Feels Like…

How to express your inflammation pain so that you get what you need out of your doctor’s visits.


When I first had excruciating pain I didn’t know how to describe it. It’s not like I have a limited vocabulary, but when you are new to being inundated with pain, the only thing that goes through your head is “OMG IT HURTS MAKE IT STOP!!! IT HURTS LIKE IT HURTS!!! FIX IT!!!”

That, plus a few expletives.

Anyway, I’ve found that the more descriptive I am about the pain and its location the more likely that I’ll get a good diagnosis. The key is to put it into perspective: (1) your doctor is not in your pain, (2) everybody reacts differently to pain.

One of the things doctors will ask you when you say you’re in pain is to rank it from a scale of 1-10, with 10 being the worst. Sometimes, they’ll show you smiley-type faces to see where you relate on the okay-to-agony scale. (aka – Wong-Baker FACES Pain Rating Scale) I always had difficulties picking a scale because I was either too exhausted from a flare-up to think about it, or I would over-think it and understate my amount of pain.

When I was finally able to describe what was happening in my stomach during a flare-up, my GI could more easily confirm my diagnosis. I drew a picture of a human outline and pointed to where it hurt, and told him that it felt like my stomach was blowing up like a balloon before piercing me with hundreds of needles. “It’s like I have a frickin’ pufferfish in my stomach, which then deflates and leaves me with a dull pain that lasts for hours.”

The actual words that he picked up on which narrowed down what was causing my inflammation were “balloon,” “needles,” and “dull ache.” These words are very common amongst people who suffer with inflammation in their description of pain. So to make it easier to pinpoint your pain, here’s a list of terms to help you describe pain (and visual descriptions in parentheses to help you relate to it). Most likely, you will feel more than one of these terms…possibly even at the same time (I have and sometimes still do).

Terms (& Descriptions):

  • Rapid expansion in abdomen (a balloon being blown up)
  • Swelling in abdomen (similar to expansion, but is slower and you feel warm)
  • Sore/stiff areas of abdomen (feels like your legs when you run without stretching)
  • Dull, persistent pain (feels like muscle aches)
  • Immobilizing cramps/knots (feels like leg cramps)
  • Emanating warmth from abdomen (you can touch your pain spot and it is physically warmer than the rest of your body)
  • Burning/searing sensation in abdomen (feels like you’re becoming seared steak/ahi tuna)
  • Stabbing pains (like a knife or sword)
  • Sharp, sudden pain (like from pins or needles or glass)
  • Sharp, stretching pain (feels like you’re being drawn-and-quartered or stretched out like taffy)
  • Squeezing pain (like someone is hugging your stomach or intestines too tightly)
  • Grinding sensation in abdomen (like two rusted gears trying to turn)
  • Scraping pain (moves around the body; feels like a snow plow slowly scraping away chunks of snow)
  • Sudden weakness or fatigue (a sudden wave of “being tired” that crashes over your body)
  • Severe, sudden nausea (you don’t want to leave the toilet, are too dizzy to stand/open your eyes, and/or feels like your stomach’s making tidal waves)

You will also hear two words a lot: acute and chronic. The difference between the two is that acute pain is sudden and relatively short in nature, whereas chronic pain is ongoing and constant. Be sure to mention to your doctor if the inflammation pain you are feeling is acute or chronic so they can better diagnose you.

Also, it would be ideal for you to sketch out where the pain is occurring. Sometimes what feels like stomach pain is actually intestinal, or related to a different organ all together. (Hence why I have a human outline on the doctor visits form.) Even if the pain moves around, indicate on your outline where it starts and where it finishes.

So what kind of inflammatory pain is cause for an emergency situation? First of all, pain = bad. You should never postpone a trip to the doctor’s office if you are in pain. That said, if you ever have pain that is either followed or preceded by blood (whether via vomit or diarrhea), get yourself to an ER immediately. Blood is a very dangerous sign, and it’s your body’s way of demanding help now. Do not wait.

But generally speaking, when in doubt, seek a doctor. Can’t afford a doctor? Get to a free clinic. If you live in the United States, you can go here and search for a local free clinic. Or google “free clinic” and your zip code. Save yourself the long-term costs of advanced inflammation-deterioration and seek help if you are in pain.

Next week, I’ll show you a meal plan for those days when you don’t have energy to tackle eating during inflammatory flare-ups.


  • TL;DR: Describing your pain specifically will help your doctor figure out what’s going on in your body. Drawing where the pain is located makes it easier to determine which organ’s under attack.
  • Disclaimer reminder: I am not a medical professional.

About tmidigestion

Living life with my inflammation avatar, "Pesky." Current mantra: I may have TMI, but it does not have me.
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One Response to Feels Like…

  1. Pingback: The Food Diary (or Journal or Log or Codex…) | TMIDigestion

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