Visceral hyperalgesia is an increased sensitivity of internal organs. Someone with this condition may be more aware of normal sensations that most people do not feel. The sensation of discomfort or pain during actual illness is also much more intense with visceral hyperalgesia.
Common organs that may be affected include the pancreas, intestines, or stomach.
Pain is sensed with signals sent through the nerves. With visceral hyperalgesia, the nerves are overexcited and send pain signals when there is normal activity, such as with eating and digestion. During illness or injury that should cause pain, the nerves may send signals that are even stronger and longer lasting than normal.
It is not always clear why this sensitivity develops. It often begins after an irritation to the area, such as with an infection, illness, or injury. The irritation may cause nerves to reset to a more sensitive state. However, visceral hyperalgesia can develop without these factors as well.
Since the cause is not clear, risk factors are not clear.
Certain conditions that affect organs in the abdominal cavity that may develop visceral hyperalgesia include:
The type of pain can vary from person to person. It may be described as dull and achy, sharp, or burning pain. The pain may be constant or come and go.
If there are other illnesses or functional disorders also at work, there may symptoms other than pain.
You will be asked about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. Pain can be caused by a number of issues. Your doctor will run tests to rule out other possible causes such as infections, chronic conditions, or injuries.
There is no specific test for visceral hyperalgesia. It may be considered when all other possible causes are eliminated.
Talk with your doctor about the best treatment plan for you. Options include:
A pain specialist, often a psychologist, can help you develop tools that can lessen the response. Although the pain is caused by a physical problem, your thought patterns can influence the intensity of pain. Therapies that may help include:
These types of therapy can also help you develop coping skills to help maintain daily activities. Family counseling may also help relieve stress of interpersonal relationships while managing chronic pain.
American Chronic Pain Syndrome
American Gastroenterological Association
Canadian Digestive Health Foundation
Dalton C, Drossman D. Use of antidepressants in the treatment of IBS and other functional GI disorders. UNC Center for Functional GI and Motility Disorders. Available at: https://www.med.unc.edu/ibs/files/educational-gi-handouts/IBS%20and%20Antidepressants.pdf. Accessed May 18, 2016.
Functional abdominal pain syndrome. International Foundation for Functional Gastrointestinal Disorder website. Available at: http://iffgd.org/lower-gi-disorders/functional-abdominal-pain-syndrome.html?showall=&start=1. Accessed May 18, 2016.
Irritable Bowel Syndrome. London Gastroenterology Centre website. Available at: http://www.gastrolondon.co.uk/treatment-for-ibs-visceral-hypersensitivity/. Accessed May 18, 2016.
Visceral hyperalgesia. Cincinnati Children’s hospital website. Available at: http://www.cincinnatichildrens.org/health/v/visceral-hyperalgesia. Updated February 2015. Accessed May 18, 2016.
Visceral hypersensitivity. Royal Melbourne Hospital website. Available at: http://www.ibsclinic.org.au/causes.php?pageId=578&moduleId=186. Accessed May 18, 2016.
Last reviewed July 2016 by James Cornell, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.