is a risk of bruising, swelling, bleeding, infection, and nerve damage.

During the insertion, there’s also a minor risk of damage to the blood vessels. These complications are very rare. The best way to prevent them is to have this procedure with a certified pain specialist.

If you are considering having an RFA for abdominal pain or any other pain condition, we can help you at Premier Pain Clinics.

What types of radiofrequency ablation are there?

Radiofrequency neurotomy. Heats up to 90°C. This procedure can provide relief from 6 months to 2 years.

Pulsed radiofrequency (neuromodulation). The heat is delivered at 40-45°C.

What conditions can be treated with radiofrequency ablation?

Besides abdominal pain, RFA can be effective in treating several pain conditions, such as:

  • Joint pain (hips, knees, shoulders, legs, arms...)
  • Occipital neuralgia, headaches
  • Pelvic pain